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Charter Homes taking a different course

Village-style projects such as Walden change development template

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Charles “Chip” Heck, left, and John Dunstan, owners of The Pet Boys, are set to relocate their Camp Hill-based pet-grooming business to the Shops at Walden in Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County, in December. The business partners also are moving into a home in the adjacent Walden residential community of the Charter Homes & Neighborhoods mixed-use development. Heck holds their pet Shih Tzu.
Charles “Chip” Heck, left, and John Dunstan, owners of The Pet Boys, are set to relocate their Camp Hill-based pet-grooming business to the Shops at Walden in Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County, in December. The business partners also are moving into a home in the adjacent Walden residential community of the Charter Homes & Neighborhoods mixed-use development. Heck holds their pet Shih Tzu. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

Growing communities attract business. The right establishments solidify the neighborhood.

Lancaster-based Charter Homes & Neighborhoods is doing both, while laying the foundation for future midstate developments.

In Silver Spring Township, the company has settled on 234 homes and sold another 31 in its Walden development. It's also filled nearly 9,000 square feet of commercial space, out of a possible 13,600 in Walden Crossroads, a village-style town home community within the larger subdivision.

In Mount Joy Township's Florin Hill community, Charter has settled on 136 homes and sold six more. The Lancaster County community is about half full on the commercial side with more than 16,000 square feet occupied.

"With what we've done and where we are, we're ready to get more focused on it," President Rob Bowman said of large-scale projects that incorporate commercial uses.

Earlier this fall, Charter hired Casi Babinchak, the former COO of the Central Market in York, to be its first manager of real estate under its Charter Properties division.

Babinchak's role is to recruit and support small businesses for the company's growing stable of mixed-use neighborhoods, including MillCreek in West Lampeter Township.

Charter recently unveiled a master plan for a traditional neighborhood development, known as Arcona, in Lower Allen Township.

"It's not about competing or wanting to compete with the real estate market," Bowman said of Charter Properties. "It's not about leasing and selling space. It's about building relationships."

The idea is to blend all of the strengths found on the best Main Streets in America — from signage to window boxes — with the benefit of it all being new construction, Babinchak said. It becomes a one-stop shop with someone there to guide the businesses through design and construction as well as promotion when they are open.

"It's very appealing for the right business owner," she said.

Walden has attracted a Pilates studio, salon and spa, child development center, restaurant and an athletic club. A pet-grooming business is coming in December, and there are plans to add other retailers.

The goal for the latter would be a women's clothing store, a jeweler and florist.

"The idea is not to take one model and move it from place to place," Bowman said. "People want different experiences. They will do different things to feel something special."

Charter Properties is looking for experienced entrepreneurs who care about being part of a collective and building on the destinations that these communities have become, Babinchak said.

That can be risky for owners used to drive-by traffic. They now rely heavily on neighborhood support and referrals to attract the larger community willing to make the drive.

Sophia Nelms bought into the concept and opened Sophia's On Walden, a second bakery and cafe to build on her Sophia's On Market in neighboring Hampden Township.

"My biggest concern was before I opened," she said. "There was so much construction going on there, and they were selling homes left and right."

Sophia's On Walden opened in February. It has benefited from the growth not only at Walden but also at neighboring new communities by other builders along the ever-expanding Woods Drive.

"We're busy, but not as busy as I'd like. We're still getting the word out," Nelms said.

As other businesses open in Walden, activity will follow.

"I really believed that once people found me, they would come back," she added. "We're getting a lot of word of mouth from people in Carlisle. People from Dillsburg, Chambersburg and Hershey (have found us). We are starting to get the East Shore people."

Nelms said she wouldn't hesitate to open another location in a similar fashion in a few years.

More about Charter Homes

The larger Walden development in Cumberland County, which includes single-family and attached town homes, broke ground in 2006.

At completion, Charter expects to have 326 single-family homes on 48 acres, 293 town homes on 18 acres and 69 acres of open space and parks.

Walden Crossroads will be 67 town homes in 16 buildings over nearly 4 acres. The project will include about 28,500 square feet of neighborhood business space.

Charter expects to settle on 250 homes this year across its neighborhoods in Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster and York counties, said Rebecca Fowler, a company spokeswoman.

Mixed-use in the midstate

Charter Homes' most ambitious project could be its planned Arcona project in Lower Allen Township. The township has received a master plan for the traditional neighborhood development, which is slated for 247 acres adjacent to Lisburn, Rossmoyne and Arcona roads.

The builder also has submitted plans for the first phase — Highpoint — which proposes construction of 82 single-family detached homes, 65 single-family attached homes, 17 mixed-use units and 19,170 square feet of commercial and office space. That would all be on 42 acres.

But Charter is not the only one developing large-scale neighborhoods.

Clay Township-based Landmark Homes has presented a conceptual sketch for a traditional neighborhood development on the Hess Farm tract in Mechanicsburg. The borough planning commission should receive a revised plan at its Nov. 25 meeting, said Chairman Christopher Knarr.

The plan is to build a variety of housing styles — between 600 and 700 units — on the 185-acre tract, Landmark owner Cliff Weaver said.

The project would include commercial uses on South Market Street, or Route 114. The sketch includes about 33,000 square feet, Knarr said.

"Putting in the commercial aspect takes a larger community to help support that," Weaver said. "We feel that community has access to a major road. We need drive-by traffic to support it."

The Hess Farm site is near Route 15 and the turnpike. It also is not far from the Arcona tract.

Landmark is hoping to get through the approval process in the next 18 months, Weaver said.

In Dauphin County's Londonderry Township, there were two TND proposals along Route 230.

School Heights Village was proposed near Saturday's Market. That site has been taken over by a new developer who could do a TND or large commercial development, said Steve Letavic, the township's manager.

The School Heights plan was to include 966 residential units — a mix of single-family, town homes and apartments — and about 125,000 square feet of commercial space on about 200 acres.

The other is Lytle farm, which is just across Swatara Creek from Middletown. That project is about two years from construction, Letavic said, with infrastructure planning in the works.

In the interim, Londonderry expects to see Love's Travel Stops and Rutter's Farm Stores break ground along Vine Street next spring, Letavic said.

"We continue to seek out economic development in the Vine Street corridor," he said, which is near routes 230 and 283 and the turnpike.

The township has created an economic development team to attract commercial, industrial and retail uses.

"We are just starting to get developmental pressure and there is a large amount of property available," Letavic said.

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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