Hampden Township officials like to boast that township taxes are merely a fraction of what they were in the 1970s.
One of the fastest-growing communities in the midstate, Hampden's impressive growth includes a mix of high-end housing developments, such as Indian Creek and Laurel Hills, and commercial anchors like Dick's Sporting Goods and, most recently, plans by Weis Markets and Giant Food Stores to build competing grocery stores.
But most of that development is in the central and the northcentral portions of the township. Those areas are served by Interstate 81 and the Route 581 connector. In the southern end, Hampden is served by Carlisle Pike and Trindle and Simpson Ferry roads, where development stagnated over the past two decades.
The problems are numerous, officials say.
“It's the oldest part of the township,” said Albert Bienstock, township commissioner. “The infrastructure is old and the roads tend to get clogged at times.”
Though Hampden is pretty much “built out,” Bienstock and others say a new development plan is needed. Their vision includes some rezoning as part of a mixed-use zoning district that would allow for commercial and residential redevelopment.
The mixed-use zone would permit taller buildings, Bienstock said, one strategy to carve out more room for business growth. Any rezoning would affect properties only when new development or redevelopment occurs.
Township officials have their own goals they would like to accomplish via the new zoning district, he said, noting that new businesses bring the money necessary to rebuild aging infrastructure and meet demand for services without resorting to tax increases.
“It's a method which we hope, through the rezoning, will attract new development and bring more residents and businesses to the township and sustain us economically for the next three or four decades,” Bienstock said.
Establishing a “town center” is one idea that received considerable attention during the planning process. David Getz, a land-use lawyer who chaired the land-use subcommittee, said officials focused on the Sporting Hill Road/Carlisle Pike area near the municipal building as a prime candidate.
“Hampden has been trying to find an area where people can say, 'Oh, I'm from Hampden and this is the center of Hampden,'” he explained. “What can we do to make it attractive for businesses and property owners and developers?”
The town center idea is modeled after modern communities in Virginia and Maryland, Getz said, but is “more difficult” to plan locally.
“You're not starting with farmland, you're starting with existing buildings,” he added.
Needed repairs to the road network present another problem for Hampden officials, since most of the roads are owned by PennDOT. The half-interchange at Trindle Road and Route 581 is one example, with the Route 581 entrance ramp available only to eastbound traffic.
“There's much more truck traffic than you'd expect on that portion of the Carlisle Pike,” Getz said, noting the trucks trying to make their way to I-81. “The only way to get that off there is to complete that interchange.”
Kirk Stoner, Cumberland County's director of planning, said the infrastructure “is probably the most critical piece, because we're restrained by the roads and what is available there.”
The county planning office is consulting with the township on the mixed-use district.
“It's a good model for others to follow,” Stoner said. “One of the big planning trends right now is how do we re-invent the community?”
Likewise, Hampden officials are finding efforts to produce a coordinated development strategy hampered by the many small properties that dot the southern section, Getz said.
Combining the uses on those properties would give owners more options, he added. For example, combine retail downstairs with offices or residences upstairs.
“We just want to give people the flexibility to do those things if the property owners and businesses want to do that,” Getz said.
Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, based in Norristown, has been retained by the township to manage the project, lead the public participation process and develop any ordinances for consideration. So far, it has held two public meetings, with a third planned for October.
“This will be a work in progress through the better part of 2014, and even 2015, if necessary,” said Keith Metts, township manager.
When and if the new mixed-use district is passed, Getz is certain the business community will respond to the opportunities.
“A few things make Hampden attractive,” he said. “The first thing is the low real estate taxes. And I think we have really great citizens living in Hampden and pass through Hampden. The road network makes it attractive, because people are passing through.”