South Strabane approves development agreement with Chapman Properties

Katie Anderson

After nearly two years of negotiating, South Strabane Township supervisors approved Tuesday a preliminary development agreement with Chapman Properties to develop the Chapman Southport Business Park off Tanger Boulevard and behind Racetrack Road.

Along with the approval of the development agreement, the supervisors also voted to make Tanger Boulevard a public road, by accepting the deed of dedication from Tanger Properties.

“The goal here is to see the area and the corridor along Racetrack Road developed,” said township manager Brandon Stanick. “We see Chapman as a partner moving forward in developing this area.”

Two years ago, the supervisors refused to make the boulevard a public road, thus blocking plastics manufacturer Ensinger Inc. from developing on part of the 152-acre site. That’s why in October 2017, Chapman Properties filed a petition against the township, seeking compensation for losses in their deal with Ensinger. Ensinger had terminated with Chapman and decided to build its $40 million North American headquarters in North Strabane Township instead.

Stanick said the township has been working with Chapman since the petition was filed to “resolve” the litigation.

“We wanted to come to this agreement on things and control our own destiny on things,” he said. “We know the outcome now, but in court you don’t know the outcome, and it doesn’t always come down in your favor.”

Stanick said the preliminary agreement had set “expectations on both sides,” which included a revised master plan for development. That plan is to split the land into two zones–with 86 acres to remain a C-3 zone, or commercial/light manufacturing, and 66 acres to fall into a new zoning district R-5, high density residential with some commercial use.

One of the five motions unanimously approved by the board relating to the agreement was a motion directing the planning commission to start the process to amend the zoning code with the establishment of the new R-5 district.

Stanick said the new district will be more compatible with the neighboring Strabane Manor, which is zoned R-4, and make for a better transition from R-4 to C-3.

Two of the other five approved motions addressed taking over Tanger Boulevard as a public road. The first of them approved an indemnification agreement and easement agreement with Tanger Properties, which essentially lets the township take it over without Tanger Properties later demanding payment for the land under the road. The other motion relating to Tanger Boulevard was accepting the deed of dedication.

The township plans to put in a cul-de-sac at the end of the road and also repair the subbase, repave it and install curbs and catch basins.

“We don’t want to take it over unless it’s up to our standard,” he said.

To pay for the road improvements, the township worked with the Redevelopment Authority earlier this year to secure $440,000 in 2019 Local Share Account funds. The Redevelopment Authority was the applicant, Stanick said, and the grant was contingent on the road becoming public.

The last of the five resolutions, which Stanick said were “all contingent upon each other,” was approving an indemnification agreement with Chapman concerning Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) funds, from which Chapman received $1 million in 2017.

In December 2017, Chapman CEO Tony Rosenberger told the Observer-Reporter that they had applied for the RACP grant before the Ensinger deal fell through and before their litigation with the township. He also said then that they still planned to use the $1 million to develop sewer, water and electric service at the site.

In order for the preliminary agreement to move forward and Chapman’s litigation to be withdrawn, Stanick said they had to make Tanger Boulevard a public road, as well as keep the 86 acres zoned C-3, establish the R-5 zone and enter a consent order for the judge.

After Tuesday night, the township’s planning commission will move forward with a process to create the R-5 zone. Stanick said they have an October date to present their agreement to a judge for the litigation to be withdrawn.

“This is the official first step the board has taken to say ‘we’re doing it,’” Stanick said.

He said that with the development of the property, the township could see an increase in tax revenue.

“Given the uses allowed in the C-3 and the uses planned to be allowed in the R-5, we could see an increase in real estate tax,” he said. “And potentially an increase in earned income tax.”