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Downingtown to mull
plans for site tonight

By    Adrienne Lu,

There's a sense here that times are changing for the better, and one of the reasons is a plan to redevelop a 19-acre eyesore in central Downingtown. The Borough Council could decide the fate of that plan tonight.

For more than two years, plans have been in the works to develop the former O'Brien Machine Co. site into houses and shops. Tonight, those plans face their first real test,

as council members are to decide whether to change the site's zoning from industrial to a special district that would allow residential and commercial development. The hearing is set to begin at 7:30.

In addition to the O'Brien tract, the district would include the adjoining 1.2-acre McGuckin and Pyle property and the 6.3-acre Edwards Enterprises property, another former industrial site, which is now up for sale.

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Downingtown to consider plans
on development of O'Brien site

The O'Brien property is one of the largest parcels in the borough of 2.22 square miles, according to Borough Manager Tony Gambale.

``I think it's an important step forward for Downingtown,'' said Ellen Ann Roberts, a resident and the chief executive officer of First Financial Bank, based in the borough. ``I think the plan is well thought out. I think it will enhance our community.''

There does not seem to be much opposition to redeveloping the O'Brien site into homes, but preliminary proposals by S&S Development Co. of Berwyn have received some criticism.

The latest proposal for the O'Brien and McGuckin and Pyle properties, unveiled at a Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 11, calls for 140 townhouses with prices starting at $120,000, a 3,000-square-foot retail site, a 6,000-square-foot restaurant, and two two-story buildings with retail space on the first floor and offices on the second.

One commercial building would be 8,000 square feet and the other 6,000 square feet, according to Main Street Association director Barry Cassidy. The Main Street Association is a private group of borough residents, business people and investors who first gathered seven years ago to collaborate on projects to revitalize Downingtown.

The owner of the O'Brien prope


erty, Gary Silversmith, is based in Washington. He bought the $3 million mortgage on the property in 1995 and has worked with the Main Street Association on the plan.

According to Hank Hamilton, vice chairman of the Main Street Association, Silversmith was persuaded by the borough and the association to consider a residential reuse for the property years ago.

Last January, the borough received a $1 million grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to clean up

the O'Brien property and to redevelop it for residential use. Demolition of the 173,000- square-foot building on the site was completed last this summer, along with some of the environmental cleanup.

Borough Council members have reiterated concerns raised by residents, including inadequate parking and the size of the commercial district, but have given little indication which way they might vote tonight. Council Vice President Heather Bruno and member Joseph W. McGrath have expressed concern that the council might approve a new zoning district. They would rather use existing zoning options.

Another concern, McGrath said, was that the rear of some houses would face Main Street. ``I didn't think that was the way to integrate something into the neighborhood,'' he said.

If the council approves the zoning district, the developer could move on to presenting a preliminary plan to the borough Planning Commission for consideration.

According to Cassidy, the Main Street Association hopes that construction can begin in May.

Resident Regina Gillespie, who has a direct view of the O'Brien site from her front door on Green Street, said, ``I think the houses would be better than . . . more industrial. . . . I can't see where there's anything wrong with it.''