After several abortive attempts, Millersville is about to get a business development at Route 741, Barbara Street and Wabank Road.
Dubbed Millersville Commons, the project will include a Sheetz gas station and convenience store; a bank with drive-thru lanes; and a 15,000-square-foot strip center with room for up to nine retail, restaurant and service locations.
"I think it's going to be a winner for them," said Borough Manager Ed Arnold. The area has a lot of people, thanks to several nearby residential developments and Millersville University. And currently, he said, the borough has just one gas station and few restaurants.
"There has always been a need for more restaurants," Arnold said. "That came out in the comprehensive plan updates, loud and clear. The gas part of it, the food part of it, and whatever else they may work in there, I expect it to be popular."
Arnold also wants the project to thrive for the borough's sake. There's minimal commercial land in the borough, he said, and not much space left for development. With the university and Penn Manor schools being tax-exempt, that leaves the onus for taxation mostly on residential properties.
"We really are attempting to increase our commercial exposure activity and exposure as much as we can," he said, estimating the yearly property taxes that will come from Millersville Commons at nearly $35,000. "We look at the needs of the community and hope that the developer has businesses that the community will be interested in."
Arnold said there were two previous attempts to put similar commercial projects on the site. One was before his tenure but, according to what he has heard, both "were up against costs that were recommended to be incurred by them."
"Only five or so years ago, Turkey Hill envisioned a similar project and then backed out at the last minute because of some complications," Arnold said. "Prior to that, Wawa had a plan that they were bringing forth for the same site — this goes back 10 to 15 years."
The Commons has been in the works for close to two years and is about to break ground, Arnold said: "I think what has helped them is the fact that the prior applicant sort of carved out which direction to go with this thing."
The Commons site is nearly 6 acres, roughly triangular and partially over the boundary of neighboring Lancaster Township — which added to the complexity of the project. The structures will all fall on the borough's side of the line, but the Wabank Road extension that the project requires will be on the township's side.
William Laudien, the township manager, said a deal was worked out in which the developer, borough and school district have arranged to cover seasonal maintenance on the road and its first major repair so the township doesn't have to bear that cost.
Laudien and Arnold agreed that they expect the project to be of regional benefit.
"We're built out as well," Laudien said, noting that there is a lot of potential for redevelopment. The township has two main shopping centers and then mixed commercial along King Street and Columbia Avenue, but he said the southern end is a bit underserved and the Commons should help address that.
The Commons is a project of Millersville Road Partners LP, which consists of LMS Commercial Real Estate and Blackford Development Ltd.
"The previous developer was trying to do a similar project but with three separate owner/users," said Donna Deerin Ward, who with her brother Joseph R. Deerin owns LMS. "By developing the site as a whole, it enabled us to spread the costs of development and the cost of constructing the new Wabank Road over the entire project."
"There has been a tremendous amount of growth in the Route 741 corridor and little new retail development," she said. She said Sheetz identifying the need for a gas and convenience store was the catalyst for the project, and the retail center and bank will provide alternatives for restaurants and retail stores and services.
Deerin Ward estimated the cost of the project at $7 million. Most of the work will be completed this year, she said, with the final wrap-up in 2014.
The layout was designed by Wilbur McMichael, Deerin Ward said, with Palmyra-based Light-Heigel & Associates Inc. providing civil engineering and Traffic Planning & Design Inc. handling the traffic engineering.
"This will be similar to our project at the corner of Landis Valley Road and Oregon Pike," Deerin Ward said, referring to the Shoppes at Landis Valley in Manheim Township.