A startling development (or even two or three)

“You’re it.”

That’s what brokers and developers of all kinds are telling Chester County Economic Development Director Karlisa Parker Dean when it comes to considering Chester County as the Next Big Thing for development.

The growth in the county, not only in the industrial sector but now also in the housing sector, has led those developers and brokers to tell Parker Dean, “For what we do, we don’t see this (growth) happening in five years or 10, but we’re going to come in and buy land…Charlotte has out-priced itself and York County is difficult at best,” they are telling her, “so you’re it.”

She says they want to know what’s going on in Chester County and where they should be looking to buy land for future development.

Several housing developers are planning and working through the details for different types of housing in Chester County, which is something the county has not had for a long time, Parker Dean said.

“One of the things we’ve always talked about is Chester County really has been blessed by having one of the largest number of masters degree-level teachers. But that presents a problem – where are they going to live, what kind of amenities are they expecting here? There haven’t been any upscale apartments, for example. Places where young teachers can gather and talk about their day and how they’re handling their students. It’s learning by association and experience, but there has been no place for teachers to gather and share experiences,” she said. Until now.

A developer is planning a 231-unit upscale apartment complex near the Gateway Conference Center on land across from the Victorian Hills subdivision, Parker Dean said.

“Here’s going to be an opportunity for people who aren’t quite ready to buy their first home, or people who haven’t made a decision that Chester is the place to locate or people trying to make a decision about a job they’ve taken, whether this place is going to be the end-all, be-all, or people in transition, maybe they’ve had their first home but are looking to build a second home and have nowhere to live in the meantime. There’s going to be an opportunity presented by this apartment complex,” Parker Dean said.

The development of the apartment complex goes in line with the development of a hotel (the Holiday Inn Express, currently under construction nearby) and a new road that will become the new entrance to the Gateway Conference Center (which is undergoing expansion as well) off of Edgeland Road. The surrounding property, about 385 acres, will be up for development, which Parker Dean expects will be a mix of commercial and industrial development.

Because of that development and any potential development, Parker Dean said, “We hope to see some additional thoughts about housing opportunities here.”

Adjacent to Victorian Hills, Lennar Homes planned what started out as an 800-home subdivision, but when Chester County Council expressed concern over that density, the developer came back and applied for a cluster development, which will allow about 280 houses to be built in the area.

“They had to get a special exception from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Anytime anybody appears before the ZBA, that’s the last resort, so that has already been approved,” Parker Dean said.

“Then in the Lando area, a Planned Unit Development (PD) was approved in 2007. It was a substantial amount of property for the Lando area. (This was the proposed Lando Village which would have included over 1,000 homes, a small local commercial district and other features.)

Parker Dean said the PD allows a developer to design a development that has a mix of commercial, residential and industrial properties.

“The original landowner has been sitting on the property for a while and Lennar Homes has come in and done all of their marketing and evaluation and determined this would be a nice place to start,” Parker Dean said.

“Lennar Homes (the same developer of the 280-house subdivision near Victorian Hills) has come in and purchased a portion of the property there. They’ll be starting their housing development in 2019 with infrastructure, roads and that sort of thing. That will be 350 units located in there. There are two entrances planned into that subdivision and the house price ranges will be anywhere from $250,000 up, so we’ll see a nice mix of housing in that area,” Parker Dean said.

“That leaves the portion of Lando that was still covered under that PD and we know there are people who are looking at that now,” she added. “We’re going to wait for them to come forward with a plan when they’re ready to talk about it.”

Parker Dean said she is always asked by people not who is the next industrial client who is coming, but now that the county is growing, when is the county going to get a new restaurant?

“I am so happy to say that rooftops (new housing developments) is what drives that. I was asked that in a restaurant just the other day, and I said now that we’ve identified some potential new rooftops (630 and a 231-unit apartment complex) that is something we certainly want to be putting out there. And Lennar will be putting it out that there are new housing developments and other people will also be putting that news out there,” she said.

“If you’re in the restaurant business and you look at Chester County and see that over the years we’ve been declining in population, that is a scary thought. Everyone thought we were perfect for a Cracker Barrel, especially right here at the interstate, but their model (for where to locate a restaurant) only looks at 24-percent of their business coming off the interstate. What they look at is 75-percent of their customers coming from the area,” she said.

Bhavin Patel with HMS Management, who is building the nearby Holiday Inn Express, has talked to restaurateurs and their comments indicate one of their concerns is if they come and start a new restaurant in the area, where are the employees of that business going to live and where will they send their kids to school?

When he spoke to the restaurant owners, they were informed enough about the area to know what grade the nearby Chester County schools had on state report cards and they knew what the housing situation was in Chester County.

“We feel like these new developments will help when those restaurant owners take a look at the area,” Parker Dean said. And they’re making sure the potential restaurateurs know all about the housing plans.

“Everything is linked, but John Q. Public doesn’t realize it’s not just about plopping a restaurant down, there are other factors that have to come into play,” Parker Dean explained.

News of the housing development has changed the way Parker Dean does her job as economic development director: changed it or expanded it, you might say.

“Instead of just dealing with industrial clients, now we’re dealing with them all, because brokers and real estate agents are bringing clients here to talk with us. They want us to tell them the Chester County story, where we were and where we are now. They want to walk the facilities (the Gateway is a selling point too) and they want us to talk about what were our announcements and how many jobs have been created. What they’re doing is let the potential buyers or broker or developers get a sense of this county. We don’t know why they’ve started coming here; they just are.”

By Brian Garner, Staff Reporter with The News & Reporter