POWERBOOK 2015: Neighbors in evolutionEngineers contrast growth, change in Hampden, Silver Spring
If you're trying to find a metaphor for life, look no further than recent developments in two of the midstate's fastest-growing communities: Hampden and Silver Spring townships, in Cumberland County.
With student numbers up dramatically over the past five years, the Cumberland Valley School District is preparing to build two new schools on a 130-acre tract of land straddling the border of the two townships.
In Hampden Township, meanwhile, commissioners in late October unanimously approved final plans for a 180,000-square-foot senior-living facility, The Crossings at West Shore, which will be built within the Cumberland Technology Park.
For every other stage of life between childhood and retirement, the two townships offer a diverse range of places to live, work, eat and shop.
And if you're trying to get a sense of what development has been like — or will be like — in Hampden and Silver Spring, talk with the engineering firms that have been involved in some of the most high-profile projects in those communities.
John K. Murphy, president of Fairview Township-based Alpha Consulting Engineers Inc., and Ron Secary, principal and partner with Susquehanna Township-based Snyder, Secary & Associates LLC, each has a broad perspective on growth and change in the two municipalities.
Separate conversations with the experienced engineers each trended in much the same direction: Hampden, nearing build-out, remains an attractive destination, but redevelopment of existing sites is becoming more common than new construction. Silver Spring, meanwhile, is becoming the focus of significant new growth, and officials are eyeing ways to conserve what is left of its green space in one of the capital region's last suburban frontiers.
The communities continue to draw newcomers thanks to infrastructure, good schools and a mix of appropriate zones, Murphy said — what Secary referred to as “very attractive demographics.”
Both men also spoke about how the development business has changed in the wake of the Great Recession.
All sources show dramatic growth in the townships, and that surge likely isn't over.
Silver Spring's population grew by 8.3 percent between the 2006-2010 and 2009-13 estimates, U.S. Census data show.
Shift the timeframe slightly, and the number gets even bigger.
Between the April 2010 Census and July 1, 2014, Silver Spring was the fourth-fastest-growing municipality in the commonwealth with a gain of 2,062, or 15.1 percent, during that four-year period, reaching 15,728.
Long-term projections released earlier this year by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania suggest that Silver Spring could grow by an additional 30.7 percent through 2040, adding 4,198 more residents.
Hampden, meanwhile, grew 2.5 percent between the 2006-2010 and 2009-13 estimates, and 4.7 percent between the 2010 Census and July 1, 2014, when its population was estimated at 28,940.
That township is expected to grow by 6,749 people, or 24.1 percent, through 2040, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania report states.
It's no wonder, perhaps, that the Cumberland Valley School District, which might normally add between 30 and 50 students each year, has added 700 in the last five years, officials previously said.
“Hampden was the focus for quite a while. As Hampden has been getting more built-out, Silver Spring has been the focus of a lot of development,” Alpha's Murphy said.
“I think Hampden is probably very close to being built out,” Secary said. “They are probably more in a redevelopment mode rather than a development mode.
“I think Silver Spring has seen how Hampden has developed, and it's probably weighing how it wants development to occur in its own township,” Secary added.
Murphy's firm has been involved in much of that growth. In addition to The Crossings at West Shore and the new Cumberland Valley schools, Alpha has worked on numerous commercial and residential projects in the communities, such as a new Hampden Township office for AAA Central Penn; Faulkner Automobile Dealership's development and redevelopment of several Silver Spring sites on Carlisle Pike, including the former Sutliff Cadillac dealership; the Walden housing development; and the Traditions of America at Silver Spring retirement community.
Similarly, Snyder, Secary & Associates' involvement in the two townships' growth has included work on the Carmax Auto Superstore on the Carlisle Pike in Silver Spring; the Silver Creek Plaza on the Pike Shopping Center and Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Hampden; and the Peninsula residential development in Silver Spring.
“We went through that crazy growth period of about 10, 12 years or more,” Murphy said of development in the region prior to the Great Recession.
Things quieted down. Then they began to pick up again.
“We may not see that type of exponential growth again, but we are seeing a lot of good signs in the market,” Murphy said.
But the business landscape for developers has definitely evolved, he explained.
“It's more complicated than it was before the economy changed,” Murphy said. “We've had to be smarter about how we do business, about the projects we choose.”
Likewise, Secary explained how the approach taken by developers in the boom years has become more measured in the post-recession era.
“Ten or 15 years ago, people would call me up and say, 'Ron, let's do this project. Let's go forward,'” Secary said.
Today, Secary explained, developers look to do more due diligence before committing to build, and such research isn't just about the dollars and cents of a business venture, but on identifying risks and key underlying issues, such as street-level impact of a given project and community regulations — a process that can take months but pays off once a project actually begins moving through regulatory approvals.
“What developers are concerned about up-front is time and money. You need to get the approvals done as expeditiously as you can, so that construction can occur and they can start realizing a return on their investment,” Secary said. “And you need to know what the issues are that can affect that timeline.”
“We're really there from very early on, in the conceptual stage,” Secary said.
What issues frequently pop up as engineers developers begin their research? That probably won't surprise anyone who drives in the growing areas of Cumberland County.
“Traffic is always a hot-button issue in the two townships,” Secary said of Hampden and Silver Spring.
Both engineers praised the townships' municipal officials for their cooperative approach to development, as well as Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. CEO Jonathan Bowser, for the work he does to attract developers to the region and its growing communities.
“There are good folks to work with in both townships — both staff and elected officials,” Murphy said.
He expects to continue to see a mixture of commercial and residential growth in the communities, including some multifamily properties.
Secary also sees residential growth continuing, but with a shift in design concepts, notably in Silver Spring.
“They're really promoting open, livable communities, and less of what I think they would call 'cookie-cutter' developments.”