The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


September 10, 2012

Board OKs Pennsylvania House rezoning

LEWISBURG —  The Pennsylvania House property development project cleared a hurdle Monday night with a vote to approve rezoning the 47-acre former industrial site for commercial and residential use.

In a 3-0 vote, the East Buffalo Township supervisors approved amending Chapter 27 of the township’s code of ordinances for “flexible development,” which lets a mix of commercial, light industrial and residential uses come to the property. Among projected anchor tenants will be a Giant supermarket.  

There for the vote were representatives of Meridian Development Partners of New York, which created the Pennsylvania House Commons concept for the property between North 15th Street and Route 15 south of St. Mary Street.

The meeting began with a public comment period, which saw several residents voice enthusiasm for the project and eagerness to see it begin.

“I feel this is a win-win for all of us,” said Nancy Kimball, adding she has followed the plan since it was announced about five years ago. “The inclusion of Giant brings a variety to the area that we need.”

Emma Gerhardt said it’s time development gets under way.

“It’s a disgrace the way it looks now,” she said.

Howard Schlesinger, principal with Meridian, said with supervisors’ approval, the next milestones will be submitting a land development plan and gaining approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for what’s called a highway occupancy plan that addresses traffic issues near the site.

Schlesinger said he doesn’t expect PennDOT’s nod until the spring and that, in a perfect scenario, ground for Penn Commons would break in the spring or summer. Construction would take about nine to 12 months for a possible spring 2014 opening.

Township Supervisor James Buck was careful to note that the rezoning applies only to the former Pennsylvania House property. He also noted that “PennDOT is very much involved” in this project, given the great deal of public money that will go into it.

Among the various funding streams are two federal Appalachian Regional Commission grants, federal money that PennDOT regulates. The amounts of those grants is undisclosed.

In 2011, with help from former U.S. Rep. Chris Carney and state officials, Meridian secured $10 million in private and public investment to pay for infrastructure improvements. That included federal grant money for a traffic signal on Route 45 at 15th Street, and widening of St. Mary Street, as well as other state funds.

Meridian also secured a $1.25 million grant through the state Department of Community and Economic Development as part of the Infrastructure Development Program.

Supervisor Thomas Zorn wanted to know if the township is liable for the ARC money because the project has not yet started.

Buck said no one has signed any reimbursement agreements yet, and solicitor Peter Matson said the supervisors wouldn’t sign anything until they approved the land development plan.

Earlier this year, Meridian agreed to secure the funds by posting 110 percent of the ARC money before the township would have to give any funds.

This would act as the project’s performance bond, a surety bond an insurance company or bank issues to guarantee a contractor’s completion of a project.

“With the ARC funds, the township looks to us to be responsible,” Schlesinger said.

Charles Courtney, attorney representing Meridian, added that the township is the grantee of the funding, and as such “they want to make sure the ARC funding is in place before the township incurs any costs. The money is there, we’re just finalizing the grants.”

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