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Rezoning the corner of Progress and Linglestown: Get ready

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Mike Schubert has lived in Susquehanna Township for more than 30 years — most of that time not far from the intersection of Progress Avenue and Linglestown Road.

He said he always assumed that, at some point, the large corner lot would be developed. The last effort failed more than a decade ago.

“I’ve always recognized that as a valuable intersection,” he said.

Now Schubert, a township commissioner, will be one of the future votes if the highly visible 58-acre tract is transformed into a town-center-style development.

Susquehanna Township-based Vartan Group Inc., the longtime owner of the land, is trying to get it rezoned as a traditional neighborhood development zone. The request will come before the township planning commission on Monday.

If he is successful over the coming months, CEO H. Ralph Vartan will have done something his late father, John, a prominent local investor and developer, was unable to accomplish with his “Vartown” concept.

The elder Vartan’s rezoning attempt on what was then more than 90 acres was largely thwarted because of personality clashes and township politics, said attorney Bruce Warshawsky, who had served as special counsel to the township in the early 2000s.

“One of the fears was that Linglestown Road would develop into another Route 22,” he said, citing concern about the high level of residential units — up to 1,000 — that were proposed for Vartown, which meant a lot more traffic.

This was before the Blue Mountain Commons shopping center and the widening of Linglestown Road.

“It was a sleepy road,” Warshawsky said. “The pressures of that development would have been significant.”

A lot of that pressure is gone today because of infrastructure improvements that have occurred over the last decade from other commercial development in that area, he said. He noted the business park development off Kohn Road and The Shoppes at Susquehanna Marketplace.

The new Vartan concept is likely going to mean additional widening along Progress and Linglestown.

“The improvements that can be shouldered by the Vartan development is a real positive for the township,” Warshawsky said, citing other development pressures near Sportsman’s Golf Course.

The reality is that there are more people living in the township, which boosts the need to expand the commercial tax base, he said. The Vartan concept, which sets aside 20 acres across the road frontage for commercial development, can help with that.

“I would welcome it,” said Warshawsky, who lives less than a mile from the property. “There is no center of town in Susquehanna Township. The idea of that village will make it much more town center-ish.”

Like several of his peers on the board, Schubert said there is a process for development and he could not really comment on a few concept sketches without more detail.

That will come as the public process unfolds, market and traffic studies are done and land development plans are submitted. For now, the focus is on rezoning the tract to set the stage for the larger vision.

Nevertheless, Schubert said he believes Vartan has a good attitude and he seems willing to work with the township on something that fits the zoning, his interests and benefits the community.

The traffic patterns will be the biggest public hurdle here, he said.

“I expect we will reach some consensus and the public will support it,” Schubert said. “Personally, I like Ralph. He has some good vision for Central Pennsylvania. In his heart, he wants to do the right thing.”

What do you think about the concept and what this might mean in the long run for Susquehanna Township?

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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Rick Hallock August 24, 2014 7:02 am

I think this project has a lot of merit from many standpoints. I have driven by this land many times and often
wondered what would happen to this farm field on Progress Avenue. I think Progress is the operative word here. It
sounds like Ralph Vartan has designed this area with a feeling of "community" for Susquehanna Township. Although
different in some respects, the plan is similar to the design concepts of Columbia MD. It provides a nice blend of
residential living with commercial growth.
Ralph Vartan has also provided a very positive impact on the city of Harrisburg with his 1500 Condominium.
There are now 2 restaurants and 43 condominium units in a neighborhood previously known only for the great
work of the Bethesda Mission and the surrounding urban blight.
Just like the 1500 Condominium, the Progress Avenue project sounds like it should not only blend with, but enhance
the surrounding neighborhood.

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