The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

February 10, 2014

Parties differ over feasibility of development

By Felicia A. Petro
Allied News Senior Reporter

SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP — Tensions were a bit high last week when developers went before Springfield Township supervisors for their blessing on various hotel plans – and were met with resistance over sewage capacity.

Tom Bankson, a Pittsburgh engineering consultant for the township, posed a number of concerns about hotel plans for developers Sean M. Leatherman of American Hospitality Group, Inc. in Wadsworth, Ohio; and Joseph DeLuca – and his business partner, Chris Kaclik – of JBCD Developers LLC in New Castle.

JBCD wanted supervisors to OK a subdivision plan for five outparcels on 30 of 60 acres of its property along Veterans Road – behind Wendy’s on Route 208 – next to the outlet mall. The company plans to close on the land later this month, DeLuca said after the meeting.

JBCD started its plans last summer; it plans to call the five-parcel development Springfield Commons, which so far has gained interest for a First Marriott Townplace to be built on one of the parcels, DeLuca added.

The company hopes to garner interest for a gas station and retail space – including a small plaza – on the other four outparcels, said engineer Mark Koontz of Canonsburg.

However, Bankson expressed his concern with the dwindling sewage capacity in the township, and if there would be enough to support the needs of both Springfield Commons and American Hospitality Group, which has already been approved by supervisors to build an extended-stay hotel called Candlewood Suites.

Supervisor Gary Hartman was upset at the board for burdening JBCD with the township’s sewage problems.

“This is a mistake of the township. We should have been doing this years ago,” he said. “Now we have a development, but we don’t have money.”

“You have been very generous,” Judy Hassler, supervisor chair, told the group.

Sewage is treated at Grove City’s wastewater treatment plant, and the borough controls sewage capacity limits to outlying townships that have lines tapped into the system by awarding a certain amount of EDUs – equivalent dwelling units.

Once a township is out of EDUs, it can’t support any more development unless it increases its sewage capacity. Several years ago, Springfield backed out of a multi-million dollar plan to increase its capacity with other townships.

Springfield didn’t want to shoulder the bulk of costs, since it would be getting the majority of EDUs for the growing development surrounding the outlet mall.

The other townships would share some of the costs if it wanted more EDUs; however, they backed out of the expansion after Springfield did. Grove City then nixed the expansion project entirely – since the borough is land-locked and doesn’t need any more EDUs – although it has continued upgrading its wastewater treatment plant.

Bankson said he believed the sewage needs for Springfield Commons and Candlewood will come close to tapping out the township’s EDUs. There are only 80 EDUs left out of 506 allotted to the township, and Springfield does not have funds to pay for the improvements that will be needed for the sewage system to flow properly in the future, Bankson said.

DeLuca disagreed, saying online shopping has increased dramatically and people aren’t visiting Springfield’s outlet mall and businesses during peak flow times as they have in prior years. He brought in Jared S. Imperatore of Pittsburgh, a retail analyst, who provided statistics to support that point.

Bankson said he didn’t disagree with the rationale, “but we could be here a year from now with a pump overflow and no money to upgrade the pump station.”

JBCD also paid for an independent flow monitoring study conducted from Nov. 20 to Dec. 25 in the township by Keith R. Straight, a Pittsburgh engineer, who presented findings at the meeting. Temporary flow meters were installed to determine capacity in certain areas of the township, which provided the first on-paper flow data Springfield has ever had, Koontz said.

According to the study, flow was good in the area of Springfield Commons, but not in all areas tested, Straight said. If flow becomes a problem farther along into developing the complex, JBCD will pay for upgrades, he noted.

Bankson suggested JBCD give the township a deposit to ensure those upgrades will occur, adding that the money could be returned after more development came in. Members of the group think the burden of the township’s sewage flow problems existed before JBCD entered the picture but were being placed on the company instead of every developer.

JBCD’s flow data will also be used by the township for approval of Springfield Commons from the state Department of Environmental Protection because it’s more accurate, Straight said. He believed that Candlewood should have been asked to do its part in upgrading the system before JBCD entered the game.

“I agree we should be fair but we can’t wait a long time for money to come in,” Bankson noted. “We’re trying to use the developers as a bank, and I’m not sure that’s what we should do.”

Adding fuel to the debate was AHG’s request to supervisors for approval of its developer’s agreement, which would include a restaurant along with its hotel.

The supervisors pointed out that they approved construction for the hotel but not the restaurant; however, David H. Lewis, engineer, and Lonnie Burghardt, hotel/restaurant consultant, said that the restaurant was in the application process from the start.

Burghardt also produced a letter from the borough in September approving sewage tap-in for both the hotel and restaurant for 26 EDUs.

From the start, township administrator Barb Brown was part of the hotel/restaurant discussions; however, she has been on personal leave since October. AHG has been working on its project for about two years.

JBCD is new to the township; however, AHG has been a property owner there for 13 years with its Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn hotels along Route 208, where it wants to add its new hotel/restaurant.

“If Barb were here, she’d emphatically support what we’re saying,” Leatherman said, about the hotel/restaurant combo. “Barb was the glue that held things together here, and someone I could trust. Lesson learned is she’s not here now.”

Bankson also interjected that the 26 EDUs were low according to his research for extended-stay hotels, he said – not to mention the restaurant. Leatherman disagreed by offering his own figures.

So the project wouldn’t reach a stalemate, Leatherman conceded to focus AHG’s developer’s agreement with the township solely on the hotel – and approval for the restaurant could come later.

However, supervisors did not approve the developer’s agreement for Candlewood since the EDUs question was raised by Bankson, who will work with Lewis to make a determination on how many it will need.

The AHG group will meet with the supervisors at 9 a.m. Feb. 17 in the hopes of the EDUs and developer’s agreement being finalized.