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Rezoning Progress and Linglestown: Planning commission gets first look at Vartan concept

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The Susquehanna Township planning commission on Monday got its first look at Vartan Group Inc.'s request to draft a new zoning district and apply that ordinance to the corner of Progress Avenue and Linglestown Road.

The Susquehanna Township-based developer owns the 58-acre tract at the busy intersection. The plan is to create a town-center-style community on that property, known as 2615 Linglestown Road.

Vartan is seeking a traditional neighborhood development district, or TND, which would allow for greater flexibility in the development of the mixed-use concept.

“Our goal is to create something that will be seen as a positive,” CEO H. Ralph Vartan said.

He envisions a 20-acre commercial core along the road frontage, with the remaining acreage dedicated to a variety of residential uses with no predominant housing type. The commercial section would blend national retail and hospitality brands with regional shops, restaurants, offices and public gathering spaces, including a central green.

Vartan 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.

Officials expressed some concern that the concept lacks interaction between the commercial and residential uses — that the plan appears to be two separate projects. They also questioned construction timelines and whether commercial and residential pieces would be built together.

“There has to be a relationship on timing,” said Frank Chlebnikow, the commission’s chairman.

Residential could be an accessory use in the commercial core, Vartan said, but it is not currently shown in renderings. He said he would prefer to shy away from housing along the front of the property because of the high traffic volumes along Progress Avenue and Linglestown Road.

He also is proposing a master plan approval as part of the process that would serve as a “fail-safe” and would require phasing to ensure all planned amenities are built out in conjunction with the commercial parcels. The commercial development will help monetize the residential uses on the tract.

The rezoning request could come before the planning commission again at its Sept. 22 meeting. Prior to that, Vartan is planning to hold an informal meeting with the public to further discuss the concept and the potential impacts on the township.

Off-site improvements to address a heightened level of traffic in an area that is already congested is the biggest hurdle.

“Traffic has always been a concern. It’s always a concern,” said Melvin Johnson, a neighboring property owner.

Residents expressed support of the concept, but several felt it might be more appropriate in an area with less population density.

But others, including Meron Yemane, former president of Harrisburg Young Professionals, countered: “Without projects like this, we’re living in the past.”

Concepts like this will help take Susquehanna Township to the next level, he said. Officials have to be thinking toward the future if this area hopes to attract and retain the best professional talent, he said: “I want to see the progress and the change.”

If the request to create a TND and rezone the tract is ultimately recommended by the township and Dauphin County planning commissions, the township’s board of commissioners would have to hold a public hearing before considering any action on the ordinance. If the board approves the zoning changes, Vartan said, master plan approval would come next to flesh out more of the plan.

Preliminary and final land development plans would follow.

“I am asking for your patience and understanding,” Vartan told officials and the public. “We’re looking for criticism of the zoning proposal. This is a creative process. We’re going to go through several iterations (of a plan).”

The developer said he is confident a concept like this can be successful and that there will be synergies with the existing neighborhoods in that area.

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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 jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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