RICHBORO >> The Northampton Township Board of Supervisors on Dec. 16 voted unanimously to approve preliminary-final plans for the redevelopment of the Richboro Plaza on 2nd Street Pike with a Giant Food Market.

After a short discussion, the board enthusiastically granted Metro Commercial permission to demolish everything south of the Rite Aid, including the former Murray’s Market, and replace it with a 50,340 square foot grocery store.

Businesses now located between the Rite Aid and the former Murray’s Market, including the Carriage Stop, Philly Pretzel Factory and Happy Nails will either be closing their doors or relocating within the center or to other locations.

“Fortunately Giant came along at the right time and Giant will enable us to redo this center and bring it way, way up to speed,” said Mark Kaplin, representing Metro Commercial, the owner of the shopping center. “We’ve been to the planning commission. We’ve been to the zoning board. We’ve gone through all of the reviews. I believe we have worked everything out with staff.”

The bulk of the discussion among the supervisors on Dec. 16 focused on creating a safe pedestrian access to a parking area located at the rear of the shopping center behind St. Mary Imaging, Tangles Hair Salon, China Chef and the karate studio.

Part of the land development plan includes improving the 90 space parking area for employee and overflow customer parking. The improvements include repaving, re-striping and a centralized trash collection area for the businesses.

“This is a very exciting development for our township,” said Supervisor Barry Moore in motioning to approve the plan. “I’m very happy about the Giant is coming. Our residents are happy about this. But I will not vote for this unless there’s safe pedestrian access from the front of the building to the back ... I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that we have safe passage from those 90 parking spots in back.”

Supervisor Dr. Kimberly Rose agreed with Moore. “I’m very excited about Giant coming. This shopping center needs some life in it,” she said. “I do have concerns with kids and parents coming out of the karate studio. I just don’t want to see any kind of a problem.”

Responding to Rose and Moore, Supervisor Eileen Silver said she has never seen a child or a parent walk behind the building from the karate studio. “They come out and head toward the parking lot. No one goes to the back of the building. That is the back of the shopping center where the trucks go in and out. I do not understand why you are getting hot and bothered about putting in a sidewalk.”

Chairman Adam Selisker suggested as a compromise - delineating a pedestrian walkway along the back of the center subject to the approval of the township engineer.

“It doesn’t mean it can’t be drivable. It doesn’t mean it can’t be an unloading or loading area. I’m thinking an area that’s hash-marked to keep people up next to the building and away from the street,” said Selisker. “I actually hope we do see a lot of people parking back there because that would mean the lot out front is full and the businesses are thriving.”

Kaplin said while they would support Selisker’s idea, they would not be in favor of adding a sidewalk or any other element that would boost the impervious surface ratio of the center and require them to seek additional relief from the zoning board.

After some discussion, the supervisors settled on a designated pedestrian area that will run along the back of the north end of the shopping center and provide safe passage between the parking lot behind the center and the front of the center.

The supervisors also briefly discussed plans by Giant to add some architectural elements to the rear sidewall of the store facing the Richboro Road entrance to make it more visibly appealing.

“We’ve been working for quite a while with our architect and township professionals to come up with a design that is acceptable,” said Dan Hughes, chairman and principal of Metro Commercial Real Estate, who presented an updated proposed rendering to the supervisors.

The supervisors left the final sign-off to its township manager, Bob Pellegrino, who will work out the final details administratively with the developer.

“It’s appealing to me,” said Selisker of the design. “We just need to sort some things out and get a better understanding. If Bob says they are satisfied, we’ll move forward. I don’t think that’s going to hold this up at all,” he assured Hughes.

The supervisors also briefly discussed a reduction in the number of parking spaces as a result of the expansion of the center and how that could impact the center and the new supermarket.

Kerry Eck, who manages real estate for the Carlisle-based food store, assured the supervisors that the “the available parking, the layout and the accessibility for this location is more than adequate for us. We think we’re in really good shape in that regard.”

When asked by the supervisors the timeline on the redevelopment project, Eck said optimistically Giant is hoping to open its new store by next Christmas.

The approval comes a week after the township’s planning commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the plan.

“As a resident of Northampton for almost 35 years now we have all been waiting for the opportunity to come along where we could do something with this property,” said planner Steve Saddlemire. “We’re all anxious and very happy to see that something is going to happen here.”

Eck told the planners that Giant is equally excited to be coming to Northampton Township.

“We are very excited to be a part of this project and by the plans that have been put together,” said Eck. “Giant has been keenly interested in bringing one of its grocery stores to this market. This is a great opportunity for us. And it’s going to make this shopping center look great.”

In addition to its standard offerings of meats, seafood, dairy, floral and bakery, Eck said the new Richboro Giant will offer a fresh, new produce offering highlighting locally-harvested, in-season product.

“We’ll also be bringing our wildly-popular sushi program here. And our healthy natural organic, which is a growing category for us. Everybody has been eating healthier,” said Eck.

Also incorporated into the new store will be Giant’s new meals solution line, which it is currently piloting in Central Pennsylvania. The line includes various grab and go prepared foods. “Families are getting busier and busier and they are looking for meal solutions, everything from ready to eat to take home and heat up to take home and bake,” said Eck.

The store will also carry a selection of beer and wine. “We believe we have an excellent offering. It’s certainly a popular category.”

In addition, the new store will offer shoppers Giant Direct, an e-commerce solution, in which groceries can be ordered online and then delivered or picked up at the store without having to get out of the car.

Hours at the new Giant will be from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., according to Eck, providing time overnight to restock the store for the next day.

In addition to the new Giant, the plan includes reconfiguring the shopping center’s parking lots and entrances to make them safer and bringing them into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Act.

The main entrance on 2nd Street Pike will be reconfigured to eliminate the dangerous cross traffic into and out of the parking lots. In addition, the entrance will be expanded to include a new left turn lane onto 2nd Street Pike and a through lane.

The plan will also improve safety at the entrance off of the Richboro Road, bringing traffic to a “T” intersection and preventing traffic from accelerating into the parking area, which has been a longtime problem.

To meet the requirements of the township’s village overlay district, the developer has also agreed to install decorative street lights, plant new street trees and install a sidewalk along its frontage on 2nd Street Pike, including a connection with Veterans Plaza next door.

A new underground storm water drainage system will also be added to the site, built to handle the runoff produced by the renovated and expanded center. Today, much of the center drains into several inlets at one corner of the center.

The addition of the Giant will expand the shopping center by about 12,350 square feet, boosting impervious coverage at the site from 78 to 79.9 percent.

Last May, the project cleared a major hurdle with the zoning hearing board granting relief for the redevelopment of the shopping center.

Metro asked for and received zoning relief for parking, impervious surface coverage and replacement of a nonconforming sign with a pylon sign.

Metro needed the variances to move forward with its plans to build the new supermarket, which will nearly double the size of the former Murray’s Market at the south end of the center.

“Our goal is to position the center for the long term with a quality design and securing high quality tenants,” said Dan Hughes, chairman and principal of Metro Commercial Real Estate, during testimony before the zoning hearing board. “The closing of Murray’s Market has given us and the residents of Richboro the opportunity to achieve this goal by making the center a high quality amenity and something the residents can be proud of for years to come.”

Hughes said since Murray’s closing, Metro had been contacted by a number of discount and ethnic supermarkets “which could possibly operate in the former Murray’s space. That would be better than having a vacant anchor space, but it would cause us to forever miss the opportunity to get it right and provide the highest and best shopping experience for the residents of Richboro.”

Hughes also testified that without a quality anchor like Giant, a community shopping center like the Richboro Plaza would eventually fail.

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