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A rendering of a proposed redevelopment of the Shops at Rockvale that would replace stores in the center of the Route 30 shopping center with apartment buildings. This rendering is looking southeast toward Rockvale with the Route 30/Willowdale Drive intersection at the center.

Fernmoor pushes ahead with Shops at Rockvale housing plan as High hits pause on 628-unit Greenfield
Chad Umble, Staff Writer, Lancaster Online
Oct 8, 2023

For years, East Lampeter Township officials have been pleading — sometimes literally — for developers to build more housing in the township.

Their efforts, which included some creative rezoning, helped clear the way for a pair of blockbuster projects poised to bring more than 1,100 new units on or near the Route 30 corridor.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said John Blowers, chairman of the board of supervisors. “But as you now know, unfortunately, there are now other forces and factors beyond our control and everyone’s control.”

Soaring construction costs and rising interest rates for construction loans have slowed — but not stopped — work on the new housing projects on opposite ends of the township.

High Real Estate Group has hit the pause button on its fully approved plans for its 628-unit Greenfield North apartment and townhome complex at the intersection of Greenfield and Willow roads. But 5 miles east along Route 30, Fernmoor Homes says it is moving ahead with plans to add 480 new apartments by tearing down half the store space in the Shops at Rockvale.

“We’re gung-ho,” said Jeffrey Fernbach, president of Fernmoor Homes. “We’re confident that we know what our costs are. We’re comfortable with that even in this increased environment … Waiting is a cost too.”

Both projects had been cheered by East Lampeter officials, who say housing is an urgent need in the suburban township. To help induce new housing construction, officials approved zoning changes for both the Greenfield and Rockvale properties.

“We will continue to use zoning as a tool like that,” Blowers said. “Government doesn’t have a general contracting business. It doesn’t have a lot of backhoes and dump trucks ready to go digging or carpenters that work for them. In the end, you’ve got to work with the private sector.”

Rockvale opportunity

Even though interest rates for construction loans have more than doubled since January 2022, Fernbach said the company is going ahead with the redevelopment of Rockvale it had previously estimated at $120 million. He declined to speculate how much more the project might cost now.

“Our opportunity here is related to the enhanced value of the retail and the retail enhancing the residential,” Fernbach said. “As the apartments come online, not only do you have the value of the apartments, but you have the increased value of the retail. There’s a synergy there.”

Fernbach said demolition on some vacated buildings at Rockvale should happen this winter and construction of the first four apartment buildings with 144 units is on track to start next summer. As construction begins on the first apartments, municipal approvals will be sought for the rest of the apartments, Fernbach said.

“I don’t know that waiting is the right move for us as a company,” Fernbach said.

Fernmoor Homes is a family-owned firm that has built large residential developments in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Fernmoor bought Rockvale in December 2022 for $30.5 million from Wharton Realty, which had secured the zoning change that allowed for a mixed-used redevelopment with new apartment buildings.

Fernmoor’s original plan for Rockvale was for 13 three-story apartment buildings with around 300 total units. At the behest of township staff and the encouragement of supervisors, the plan was expanded to include 480, with an option for even more. Each building would have a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments rented at market rates. There won’t be any subsidized housing.

As it seeks approval for new apartment buildings, Fernmoor has been relocating some existing tenants closer to Route 30 so it can tear down buildings near the back to make way for apartments. It is also making plans to install eight electric vehicle chargers that should be ready next summer, Fernbach said.

Hitting pause

As the Rockvale redevelopment is proceeding, High Real Estate is taking a wait-and-see approach with the largest residential development ever approved in East Lampeter Township.

High recently said it has put plans temporarily on hold for the 628-unit Greenfield North apartment and townhome complex at Greenfield and Willow roads. Company representatives said increased construction and borrowing costs have prompted them to delay the project in its 600-acre corporate and residential park.

The first phase of market-rate apartments, with 440 units, had originally been scheduled for a spring 2023 groundbreaking. The project does not include any subsidized housing.

High says it committed to the housing, which was proposed as part of the larger $150 million Greenfield North mixed-use development which includes two warehouses now under construction.

“This will be a spectacular community. But we have got to time it right,” Tony Seitz, vice president of development for High Real Estate Group, recently told LNP | LancasterOnline.
Blowers, who says he has been in touch with High representatives, said he didn’t expect the pause to last longer than a year.

“I’m not disappointed in what High is doing,” Blowers said. “The good, sound business that it is, it’s trying to figure out how to keep things moving.”

The Greenfield North project was helped by a decade-old rezoning of land to the north of what had previously been known as Greenfield Corporate Park. The rezoning allowed for a mixed-use development with new housing on the former farm.

“No board in 40 years in East Lampeter Township had considered rezoning much agricultural land,” Blowers said.

In addition to rezoning what had been farmland, the township supported High’s plan for an extension of Walnut Street north of Route 30 along a portion of an unfinished road long known as the “goat path.” The new, 1.2-mile road which will provide access to Greenfield North was opened Sept. 29.