Citing unresolved issues with both plans, the Unity Township Planning Commission on Tuesday failed to approve preliminary site plans for proposed Sheetz and GetGo convenience stores/gas stations along Route 30.
The planning commission voted to table Sheetz’s proposed plans for a store along Route 30 West and Theatre Street, while the board failed to approve a motion to table GetGo’s proposed site at the intersection of Route 30 East and Giffin Drive.
Representatives have 45 days or the next planning commission meeting to address several board concerns tied to the Sheetz site plan. Ohio-based real estate developer Skilken Gold also tentatively plans to go in front of the township zoning hearing board on Sept. 24 for a dimensional variance request for the site’s gasoline fueling pumps because they extend too close to Route 30, township solicitor Gary Falatovich said.
The GetGo plan, with revisions, could come before the planning commission again next month.
During a public hearing in July, Skilken Gold showed preliminary plans for a 6,100-square-foot gas station and convenience store at property where Geo’s Restaurant & Lounge currently sits along with an adjacent shuttered ice cream shop.
Ryan Herchenroether, director of development for Skilken Gold, said the proposed Sheetz will be a 24/7 operation, with a drive-thru lane for food and drink orders, seating on the inside and outside of the store and about 40 parking spaces for customers. He added that there are currently no plans for a car wash at the site.
Alcoholic beverages sales might be offered at the store, Herchenroether noted, with approval from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
According to preliminary drawings, there will be right-in and right-out access to the Sheetz on Route 30, along with a secondary entrance using Theatre Street.
Any changes to the intersection are contingent upon a traffic study through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Herchenroether said his firm hopes to submit a traffic impact study to PennDOT by the end of the week.
At July’s hearing, project engineer Ryan Balko of the GPD Group couldn’t provide a total number of vehicles projected to travel to and from the store. While Herchenroether said the traffic study will be done at various times, one resident at the hearing urged officials that traffic counts should be taken during the school year when more vehicles travel the busy intersection. Falatovich reiterated Tuesday that traffic counts should include peak traffic times while classes are in session.
Although Herchenroether said the firm doesn’t consider the Sheetz as a “major traffic generator” — unlike shopping plazas and office parks, he said — Falatovich said it qualifies as such based on his past experiences with Sheetz projects. Falatovich added that the site will likely generate several hundred cars of additional traffic to the area.
While Village Drive was widened as part of a plan to construct a Speedway store/gas station in the Mountain View area of the township, Falatovich said any roadway modifications — whether right in or right out access off Route 30 or recommended improvements to Theatre Street — won’t be known until a traffic study is submitted.
Township officials will have some say in this instance, Falatovich said, because Theatre Street is a township road. He said Village Drive is a county road.
Falatovich and planning commission members also had issues with the lack of details related to circulation of traffic at the site, be it vehicles moving through the parking lot, traveling through the drive-thru, going into the fueling area and traveling in and out of the site. The plan also must show how fueling trucks come in and out of the site, he added, in order to grant any modification requests to the developer.
Balko said Sheetz fuel trucks typically visit a specific store about three times per week.
“Without seeing where these things are on the plan, the dimensions and how traffic is meant to be circulated throughout the plan, it’s going to be difficult to make any decision on any modification,” Falatovich said. “How the applicant proposes to circulate traffic is something those of us that review the plan are concerned about.”
A number of residents again expressed issues related to traffic, noise and stormwater runoff on Tuesday. Resident Sarah Krivonik asked if Sheetz would consider measures for possible disturbances for residents along Theatre and Golf streets, including limiting the hours when it receives deliveries and minimizing the amount of noise at the site. She also cited the number of accidents already present at the Geo’s intersection, and how Sheetz traffic would add further congestion to the heavily-traveled five-way intersection in Lawson Heights where Theatre Street, Monastery Drive and Mission Road converge.
As for numerous residents’ stormwater concerns, Balko said previously runoff would go into a retention pond at the eastern end of the site and then slowly into an existing stormwater system along Golf Street.
Herchenroether said the plan will keep intact an existing 33-foot vegetative buffer along Golf Street to “shield” the Sheetz from nearby homes. He added that the developer cannot fit a fence along the northern edge of the property, as requested by some residents, given the township’s landscaping requirements.
