No development plan is ever perfect.
H. Ralph Vartan knows that, but the 33-year-old is willing to spend the next 50 years attempting to reach perfection as he engages Susquehanna Township officials about rezoning his 58-acre tract at Progress Avenue and Linglestown Road.
His long-term vision: A town-center-style development with a 20-acre commercial core at the front of the property that would blend national retail and hospitality brands with regional shops, restaurants, offices and public gathering spaces, including a central green.
He has commitments from Sheetz for the pad at the intersection and a local hotel developer with plans for a 100-plus room, limited-service hotel, as well as letters of intent from two restaurants, The Pizza Grille and Hong Kong Ruby. Additional contracts are expected to be signed by the time the plan reaches the land development phase.
At the rear, there would be a mix of residential uses designed to meet the needs of various income levels and lifestyles, along with large green spaces and walking trails.
“The focus for me is 50 years from now,” said Vartan, chairman and CEO of Susquehanna Township-based Vartan Group Inc. “I'm going to be here 50 years from now to see how successful it is.”
Vartan was submitting his conceptual master plan for the property this week. He is seeking a traditional neighborhood development zoning district, or TND, for the site, which his family has owned for three decades.
Currently, the tract is in a business-office-residential zone, which is also a mixed-use zone with some limitations.
“The common goal is the highest and best use (for the property),” Vartan said of the concept, which he expects will evolve as township officials and the public have a chance to review it.
The unnamed project would need rezoning to occur before feasibility studies are conducted and engineering detail is added for a master land development plan, Vartan said.
Expect urban neighborhood design elements but in a suburban setting, he said. His plan is a walkable community that favors pedestrians, with no central parking lots.
“It's important to create a sense of place where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Vartan said.
His top priority is building local consensus about development for the site.
“I'm not bound by any timeline,” he said. “I want a good spirit of teamwork.”
Essentially, his concept would create a village within the township. However, the goal would be to develop the commercial section first, which would boost nonresidential tax revenue and help monetize development of the various residential phases that would be driven by market demands.
Vartan said he could foresee a senior living campus in the rear, along with multifamily and single-family uses.
He expects that part of the plan will involve partnerships with residential builders.
“We don't have a firm plan as to how it will be built,” he said. “When we're submitting the actual master plan (for land development), ideally all the major uses are accounted for.”
Infrastructure and financing
The main access to the site would be off Progress Avenue. Vartan is planning three access points on Progress Avenue and two along Linglestown Road.
His current projection is $2 million to $8 million for on-site infrastructure improvements. Off-site investments would probably include lane widening on Progress Avenue and potentially some expansion on Linglestown Road, he said.
Without a feasibility study, it's hard to project total costs. But given the massive public infrastructure needs, Vartan said, it is likely he will explore a tax abatement or deferral program to ease the initial cost burden of development.
All options will be on the table, he said.
“My style is a little bit of a perfectionist,” he added. “My goal is not to build fast.”
Vartan is taking nothing for granted with the township, but he said he has strong confidence in the process. He also intends to schedule an open house — ahead of any public hearings — to provide ample opportunity to discuss his concept and to “help make the plan great.”
“I'm sure it's not perfect. We're going to make changes,” he said.
When a formal plan and request for rezoning is received by Susquehanna Township, it is reviewed by the township’s planning commission, which provides for community input.
The commission can recommend approval, an approval with requested modifications or a denial.
The request is also referred for comment to the Dauphin County Planning Commission, said Bruce Foreman, the township’s solicitor.
After those reviews occur, the Susquehanna Township Board of Commissioners decides whether to consider the proposal. If it does, a public hearing would be held to solicit comments on the request.
The board could then move the proposal for a vote.
The Vartan Group Inc. was expected this week to submit a concept plan and request to rezone the 58-acre tract it owns at Progress Avenue and Linglestown Road in Susquehanna Township.
The property is officially recorded as 2615 Linglestown Road.
“I would guess this process will take (about) six months from the date of submission,” said H. Ralph Vartan, the Susquehanna Township-based company’s CEO. “If the township likes the project, then it would move forward to the next phase.”
Vartan is asking the township to create a traditional neighborhood development zoning district for his town-center-style plan.
The second piece would be to rezone the tract — currently a business-office-residential zone — as a TND zone.
If the township approves those zoning changes, Vartan expects to submit a master plan for the site with engineering detail.
“This portion will take another six months,” Vartan said. “So, my best guess, if the project has legs, it will be (about) 12 months for land development approvals.”
The township’s planning commission will next meet Aug. 25. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 8.
Defining a TND zoning district
The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, which covers Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties, defines traditional neighborhood development, or TND, as follows:
“An area of land developed for a compatible mixture or residential units for various income levels and nonresidential commercial and workplace uses, including some structures that provide for a mix of uses within the same building. Residences, shops, offices, workplaces, public buildings and parks are interwoven within the neighborhood so that all are within relatively close proximity to each other. Traditional neighborhood development is relatively compact, limited in size and oriented toward pedestrian activity. It has an identifiable center and a discernible edge. The center of the neighborhood is in the form of a public park, commons, plaza, square or prominent intersection of two or more major streets.
“Generally, there is a hierarchy of streets laid out in a rectilinear or grid pattern of interconnecting streets and blocks that provides multiple routes from origin to destination, and are appropriately designed to serve the needs of pedestrians and vehicles equally.”