Sprouting like new flowers from the heavy overnight rains, signs reading “Save Montrose Park” dot the tree lawns of many of the residences along Montrose Street in Harrisburg today. Residents of the Susquehanna Township neighborhood known as Montrose Park (which begins at the far uptown city line with Harrisburg) are petitioning the Susquehanna Township Commission to reject waivers to zoning ordinances for the development of 3405 N. Front St., where a 12,333-square-foot medical office campus is planned. The Commission meets via Zoom at 6:30 on Thursday.
The empty lot on the corner of North Front and Montrose streets that sits across Montrose Street from the Pennsylvania Dental Association is currently owned by Riveroaks Associates with the proposed buyer named as Linlo Properties of Camp Hill. The buyer seeks to join the lot at 3405 N. Front St. with 3401 N. Front Street where an existing building houses offices of several businesses including Mette Evans and Woodside Attorneys at Law.
Plans include a 7,243-square-foot dialysis care center and 5,090 square feet of office space with just one access drive off Montrose Street and 49 onsite parking spaces at the building’s front. Seven on-street parking spaces along Montrose Street are also proposed. An existing parking lot has 122 spaces. Township zoning requires two means of ingress and egress, so a waiver must be approved for this plan.
The developer is seeking waivers on several zoning points including depth of stormwater management facilities, two means of ingress/egress, street trees along the length of the site, and to provide a 6-foot-wide sidewalk along all street frontages (it proposes modification to allow a 4-foot bituminous path along N. Front Street in place of a sidewalk and a waiver from a sidewalk along Bergner Street).
Concerns have been voiced that Susquehanna Township needs to follow its Sustainable Susquehanna 2030 Comprehensive Plan that notes “the importance of N. Front Street as a gateway to the community and encourages improved community design and character along this corridor.” Allowing the waivers would not follow the goals of this study.
The petition asks both Linlo and Riveroaks to withdraw their lawsuit against neighbors, to reconsider the use of the site for high-traffic businesses, and that proper applications are made to PennDOT, DEP, FEMA, and other oversight agencies before development is considered. Residents also request a traffic study of the location and that the Commissioners reject any use of the property that might involve medical waste.
The lawsuit cited is one filed by Linlo and Riveroaks against the Pennsylvania Dental Association and owners of two residences to the north of the Dental Association on N. Front Street, which is, according to a post by Leah Bienstock Muroff, an administrator of the Friends of Montrose Park Facebook page, “to force them to sign off on a restrictive covenant which governs these properties. The proposed plans are not in keeping with the covenant they willingly accepted when they purchased this property in March, 2014.” Friends of Montrose Park and Montrose Street are not a part of that covenant or that suit.
The “Save Montrose Park” signs subtitles include “Don’t Sue Your Neighbors” and “They Said Nobody Walks Here?! We walk! We run! We ride! We roll!” The proposed site is wedged between Front Street and N. 2nd Street, just west of the Capital Area Greenbelt, which runs along Green Street in that area. Riders on the Greenbelt would have to cross over Montrose street.
Montrose Street is also on routes for school bus drop offs and pickups, and sees lots of pedestrian traffic regularly, according to neighbors along Montrose Street and Ward 1 township commissioner Jody Rebarchak, who represents that area of Susquehanna Township and said she is concerned that the developer has not conducted a traffic study on the area.
The property is less than a half-mile from the I-81 on- and off-ramps, which can pose traffic backups by those coming into Harrisburg anytime a car turns left off N. Front Street at Montrose Street. Proposed parking spaces on Montrose at that corner with Front Street along with school bus stops make this even more of a concern, Rebarchak said.
“A lot of issues point to that we should have a traffic study” even though it isn’t required for that size of facility, Rebarchak said, noting that she wasn’t speaking for the entire Board of Commissioners. “Maybe that’s a flaw in our ordinances.”
Many comments left on a petition on Change.org to “Save Montrose Park” cite the proposed project as unnecessary given the many unused office/commercial spaces in the area. Others cite concern for pedestrian safety in a mostly quiet residential neighborhood that sometimes suffers from traffic shortcutting through the neighborhood to avoid Front Street congestion. Others say a new building would not fit the historic nature of the neighborhood.
According to livingplaces.com, Montrose Park is an unincorporated village. It is mostly residential with detached single family homes and stretches from Montrose Street to the north to the Harrisburg city border to the south, and from the Susquehanna River on the west to N. 6th Street on the east.
Friends of Montrose Park are leading the petition effort. They ask supporters to call and write commissioners to request enforcement of Sustainable Susquehanna 2030 Comprehensive Plan for Development, which was adopted in 2019, and to attend township meetings.
According to the Susquehanna Township Commission’s agenda for the June 10 meeting that considered requests and waivers on the project, the plan is inconsistent with the Sustainable Susquehanna 2030 that calls for more prominent front setback along N. Front Street. It also cites issues with consistency with the goals of the township’s official map, approved Feb. 22, 2021, that establishes N. Front Street as a priority corridor on the topics of redevelopment and reinvestment, pedestrian and bicycle connections, and transportation safety and mobility.
A 30-day extension was granted by the applicants at the June 10 meeting, which means the commission must vote on the issue by the scheduled July 8 meeting.
The Susquehanna Township Board of Commissioners will hold a Workshop meeting at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday (June 24). The Save Montrose Park petition is available at https://www.change.org/p/susquehanna-township-save-montrose-park. For more information on the Sustainable Susquehanna 2030 Comprehensive Plan, go to https://www.susquehannatwp.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif3896/f/uploads/comprehensive_plan_adopted_may_2019.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0uMFKW4OvY1-uCEc3rfwPfxn9KNW-Rusvene-NvuxCLUrg51T8dDHJES0. Details on the Land Development Plan can be found at https://www.susquehannatwp.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif3896/f/uploads/3401-3405_n_front_st_boc_packet_1.pdf