Falatovich said township zoning regulations require a minimum 60-foot buffer between the proposed store and nearby homes.
Preliminary plans also call for the addition of 28 large canopy trees, 34 small canopy trees and more than 100 shrubs, Herchenroether said. Several residents said the proposed shrubs near the Theatre Street portion of the site would limit visibility for motorists.
“The intent is clearly to respect that we’re abutting a residential neighborhood,” Herchenroether said, adding that the existing buffer and additional landscaping should alleviate any possible lighting issues for neighbors. “We want to provide as much of a buffer as possible. ... We think the existing growth with the proposed plantings will shield a good deal from the adjacent residents.”
Sheetz spokesman Nick Ruffner said the company looks to begin construction of the store in the spring with an estimated opening date sometime late next summer.
Ruffner said Sheetz has 274 Pennsylvania locations, including 15 in Westmoreland County. In December, a new store opened along Route 30 East in Hempfield Township not far from the municipality’s border with Unity Township.
Mark Zimmerman of Delmont-based engineering firm Morris Knowles & Associates, said GetGo’s plans call for the construction of an 6,232-square-foot gas station/convenience store with seven dispenser aisles and a total of 14 fueling stations, a drive-through car wash and associated parking along 3.8 acres, located at the intersection of Route 30 East and Giffin Drive.
A small dining area, car wash and alcohol sales are features of the proposed gas station/convenience store, to be located at the former Arnold Palmer Motors property.
Giant Eagle representatives said previously that the new GetGo store will feature made-to-order food and drinks, along with seating for 30 people. The ability to sell beer and other alcoholic beverages at the store is contingent upon Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board approval.
As part of the construction of the new gas station, representatives said the existing GetGo — located at nearby Mountain Laurel Plaza for more than a decade — will close and the land will be reutilized for other development in the future.
Preliminary traffic plans at the site call for right-in, right-out access onto Giffin Drive; full access through the back of Giffin Drive, and right-in, right-out access onto Route 30. Two-way traffic would be allowed on a southern portion of Giffin Drive and on a proposed new lane linking the site to Medical Park Drive.
Giffin Drive’s heavily used access road — which takes motorists from Route 30 or Latrobe 30 Shoppes to the Wildcat Commons shopping plaza — will not be modified as part of the GetGo plan.
“Walmart was not receptive to that,” Pat Avolio, Giant Eagle’s director of development, said previously about the roadway, which is part of a private drive on Walmart property. “If you open that connection up, you would have to analyze and improve all of Route 30 to address any change in traffic.”
Zimmerman said a traffic impact study is currently being reviewed by PennDOT. The only suggested roadway improvement is an extension of a west end turning lane onto Route 30, he added.
The car wash, he added, will be able to stack up to eight cars. Plans also call for a private road on the western side of the car wash that would connect Route 30 with the right in, right out access and provide full access to Medicial Park Drive, Zimmerman said.
Falatovich said the township’s ordinance’s stacking requirements for automated car washes requires the firm to provide the number of vehicles that use the car wash per hour. Those details weren’t provided at Tuesday’s meeting.
Not wanting to possibly obstruct traffic with the addition of several larger trees, Zimmerman also requested a landscaping modification that includes several shrubs and small trees similar to the CVS store along Route 30 East.
Avolio said previously the new GetGo store would take up a portion of the roughly 12-acre site owned by Giant Eagle. He said the rest of the land is available for other development. The former Arnold Palmer Motors closed its doors in December 2017 after more than 35 years in business.
Also related to the convenience stores/gas stations, the planning commission Tuesday approved lot consolidations for both the proposed Sheetz and GetGo sites.
In other business, the board granted preliminary approval for a 6,000-foot addition, along with interior renovations, to St. Vincent College’s community dining center adjacent to the Anselm Center. The upgrades will provide students and staff with more modern, individualized dining options instead of the traditional cafeteria-style layout. The approval was made contingent on resolving stormwater-related matters and a letter from the Unity Township Municipal Authority (UTMA).
Two motions by planning commission member Frank Novotny regarding the plan — to table the St. Vincent plan and deny it because it didn’t meet all township requirements — both died for lack of a second.