They want to create a new community from scratch, with more than 1,200 homes, a 225-room hotel, and office space for shops and businesses.
"Imagine a small-town feeling, where you can have street-front stores, 16-foot-wide sidewalks, cafes, period lighting," said Mark Dambly, president of Pennrose Properties, part of the development team. "We believe, as do many of the residents that we've heard from and met with, that it's a better end result for everyone involved."
Thursday night, Middletown Township will hold the last of three public hearings on the plan, which has been opposed by a vocal portion of the township's residents who fear it would dramatically change the feel of one of Delaware County's most rural municipalities. The Township Council has yet to set a date to vote on the proposal.
Planning experts describe the proposal to create a "town center" community as a cutting-edge approach to development in an age of over-growth.
Such town centers, they argue, can create a sense of community while reducing traffic by allowing people to walk or take mass transit to shops and offices.
Town-center communities caught on years ago elsewhere, such as suburban Washington. While this region has been slower to embrace them, town-center projects are in the works in Upper Merion and Newtown Square.
"This is not unique," said Richard Bickel, director of the planning division of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Authority, referring to the Franklin Mint proposal. "This is a national concept that's really important for land planners to adopt."
Still, it has been a hard sell to residents who are often overwhelmed by the sheer size of the developments. The tightly packed stores and homes can remind residents of city life, which they chose to avoid.
"I agree that these types of the developments are the way you would grow, but I just don't believe that it's the way Middletown needs to grow," said Tony Ieradi, a resident who opposes the proposed town center plan at the Franklin Mint site. "Town centers are a very good plan; it just doesn't seem to fit in this particular area of Delaware County."
The development, he said, is simply too large for the sparsely developed suburb of about 16,000.
"It just doesn't seem like you take one of these and plop it in the middle of a suburban area like Middletown," Ieradi said. "The density, the character, these buildings - you're trying to recreate things that's really not there in the township; you don't see this much density in the township itself in any particular area."
According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's most recent survey, the township in 2001 had an average of 1.4 homes per residential acre.
But some parts of Middletown now have a density as high as 15 houses per acre, Dambly said. The current proposal for the Mint would have a density of about seven to nine homes per acre.
Still, "in terms of impact, this is easily the biggest thing to hit us," said Mark Kirchgasser, a member of Middletown's council.
The alternative would be for developers to build 1.5 million square feet of office space and a few residential units on the land, which is permitted under the current zoning.
Regional planners say that would be a waste.
"You're going to have a lot of traffic being driven there," said Jeff Bross, chairman of the jury at the Smart Growth Alliance, an organization that supports the Franklin Mint plans. "It's not integrated. It's going to go dark at night. It's not going to have a sense of place. It's not smart growth."
The proposal now on the table is the second made by the development group.
Its first attempt in 2006 failed in the face of strong resident opposition.
While developers revised the plan, it's not much different in terms of size and scope.
Many worry the plan is still too dense and, despite proposed traffic upgrades, will muck up already heavy traffic along the Baltimore Pike.
Developers counter that town centers require a minimum density to work.
"You have to cluster the houses together because that saves money on roads and infrastructure, and I believe it is a better design than the 1960s winding cul-de-sac roads," said Marshal Granor, who built a walkable, town-center-like housing project called Lantern Hill in Doylestown. "It's just way too expensive to build that way unless you're building million-dollar-and-up houses."
The seven-member Township Council is to hold its last public hearing on the zoning change at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Penncrest High School auditorium.
Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or at email@example.com.