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PennDOT building stymies developers

There’s a tug of war taking place over 48 acres of state-owned land in Summerdale, East Pennsboro Township.

There’s a tug of war taking place over 48 acres of state-owned land in Summerdale, East Pennsboro Township.

Developers want to build a high-end business park there, but to do so, they need the state Department of Transportation to relocate a maintenance facility on the site. PennDOT has indicated it has no plans to move the building.

The property is adjacent to the corner of First and Valley streets, near exit 65 of Interstate 81.

The state Department of General Services manages, buys and sells all state-owned land. At one time, the state planned to construct laboratory buildings on the site, but financing fell through, and the buildings were never constructed. DGS plans to sell about 41 acres of the surplus tract, valued at roughly $3.1 million, said Ed Myslewicz, press secretary for DGS.

The other seven acres house a PennDOT maintenance facility, which DGS does not plan to sell. The building’s proximity to Interstate 81 is beneficial for PennDOT, Myslewicz said.

The maintenance facility has proven to be a thorn in the side of one developer and could continue to be a problem for other interested parties.

Last year, Crossgates Inc., a development group based in Pittsburgh, asked to purchase the land from the state, said Gregg Schwotzer, president and chief executive officer of Crossgates. The developer hoped to build an office and retail park modeled after TecPort Business Center, which it developed on 100 acres near Harrisburg Mall in Swatara Township. TecPort features restaurants, a hotel and a host of office buildings.

Crossgates sank funds into site-development studies at the Summerdale location. And last year, PennDOT was asked to relocate the maintenance facility because it is not a suitable neighbor for a high-end business and retail park, Schwotzer said.

After conducting a search,

PennDOT was not able to find another spot, and the sale to Crossgates fell through, Schwotzer said.

Crossgates is still interested in the land, but so are other parties. East Pennsboro Township and the Cumberland County Industrial Development Authority are looking at options available to them in regards to developing the site, said W. Douglas Wendt, executive director for Cumberland County Economic Development, an agency that works closely with CCIDA.

Talks are in the early stages, but the township is working on an agreement with CCIDA to move forward on a project that East Pennsboro Township Manager Robert Gill said would expand the township’s tax base.

“We are trying to negotiate between the two bodies. We would like to see economic development,” Gill said.

Legislation must pass the state Senate and House before the state can sell any tract of land, said state Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland and York counties).

The state Senate and House sessions end Dec. 1. Because adopting a bill to sell the land in question is not on the agenda in the next several weeks, a vote will not take place until at least January, when the Senate and House reconvene, Vance said.

Summerdale falls under Vance’s jurisdiction. The senator said she is in favor of PennDOT relocating its maintenance facility so other parties such as the township and

CCIDA can purchase the entire 48 acres.

“I would like to see a high-end office park that would help the township reduce taxes in the township,” Vance said.

Talks are still in the preliminary stages, and Wendt did not know how the township and CCIDA would proceed with the project if PennDOT decides to remain on the site.

“I am confident that (CCIDA) and all the stakeholders would be successful in working cooperatively to develop the site,” Wendt said. “It is a strategic priority that we create a diversity of job opportunities in East Pennsboro Township.”

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