By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — The Penn House Commons project in East Buffalo Township has hit another snag as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation rejected a requested exception from the developer’s engineer to keep shoulder widths for North 15th Street as they are despite not meeting federal highway recommendations.
Howard Schlesinger, principal with Meridian Development Partners, said a meeting is being planned for Meridian, PennDOT and township officials toward the end of October “to discuss this decision and see what alternatives and creative solutions we can come up with, together, on solving this condition.”
At issue are the shoulder widths for North 15th Street in the planned Penn House Commons project. As drawn, they do not meet federal highway recommendations and, therefore, federal money could not be used for them.
Wider shoulders would call for as much as 12 feet more: one 6-foot shoulder and one 4-foot shoulder plus an additional foot in each travel lane.
This was the only exception Meridian requested, Schlesinger said. PennDOT administers the federal grant funding that would be used for this work.
“Insufficient justification” was the reason PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration said no to the exception, said Ralph Hess, township planning and zoning director, who gave the township supervisors the news Monday.
“That was their words,” Hess said in reference to the two agencies. “There is specific criteria that has to be met,” he said, and PennDOT and others said there wasn’t enough reason to justify an exception.
North 15th Street is classified as an “urban connector street” rather than local road that is used mainly by residents, said James Buck, a township supervisor. Many motorists use 15th Street to travel to and from Routes 192 and 45.
The township supervisors haven’t signed any final contract agreements on the Penn House Commons project, which was proposed four years ago and would convert roughly 42 acres of the former Pennsylvania House land into commercial and residential properties. The supervisors voted within the last month to rezone the property for this purpose.
“We thought we understood the scope of the work” for the project, Buck said, but the exception ruling “essentially just changed that. The ball is back in our court again as far as what we want to do.”
Buck had said in May that if the exception wasn’t granted, the most likely thing to happen would be improvements to 15th Street without using federal funds.
“The decision doesn’t mean 15th Street has to have six-foot shoulders,” Buck said Wednesday. “It means federal highway money can’t be used” for this part of the project.
“We could focus on the intersection with the light, and other parts of 15th Street could be addressed using private funding,” he said.
Township officials do not want to exert eminent domain over the property along 15th Street, acquiring and demolishing homes for the sake of the sidewalks, Buck said.
“I don’t see a need for that,” he said. “No on has asked us to do that. Personally, I don’t see it as necessary.”