The Caernarvon/Berks Planning Commission is using caution and raising certain concerns over the proposed Morgantown Crossings shopping center, one of the biggest retail development plans ever to be presented to the commission.

At its last meeting, Thursday, Jan. 25, the Caernarvon/Berks Planning Commission withheld approval sought by the Norristown-based Wolfson-Verrichia Group for their plans for their proposed Morgantown Crossings shopping center.

Developer Steve Wolfson represented the development firm before the planning commission.

The planning commission moved to withhold any decision because of several variances in the plan that must be reviewed by the township's Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB).

Wolfson-Verrichia, known for building shopping centers anchored by Wal-Mart, plans to develop the 66.5 acre property between the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Heritage Drive along Route 23 in Morgantown. Plans for the proposed shopping center include a Wal-Mart store, a 2,000-seat movie theater, two restaurants, two fast-food restaurants, two banks, and six retail stores. A convenience store/gas station is also planned.

However, the property is not currently zoned for inclusion of a gas or pumping station. This variance will require approval by the Zoning Hearing Board.

Of great concern to the planning commission and those attending the meeting was Wolfson's request for a wavier not to build, as he described, "sidewalks that go nowhere' in front of the property along Main Street (Route 23).

This was met with disapproval from the commission's vice chairman, Kenny Sweitzer, who felt that the anticipated volume of pedestrian traffic warranted Wolfson to "not only install sidewalks, but make the improvements all the way into Morgantown,' including street lights.

The Board of Supervisors has final authority and can force improvements upon developers if they deem they are warranted. Sweitzer did not want the cost of the construction of sidewalks to become the burden of township property owners.

When asked by Sweitzer whether he would consider bearing the expense, Wolfson replied, "We're asking for a waiver, right now, to not put sidewalks in, but it's your decision as to what recommendations you want to make to your board of supervisors.'

After the proceedings, Township Manager and Planning Commission Secretary John Burdy remarked, "This kind of development brings the type of jobs that our younger citizens are going to hold. For some, their only option is to walk or ride a bike. You have to address pedestrians somehow.'

Area resident Jeanie Hutchinson added, "There's a school (Twin Valley) on one side and a town (Morgantown) on the other. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that a sidewalk should be part of the plan.'

Wolfson would not comment on the proceedings.

In other matters, the planning commission gave final approval to the Stoltzfus plan to subdivide their property. The Stoltzfus family will retain the 2.5 acres surrounding their home and put the remaining farm acreage up for sale

Morgantown Properties sought approval to annex a parcel of land adjacent to their existing property. A ruling was withheld because administrative issues need to be presented to the township's board of supervisors.

The next planning commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Caernarvon/Berks Township Building on Main Street, Morgantown.

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