Federal Realty gets green light for 260 apartments in Willow Grove

Federal Realty Investment Trust received conditional use approval to build a six-story, 260-unit apartment building as part of the third phase of a major overhaul to the Willow Grove Shopping Center.

It’s planned to be built on an existing parking lot and have 20,000 square feet of street-level retail and a parking garage. Maryland-based Federal Realty (NYSE: FRT) plans to receive site work approvals and finalize pre-development details before construction on the building is scheduled to begin in fall 2024.

The site is at 122 Park Ave. in Willow Grove, at the southwest corner of Easton and York roads and located in proximity to the Willow Grove train station. Because of its train station proximity, it was a spot identified as ripe for redevelopment with a mix of land uses by the Upper Moreland Township’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in 2020.

“The key is the location of the train station,” Federal Realty Vice President of Regional Development Mark Brennan said. “We have the ability to deliver a high-quality, mixed-use environment with walkability of the train station and we have a long standing track record of developing quality products that weave residential and retail together.”

Willow Grove Apartments

Federal Realty Investment Trust is planning a 260-unit apartment building in Willow Grove.

Bernardon

The Willow Grove Shopping Center was built in 1953 and Federal Realty bought it in 1982. The redevelopment’s first phase included new space for retailers Marshall’s, Five Below and a grocery store. Amazon Fresh was planned to move into the grocery space, but hasn’t yet, prompting Federal Realty to file a lawsuit earlier this year alleging Amazon is breaching its lease agreement. Brennan declined to comment on the situation.

The second phase of the development, which is planned to be completed in September, is a single-story, 18,000-square-foot retail building along Park Avenue. It has space for traditional retail and multiple restaurants.

Brennan said the project carries a multimillion-dollar price tag and is “a significant investment” in Willow Grove, but declined to share the full estimated cost.

“This location screamed for intensified development, a wider mix of uses and walkable, pedestrian-friendly locations adjacent to the train station,” Brennan said.

Willow Grove Apartments

A rendering shows a future look at a 260-unit apartment building at 122 Park Ave. in Willow Grove.

Bernardon

While Brennan said Federal Realty didn’t consult with SEPTA while planning and proposing the mixed-use apartment building, the transit authority is publicly supporting similar types of developments. In 2021, SEPTA identified promoting transit-oriented communities as a priority in its strategic plan, something it continues to assess for its own properties.

Upper Moreland Township’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan says the township’s “single-family residential neighborhoods will be substantially supplemented by additional living options in the form of attractive, modern apartments (including transit-oriented development residences) in a vibrant, mixed-use Willow Grove town center.”

Brennan anticipates demand for the apartments will likely come from young professionals and young couples looking to live in proximity to places to shop, dine, work out and have access to the train station to visit Philadelphia.

Willow Grove Apartments

Federal Realty Investment Trust is planning to build 260 apartments on an existing parking lot at the Willow Grove Shopping Center with construction beginning around fall 2024.

Bernardon

“Retail is changing. In general, we’re probably over-retailed in the United States,” Brennan said. “I think taking these underutilized locations that have great access, great walkability, great connection to train stations … I think there should be a lot of excitement about the wider mix of uses that are going to be here.”

Elsewhere in the Philadelphia region, Federal Realty spent $30 million renovating the Lawrence Park Shopping Center in Broomall. P.J. Whelihan’s restaurant opened there recently and J. Crew Factory and Honeygrow are planned to open later this year.

Federal Realty is also spending $8 million rebranding Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center to Bala Cynwyd on City Avenue and upgrading building facades and sidewalks. The renovations are planned to be completed within the next month.

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