VALLEY TWP. — Valley Township officials say they welcome new development, even as they strive to maintain the township's rural character.
New homes and a banquet hall are coming to the township, where some of the prime real estate surrounds the Interstate 80 exchange.
"I am all for growth as long as it's within our comprehensive plan. I love our agriculture community," said Supervisor Vice Chairman Walt Rupert.
He said the township is agriculture-based. Both he and Supervisor Chairman Gary Derr own farms.
"I think it's a great place to live and I think the supervisors are doing a good job," said longtime resident Darla Gill.
Township Supervisor Mike Kull said he had no objection to development occurring in the commercial areas designed by the township's comprehensive plan. He said the plan aims to maintain the rural integrity of the township with small commercial districts at the Interstate 80 exits and around the exits.
"A good portion of that is not developed and there are a number of vacant or closed businesses in those commercial districts. For whatever reason, that area has not been successful in the past," he said.
"If businesses want to come in and meet all the criteria, you can't stop it," Derr said.
"We've lost some agriculture land to development," added Derr who grew up in the township and also serves as road foreman.
Through the years, the township has gained some more homes, with the population remaining about the same for quite a few years, he said.
As of the 2000 U.S. Census, the township population was listed as 2,093. In 2016, the population was 2,172.
Banquet hall, new homes
Matthew Hickey, a township resident, plans to convert the former barn at Rudy's Mart, where furniture was sold, into a banquet hall for wedding receptions and anniversary and birthday parties. The property is located along McCracken Road close to Interstate 80.
The supervisors have approved a conditional use for the property, also known as the Clover Leaf. An engineer will make sure the structure can hold an estimated 300 people and the township engineer will review the report before an occupancy permit is issued. Public entertainment activities will end at 11 p.m., the building will be vacated by midnight and a point of contact person will be provided annually to neighbors, or an employee will be there while the building is being used.
Hickey plans 105 parking spaces for the hall. Other buildings on the property will remain vacant.
He hopes to eventually lease the buildings to related businesses such as those selling gowns and flowers.
Food and alcohol for events at the barn would be catered.
Judy Achy, township secretary and a former township supervisor, has confidence in Hickey because, "He is a local person who only wants to do what's right for the township."
A 24-lot housing development, off Meadowbrook Road, is also planned. The supervisors have given preliminary approval to the subdivision plans for the project, initially called Mahoning Woods.
Project engineer Bill Swanick said the project has been in a holding pattern since it has been so wet and he has been unable to complete studies on a well for each lot. He hopes to finish his testing soon.
Swanick estimated construction could start in one to one and a half years.
When he last met with the supervisors, he said the name of the development will be changed. The supervisors gave their approval for the project on the conditions that a water study and stormwater study be done.
A Sheetz Market had been planned for three parcels at the Danville exit of I-80. "As far as I know, it fell through," Derr said.
The supervisors previously changed the zoning of the three parcels for highway commercial use to make way for Sheetz. The slightly more than 6 acres are bounded by Red Roof Inn Road and Sheraton Road.
At the time, Gabriel Hutchinson, of a sister company of Moonrise Acquisitions in Williamsport, said the land purchase was contingent on the zoning change.
During a public hearing on the change, township resident Ernie Wright said it was nice the company would be replacing an eyesore with a "class act."
Attorney Denise Dieter, representing Moonrise, said at the public hearing that one lot was zoned 80 percent commercial with the remainder residential, another lot was zoned 25 percent commercial with the rest residential and a third lot was 10 percent or less for commercial and the majority was zoned for residential use. She said all three lots historically were used commercially.
The parcels contain a lot that is part of the closed Days Inn, formerly the Sheraton Inn at the exit, and lots where gas stations were.
Neither she nor Hutchinson returned several phone messages asking about the status of the Sheetz plans.
Businesses at the I-80 exits include the Red Roof Inn, Friendly's, the Danville Mobil Market and a gas station, McDonald's, Subway and a gas station, Super 8 Motel, Best Western, Quality Inn and the Hampton Inn.
Former inn 'a real concern'
Former township solicitor Robert Buehner Jr. had trouble finding a valid address for the owner of the former Days Inn. He previously sent a notice to Hadden LLC asking the company to obtain a permit to demolish the deteriorating inn, which has been closed for several years. The notice came back undeliverable.
Achy said the Days Inn property is a real concern.
"You don't know how many people are housed there," she said of people reported going in and out of there.
"I'd like to see the blighted areas cleaned up," she said of the inn and nearby properties on that side of the I-80 exit.
Dutch Pantry Restaurant is also vacant in that area.
"For many people, the first thing they see is that restaurant area sitting there and it looks nasty," she said.
Darla Gill, a township resident of 56 years, said the Sheraton Inn had been a "gorgeous showpiece that went downhill."
Township tax collector Cindy Holdren said real estate taxes have been paid for the former Days Inn.
The supervisors have discussed taking action about the vacant hotel where people have been seen going in and out and staying. The supervisors have said it is a health and safety hazard.
Gill, a former Montour County commissioner whose late husband Stan Gill served as a township supervisor for 20-plus years, said it would be nice to have more restaurants in the township.
"Maybe some more restaurants would attract people coming off the interstate to spend their money here," she said.
Achy would also like to see more "nice restaurants" in the township.
"Born and raised and never left," she said her dad and uncle operated a grist mill.
"We lived right there by the mill," she said. "Route 54 was in front of us and the railroad track behind us."
'Some inquiries' about land
Bob Snyder, of Mahoning Township, and Glenn Halterman, of Shickshinny, who make up 5480 Partners, own 129 acres behind Friendly's Restaurant that are bounded by Red Roof Road and Church Hill Road.
Snyder said he didn't have information on any plans for the land but added they have had "very preliminary conversations and some inquiries."He believes coming improvements to the Route 54 corridor, from the interstate exits to the Route 642 intersections, will benefit development of their land.
Their property allows for medical research facilities and business parks in highway commercial and residential high-density zoned properties of 50 acres or more.
The supervisors approved the zoning followed the settling of a lawsuit the developers filed against the township over an alleged zoning change. The partners asked the court to order the supervisors to change the zoning of their property to highway commercial use, which they contended the supervisors had done on March 12, 2008.
The Danville Mobil has received conditional approval for video gambling through the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. This is part of an expansion of more than 40 truck stops and five mini-casinos in the state where truck stops would offer gambling on up to five machines, state officials announced a few months ago.
Mobil Manager Angad Sandhoo hasn't heard anything more. He did say he hopes to expand the parking area for trucks at the business.