Ferguson Township supervisors on Monday approved a preliminary land development plan for a three-storefront shopping center on a portion of former Harner Farm property along West College Avenue.
Supervisors will need to approve a final land development plan before construction can begin. Township Manager David Pribulka said he expects the final plan to come before planning commission and the supervisors in about a month.
Property owner Aspen Whitehall Partners submitted a plan in August for a 19,856-square-foot commercial building named Orchard Square to be located next to the recently opened Sheetz at the southwest corner of West College Avenue and Whitehall Road.
It’s also adjacent to Orchard View, a development of 36 semi-custom three-to-five bedroom homes currently under construction behind and next to the proposed Orchard Square site. The properties are part of 71.9 acres that Aspen Whitehall Partners acquired from the Harners in 2018 after the land was rezoned for for commercial and residential uses.
The one-floor building would have three commercial spaces of 10,722 square feet, 6,483 square feet and 2,566 square feet on the 3.69-acre parcel.
Mark Toretti, of project engineer PennTerra, said no tenants have been signed for the building as of yet.
Plans call for 116 parking spaces, 20 more than the minimum required. Township code has no maximum for parking spaces, provided the plans meet requirements for impervious coverage. The site would have 53% impervious coverage, well below the maximum of 80%.
Supervisors Lisa Strickland and Laura Dininni said they were concerned that the plans have too much parking.
“I’m bothered by the amount of parking here for just three commercial spots and especially if it’s exceeding the requirement by that much,” Strickland said. “I would frankly have wished you would have come in and asked for fewer number of spots. It looks like excessive parking here. I’m not too confident that’s ever going to get used.”
Toretti said because the tenants have not been signed, the plans need to be able to accommodate potential needs.
“It depends on ultimately what the use is and how popular that use is,” Toretti said. “If you do have some popular use you will need more parking spaces and so at this time they just wanted to be safe to make sure we have the ability to provide those.”
Supervisor Steve Miller said less parking could create problems if a popular tenant with a need for more spaces moves in.
“The one that comes to mind for me is on North Atherton [in Patton Township] where you have Starbucks and Verizon sharing a parking lot and the place is a mess when both businesses are busy,” Miller said. “…I don’t like big expanses of paving either but I know if you get too small it actually becomes a dangerous thing too.”
Supervisors asked Aspen Whitehall and PennTerra to consider not finalizing parking until the tenants are known. Pribulka said the developer can be approved for 116 spaces but build fewer if the projected need is less.
Aspen Whitehall’s Justin Mandel said his company and PennTerra would discuss it before submitting a final land development plan.
“If I put a 6,000-square-foot restaurant in here I’m going to need more than 96 spaces,” Mandel said.
“I do understand the idea of wanting to bring in a good tenant that’s going to be successful there and setting something up so they can accommodate who’s coming,” Strickland added. “… I do understand why this is being proposed. I wish it was the minimum requirement. I think that would present a better argument for this many spaces.”
No sidewalks will connect directly between the housing development because of the placement of stormwater basins. Toretti said the Orchard View sidewalk system will, however, connect to West College Avenue and Whitehall road, providing a pedestrian route to the Orchard Square and Sheetz properties.
The stormwater management plan “backed us into a corner to not be able to connect the sidewalks to that neighborhood other than on these two street corridors,” Dininni said. “Because of the way the storm water was arranged we’ve actually interfered with the pedestrian flow.”
Dininni also said she was “disappointed” that there is not more landscaping in the plan.
“I’m sorry this is going to be built in this manner and I hope we in Ferguson Township maybe can do a little better in the future with connectivity and greening up the land development processes,” she said.
“What we’ve heard, I think is a lot of times the process is prohibitive to plan well.”
Vehicle access to the property would be from Whitehall Road to the access road at the rear and from the shared driveway between Sheetz and Orchard Square off West College Avenue.