Reconfiguration of Norwin Towne Square moves forward
North Huntingdon planners on Monday approved designs to reconfigure Norwin Towne Square, which would allow a developer to demolish some parts of the plaza and add a grocery store and car dealership.
Final approval will be up to township commissioners, who will likely discuss the issue at their meeting on Thursday.
Colony Norwin LLC holds an agreement of sale to purchase the 1950s plaza, on Route 30 between Malts Lane and Lincoln Way.
The company plans to demolish the west end of the building as well as the former Scozio's site, said township senior planner Ryan Fonzi. Existing tenants will be relocated into existing portions of the building, he said.
Plans include building a large grocery store and adding one retail space, Fonzi said.
Bob Massie Toyota plans to build a 23,400-square-foot dealership on the west side of the property, near Malts Lane.
Norwin Towne Square's existing McDonald's and Med Express will remain.
Much of the planning commission's discussion focused on whether the project is a "major land development," which would make it subject to newer, more stringent rules.
Township engineer Don Housley called the project a major land development that includes "tearing buildings down, erecting new buildings."
Donald Tarosky, of Colony Norwin LLC, however, disagreed.
"This is not a major land development," Tarosky said. "This is not a new residential development. ... We're altering an existing shopping center."
Work would reduce the shopping center's overall square footage, taking away about 60,000 square feet, Tarosky said. The proposed shopping center measures about 134,700 square feet.
Changes would not disturb access points or rights of way, said Tarosky, who provided a traffic study that states the site change will significantly reduce "the trip generation of the site" with the exception of during the morning traffic peak when traffic is expected to stay the same.
Before voting on the plans, the planning commission recessed into a closed session to seek professional advice. That meeting, according to Melissa Melewsky, media law council with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, "certainly raises Sunshine Act compliance issues."
"There is no executive session that allows a private discussion in this situation under these circumstances," Melewsky said. " ... What's important is that the board understands that this is an issue, and the public had the right to hear what the engineer had to tell them."
The township's solicitor, Bruce Dice, does not usually attend planning commission meetings, and he was not present on Monday. Dice had no comment on Tuesday.
Ultimately, planners considered the shopping center and the car dealership as separate issues rather than as one project. They approved both.
Planners recommended the plaza renovation for approval so long as conditions are met. First, engineers must discuss the plans before the commissioners meeting. Second, the township solicitor must review the plan. Planning commissioner member Virginia Stump suggested the commission seek clarification from the solicitor regarding the land development issue.
The commission agreed to move forward with the car dealership so long as engineers discuss the plans and the attorney reviews the proposal.