Construction has yet to begin on Aldi’s first State College area store, but the discount grocery chain is already looking at a location for a second.
The company is evaluating the former Krentzman Supply site at the corner of Benner Pike and Shiloh Road — next to the Nittany Mall and across from Sheetz— for a potential 19,209-square-foot store, Rory Garr, Aldi’s director of real estate for western Pennsylvania, told College Township Council on Thursday night.
Patton Township’s Board of Supervisors approved plans in March for Aldi’s first Centre Region store, which will be the first phase of the Patton Crossing commercial and residential development on North Atherton Street. Construction on that store is expected to begin early next year.
‘We’ve been trying in the area for a long time, and we were lucky enough to have the development on North Atherton then find this piece of property [on Benner Pike] and work out the parameters of the deal,’ Garr said.
Garr gave an overview of the plans to council because, like several other potential developers, Aldi has run into an issue with the restrictions of the Corridor Overlay District put in place along the Benner Pike area in the 1990s by College Township.
Chiefly, the overlay district requires a 70-foot front yard setback from the right of way, which Garr said would make it virtually impossible to redevelop the Krentzman parcel, where the current building has a setback of about 30 feet but existed prior to the overlay and was grandfathered in. Parking also has a 30- or 70-foot setback requirement, depending on location.
‘Really the only thing you could do with that property is put a building in the middle back side, and it would be a very small building,’ Garr said.
If the overlay were to be removed, the district would revert to the underlying general commercial zoning, which only requires a 50-foot setback. Garr said that Aldi’s prototypical building would fit on the Krentzman site within those parameters and the site plan shown to council conforms with the general commercial zoning.
‘We have one prototypical size,’ he said. ‘It’s important for us. The way our business runs is we try to keep our buildings as efficient as possible. We don’t want them to be too large or too small, because we have a certain number of items and we want to make sure the store is maneuverable.’
Praxair Distribution, which operates at 1348 and 1368 Benner Pike, is looking to expand but also is hindered by the setback requirement, according to a letter from the company to the township. And the setbacks are a challenge for the owner of 1301 and 1317 Benner Pike, who wants to build mixed-use buildings on his properties and also sent a letter to the township requesting the overlay district be removed.
Council unanimously agreed to direct staff to begin work on removing the overlay district and remand the issue to planning commission, as required, noting that they then wished for it to be returned to council as quickly as possible for approval.
Lindsay Schoch, principal planner for College Township, said the Corridor Overlay District was developed by regional planners at the request of the township to minimize access points, provide pedestrian access, establish landscaping standards, and prevent development that allowed parking right up to the right of way line. Ultimately, township leaders at the time wanted to avoid having Benner Pike look like Plank Road in Altoona.
‘Things have changed since then,’ Schoch said.
PennDOT subsequently widened Benner Pike, taking away some setbacks and landscaping and somewhat negating the intent of the overlay.
‘We understand why the corridor overlay was prepared in the first place and we are aware of that — landscaping, buffering, sidewalks, all of that stuff is important. But we have a gateway that we are pretty much unable to develop,’ Schoch said.
Council previously authorized township staff to begin work on a small area plan for the Dale Summit commercial district to help revitalize the area around the Nittany Mall. But that will take 18-24 months to complete, and council agreed a ‘quick fix’ may be required in the interim to accommodate potential development.
Schoch said she believes removing the corridor overlay is integral to that quick fix.
‘We understand the original intent was to have nice landscaping and buffering. We feel moving forward we’re still going to understand that but we also want to note growth is desired on this side of town,’ Schoch said, adding the commercial zoning has adequate protections to prevent unwanted development.
Councilman Eric Bernier, who was involved in the discussions for the corridor overlay in the 1990s, said removing the overlay district still preserves the intent to avoid the kind of strip development with numerous curb cuts that occurred in Altoona.
He added that while council wouldn’t remove the overlay for one development, the Aldi plan provides ‘a perfect example’ of how restrictive the current requirements are.
If the Aldi plan moves forward, the entrance to the building and parking with 94 spaces would be oriented to the southwest side. The site would have right-in, right-out access at Benner Pike as well as access from the mall road that connects to Shiloh Road. Garr and current property owner Steve Krentzman said they have already worked through an easement agreement with Nittany Mall owner Mason Asset Management.
A new grocery store on Benner Pike would also be welcome news for residents in that part of College Township. Since Giant closed its East College Avenue store and moved to Hills Plaza in 2019, Walmart on Benner Pike is the only supermarket in the Centre Region east of Atherton Street.
‘When I was knocking on doors running for this position, a lot of the folks over on the other side of 322 were bemoaning the fact that Giant moved from where it was to the other side,’ Councilman Paul Takac said. ‘I think this would be a very welcome addition to the options on that side of 322.’
‘We did get a lot of feedback when we publicized our Patton Township development that ‘Why aren’t you putting one over by the Nittany Mall?” Garr said.
Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh said he believes that, in general, removing the overlay district ‘will bring some dividends’ by making it easier for developers who have been ‘stymied’ by the restrictions.
‘I think it will definitely facilitate some redevelopment type of activity there,’ he said.