Driving east along Highway 322 toward Hershey, it’s hard to miss a wide swathe of rolling farmland where bulldozers are hard at work creating a new mixed-use development.
Hershey West End, the largest development in recent memory in Derry Township, is poised over the next decade to bring more growth to the central Pennsylvania tourist town.
Hershey Trust Co. is constructing the village-style development between Waltonville and Bullfrog Valley roads adjacent to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
The trust, which is the financial engine of the Milton Hershey school, owns the 245 acres where work on the site is taking place. Plans for Hershey West call for at least 550 single-family homes, apartments and townhouses as well as commercial and retail space including a grocery store, hotel and restaurants.
To residents like Jonathan Crist, a local lawyer, the development is reminiscent of white picket fences and people relaxing in rocking chairs on porches.
“It’s almost a suburb of Hershey for lack of a better term,” he said. “The whole thing is based on the concept of Mayberry [the fictional town in the 1960s sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show].”
As with many large development projects, community members have quietly raised concerns that the project will lead to increased traffic, flooding and overcrowding of schools. The township’s population has held steady at around 25,000 for at least a decade, according to U.S. Census data.
Ken Gall, the Trust’s property manager, said the project provides a much-needed improvement to the township. Its realization should take between 10 and 15 years.
The Trust touts the site as a “whole new side of town” designed to “complement downtown Hershey and its beloved neighborhoods.”
The development is “designed to continue Milton S. Hershey’s community heritage with Main Street-style retail and dining, beautiful gathering spaces, connected outdoor amenities, and beautiful homes for every living state”, according to the website.
Hershey West End has been in development since at least 2015 and, according to the trust, will accommodate both residents and the medical center’s growing workforce. The first phase of the project included the expansion of U-Gro, the development of the Englewood barn into a brewery and restaurant, the Hershey Center for Applied Research and Cocoa Beanery.
“The property is ideally located for a mixed-use development providing additional living, working and recreational opportunities for those currently working or planning to work in Hershey,” Gall said.
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Construction of West End Avenue and a roundabout at Waltonville Road, installation of utilities and stormwater management are underway. Next year the focus will shift to housing construction, including 345 multi-family apartments and townhouses for rent, according to the Trust. The total number of dwellings is not yet known.
Future phases are expected to accommodate more than 55 detached and single-family homes as well as restaurants. The Trust has not yet announced any tenants. He previously said the development was to generate revenue to support the school, which is the trust company’s “fiduciary duty”.
Township Director of Community Development Chuck Emerick said in 2019 that Hershey West would have a “positive impact on the township and other taxing authorities.”
Community leaders like Maria Memmi, a real estate agent and vice-chairman of the Derry Township School District Council, said the project was a welcome addition.
“I love big, open green spaces, but the community is changing,” she said. “It’s a brilliant idea because there are so many people living on this side of town.”
Memmi said she doesn’t think Hershey West End will drive the city center away and likely help ease traffic congestion. She pointed out that residents like her would like to see more local businesses and restaurants, including bakeries and cafes.
Regarding housing, Memmi said rental housing is needed to accommodate workers at the medical center and The Hershey Company.
“We don’t have many rental properties available, and the ones we have are tired and dated. For the new generation and people coming in, the rentals that we have really need a refresh,” she said.
Memmi said she doesn’t believe there will be overcrowding in the school district as it is primed for additional students. Gall said the Trust has been in contact with school district management regarding the project.
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“Initial master plan approval in 2018 included a fiscal impact study that indicated a positive fiscal impact for both the township and the school district,” he said.
Some said additional residents and businesses would lead to increased traffic in the area. Waltonville Road between Wood Road and Route 322 is closed in July to facilitate roundabout construction. A traffic light has been temporarily installed at the intersection of Wood and Middletown roads.
At a hearing in April, Trust lawyer David Tshudy said a decision would be made on another traffic impact study before the next phase began.
“It’s a developer option at this point to either build the upgrades or do a study to see if the upgrades are even necessary,” he said.
Memmi said she was more concerned about whether the township was prepared to financially absorb the impact on services such as police, roadworks and public maintenance. However, she noted that the area should be able to accommodate growth based on the expected duration of the project.
“I commend (the Trust) for identifying a need and they are obviously working to meet it. Hopefully it will be aesthetically pleasing. I would trust them, everything they do is usually beautiful,” she said .