Susquehanna Square could see new development

LOCK HAVEN — Something good seems to be coming to our fair city.

If things continue as planned, it will be something commercial, and it will be located in Susquehanna Square. But the details are being kept very quiet right now.

The city planning commission took action Wednesday evening to clear the way for this new development, even though the members do not know what it is.

“It’s definitely good for Lock Haven,” Machell Alexander-Bressler told them.

The local realtor represents Patrick and Pamela Bigatel of Seattle, who bought the town homes at Susquehanna Square last year as an investment. The Bigatels were approached by a commercial developer who needs that property and more for a proposed project, she said.

Since then, she said, confidentiality agreements have been signed, so she cannot reveal what type of development is planned.

She did say it will not be a restaurant. The original plan for Susquehanna Square included two chain restaurants, but neither have been built over the decade since those plans were first announced for the land at Spring and Fourth streets.

The coming development would create some jobs, Alexander-Bressler said, although she added she does not know how many. These jobs would be better than the average restaurant job, she said.

And, the proposed development would fit well in that section of town, according to the realtor, who went on to say she could see “no downside” for the neighborhood.

Cyndi Walker, the city’s zoning and code officer, said she expects whatever is built there would be “attractive.”

Off-street parking is going to be required, she said.

Details would be made public when the land development plan comes to the city, she said. Several steps have to be taken beforehand, though.

One of them is to rezone the property to “commercial,” including the town homes property which is currently zoned “residential — medium density.”

The commercial designation is appropriate, Walker said, because the property is next to the Fairfield Inn which is just off the Bellefonte Avenue business corridor.

After asking numerous questions Wednesday, and getting some positive answers but without any details, the city planners voted to recommend that change.

The county planning commission has 30 days to comment on it as well.

A public hearing will be held in January about the rezoning, and city council will vote on it, Walker said. If council approves the change, a second vote is required to make it official, she said.

The planners also voted to approve a change in the parcels that make up Susquehanna Square. With this change, the Fairfield Inn and its parking lot are on their own parcel of about one acre. Nearly everything else is in a second, larger parcel, including the five town homes. The third parcel is a relatively small rectangle that includes the corner of Fourth and Spring streets and is already zoned commercial.

The second and third parcels, covering about four acres, would be involved in this coming commercial development, the planners heard. They are apparently owned by the Bigatels and Town Homes of Susquehanna Square, LP.

Mark Torretti of Penn Terra Engineering showed the planning commission how the parcels would change.

The four commission members who attended the meeting approved the change, then were stunned to learn that the town homes would be razed to make way for the new development.

Susquehanna Square was created a decade ago when Shaner Investments L.P. bought the old Painter Stadium and Hanson Practice Field and moved forward on building the Fairfield Inn at one end of the property, followed by a row of town homes at the Fourth Street end.

The five town homes were built in 2011. None were sold to owners who intend to live there, which was the original plan for what was to be a little neighborhood of 22 high-end town homes. Instead, the units were sold to one owner who is leasing them out. They are all currently full, with short-term leases in place, the planning commission heard. All the current leases will be honored, the realtor noted.

The Lock Haven area includes many rental units, Walker said, and some are new and are nearly as nice — if not just as nice — as the town homes. Perhaps the Susquehanna Square units will not be greatly missed when they are demolished, as long as they are replaced with more development that can be added to the tax rolls.

The proposed commercial development is especially good news right now. The city’s tax base took a hit when the county bought the “blue building” at the Piper complex for office space. In addition, the non-profit University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has purchased Lock Haven Hospital. It remains to be seen whether UPMC’s apparent non-profit status will take the hospital off the tax rolls.

All the Susquehanna Square property is still under the Tax Incremental Financing(TIF) plan that was created to spur the original development of what had been a non-taxable sports complex owned by Keystone Central School District.

The city purchased the two sports fields, then sold them to Shaner, and the city, county and school district all approved a TIF for Shaner. Under the TIF’s conditions, the property owners pay their real estate taxes, but that money goes toward paying off the $3.8 million development bond the city’s Redevelopment Authority took out to help Susquehanna Square get off the ground.

The bond will be paid off in 2022, five years from now, and after that, the TIF will go away and Susquehanna Square tax payments will go to the local taxing bodies in the normal fashion.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, City Planner Leonora Hannagan said her good-byes and introduced Maria Boileau who will replace her. She will retire at the end of the month after 21 years of working for the city.

Wednesday was also the last meeting for Joe Waltz. He is moving to Woodward Township and can no longer serve on the commission as he won’t be a city resident.