Economy and stricter planning slow project progress, townships say
Development is moving more slowly in Warwick and Manheim townships these days.
The change takes a variety of forms — fewer applicants in some cases, less rapid progress on applications in others — and officials attribute it to an amalgam of economic factors and stricter planning.
"That's not necessarily bad," said Daniel Zimmerman, Warwick Township manager. "Before, we may have been a little hasty. There's definitely a more cautious approach to projects today."
Not that long ago, Zimmerman said, the township was "flatlined — just dead" in terms of pending projects. Officials decided a proactive approach was called for and started talking to businesses that were doing well despite the recession, asking how to help support them logistically.
That was about three years ago, and today Warwick has no shortage of proposals. Examples Zimmerman cites include plans for a Rock Lititz campus on a 95-acre tract at 36 W. Newport Road as a result of talking to the cluster of "entertainment support" businesses — Clair Global, Atomic Design and Tait Towers — and plans for another building in the health care cluster around Heart of Lancaster Regional Medical Center.
For smaller businesses, Zimmerman said, Warwick has tweaked its commercial district extending south from Weis along Route 501.
On the residential front, there's a proposal from 55-plus developer Traditions of America for a 247-home community adjacent to the hospital. Lititz Reserve is working on plans for a 190-home development targeted for residents 55 and older near the Lititz Public Library.
Nonetheless, projects are taking longer than they used to overall.
"Banks require far more information" than they used to, so funding for projects takes longer to arrange, Zimmerman said, and a smarter approach to growth by the municipality and entire local area has meant a longer path for some projects.
"Target was three-and-a-half years of work," Zimmerman said, referring to the store in Shoppes at Kissel Village that opened in 2011.
And, he said, Target donated $100,000 to downtown Lititz, for reasons that explain why the township is proceeding cautiously. The Borough of Lititz and Warwick Township have a close relationship, and the downtown is "the identity of the region." Warwick doesn't want growth to endanger that.
"That's what happens with a lot of downtowns," Zimmerman said. "They're empty, because everyone went out to the strip malls."
That concern was among several that the Warwick planning commission cited in December, when members unanimously declined to alter the zoning of a 32-acre lot at the intersection of 501 and East Millport Road to accommodate an extension of the Shoppes at Kissel Village.
In neighboring Manheim Township, the big proposal of note is Belmont, a retail and residential project at the intersection of Route 30 and Fruitville Pike.
The roughly 70-acre site is across the road from the Red Rose Commons shopping center. Developers led by Kennett Square firm R.J. Waters & Associates Inc. are applying for a conditional use, Planned Commercial Development-1, as codified in the township's new zoning ordinance adopted in 2011. Belmont is the first attempt to qualify for that particular use, which was not present in the former code.
The project has been in a conditional use hearing since the fall, according to attorney Matt Crème, who is representing the developers.
"They've been giving us one or two sessions a month, two hours long," Crème said of the township. "We're probably going to continue in that process for the next two or three months."
There is no public or neighborhood opposition to the plan, Crème said, but the developers must convince the township that the project meets the requirements of the conditional use, much of which "is referenced in the ordinance by photographs of properties in other places that the ordinance asks us to emulate. So there's room for some subjectivity in that."
Michel Gibeault, chairman of the Manheim Township planning commission, said several small residential developments have been fully approved and are ready to be built, as well as plans for a school building at St. John Neumann Church's property on East Delp Road.
However, when it comes to new proposals, Gibeault said, the planning commission isn't seeing many right now. That's in contrast to the influx of projects it saw once it announced it was modifying its zoning ordinance. But he thinks the residential projects are a sign of recovery and is hopeful for the future.
"As the economy gets stronger, I would expect to see retail applications after the housing," Gibeault said. "There's some talk out there about more retail, and there are some vacant stores around the area, too. We try to encourage that those be filled up."
One property that Gibeault thinks could become a project of interest is the site of the former Host Town/Country Hearth Inn on Keller Avenue near the Amtrak station, which was purchased by Blackford Development Ltd.
No plans are concrete yet, she said, but they hope to finalize the plan within the next six months