Quartz Creek Holdings has submitted a land development plan to the City of Lebanon for the former Northwest Elementary School property at 900 Maple St.

Plans were formally introduced at the July 10 meeting of the city planning commission. Due to a copyright on the plans, the plans are not able to be reproduced except with permission by the architect, which had not been obtained as of publication time. However, LebTown was able to meet with city director of public works Robin Getz and project developer Aaron Camara, majority partner in Quartz Creek Holdings, to learn more about the proposed project.

Plans show the existing three-story Northwest school building converted into a self-storage facility, with 36,792-square-feet of floor space. Plans also show a new two-story, 7,420-square-foot (14,840-square-feet of floor space) retail/medical building being constructed on the western half of the lot, which would be subdivided into a 1.577-acre parcel for the self-storage facility and a 1.055-acre parcel for the retail/medical building as part of the plans.

An interior shared driveway would run between Maple and Water streets. Plans show 10 parking spaces for the storage facility and 58 spaces for the retail/medical building.

Getz said that the city is still working through the plans, and that a lot is going into the review of the “pretty substantial plan.” Getz said that it could take up to six months for the full planning approval process.

Getz said that the plan would require a few variances for driveway width, driveway setback, and paved area setback. These variances have already been granted preliminarily by the city’s zoning hearing board, but must be obtained by the planning commission separately. Getz said that one of the questions city planners would consider is whether the driveway, which is shared between the two parcels, would be evaluated as one road or two roads. Both uses – self-storage and medical/retail – fit within the property’s existing zoning, Getz said, although the planning commission would still need to approve the land use change from its previous use as a school/educational facility.

Read More: What officials can and can’t do when it comes to approving land development

The former Northwest Elementary School, photographed by drone in 2020, from north of the school looking south. Maple Street runs along photo bottom, N. 9th Street is to the left, N.10th Street is to the right, and Water Street runs along the top of the photo. The pedestrian bridge over North 10th Street, visible in the top right of the photo, was demolished in 2021 as part of a three-way agreement between the city, the Lebanon School District, and Quartz Creek Holdings. (Will Trostel)

The building was last used as a school in 2018, replaced by the Lebanon School District with a new Northwest Elementary School at 1315 Old Forge Road.

Read More: Northwest Elementary School served many in its 42-year history

The plans differ from concepts shared by Quartz Creek Holdings in August 2020 for the property, which was once envisioned for use as a commercial and office space. When LebTown checked in with Quartz Creek in December 2022, Camara said that potential tenants were awaiting the renovations – at the time, asbestos removal had just been completed on the building – but also cautioned that with the way the economy is, the situation was fluid.

Read More:

Camara told LebTown that he has no regrets on sharing the earlier plans, which Getz said were exciting to city planners, who only learned of the new vision for the site when it was introduced earlier this month. Camara said that Quartz Creek spent around a quarter of a million dollars vetting out plans and designs, and was fully committed to each idea, trying to do the very best it could. “We wouldn’t do it any other way,” he said.

Facing a professional office space market that has changed dramatically in the years since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Camara said that at any given time he had about 10,000-square-feet of space leased, but never got above the threshold of 50% leased space he said would warrant proceeding with construction.

However, he said he was fortunate enough to have “potential capital” and could take the time to vet out potential opportunities. Conversations with medical providers about taking the entire space fizzled out – that industry facing its own post-pandemic financial struggles – and although Camara describes himself as “not an apartment guy,” he did explore whether housing could be a good fit for the structure. To make that work, though, the apartments would need to be high-end units, and not the affordable housing needed most locally.

There were a few requirements Camara had for whatever the plan ended up being, he said:

  • Reused the building
  • Added services to the area
  • Improved nearby property values

Camara said that his experience with the Partridge Street redevelopment project, known today as Shoppes at the Bridges, emphasized to him the importance of that last point, improving neighboring property values, and shared an anecdote of a woman who owned a home next to the Shoppes at the Bridge coming up to him to thank him for the high double-digit growth she had seen in her property value as the 3.25-acre retail center in the heart of Lebanon was realized.

“The community should have some benefit (from developments),” said Camara. “Not just amenities but value in their own homes. What we do is like a ripple effect.”

The puzzle pieces of the storage facility and retail/medical building fit together like this: Parking requirements in the city would allow the Northwest building to be reused as self-storage, freeing up room on the lot to construct the new retail/medical building.

Camara said that his experience with the Shoppes at the Bridge has given him “a proven formula” for suiting the needs of commercial clients, and that he feels that the space will be easy to lease. Bennett Williams is marketing the retail/medical spaces, which would be built as an immediate-followup to the self-storage facility construction.

Quartz Creek Holdings plans to spend about $10 million overall on the project, with the property subdivision making the separate phases easier to finance as sequential developments, rather than trying to do it all at once.

Camara said that the first phase plan has already received pre-approval for financing. He said that the majority of the site work for the entire site will be completed in the first phase, a 9- to 12-month effort that he hopes begins in September. The retail/medical building would be constructed next in its own roughly 12-month sprint. Camara said that he hopes to see the plan reviewed at the August planning commission meeting.

LebTown file photo from September 2020 showing the former Northwest Elementary School at 900 Maple St., Lebanon. As part of Quartz Creek Holdings proposed land development plan, a medical/retail building would be constructed on the area where the former school playground stands. (Will Trostel)

And about the use as storage – as LebTown readers have noted, the sector is seeing significant capital activity right now, with new storage facilities being planned and others being scooped up by private equity-backed chains.

Camara said that as part of validating the self-storage plan, which began to evolve early this year, he spoke to potential competitors to see how things were going. Most were full, he said, and in general “the appetite for storage in America is still on fire.”

Camara shared renderings of the facility and said that the facility – which has not yet been named – will be operated by Quartz Creek and be constructed as a “quality project.”

Architectural renderings of the self-storage facility Quartz Creek Holdings proposes to build at the former Northwest Elementary School in Lebanon. (Provided photo)
LebTown file photo from September 2020 showing the former Northwest Elementary School at 900 Maple St., Lebanon. (Will Trostel)

Since Quartz Creek doesn’t need to construct a new building, Camara said the facility will be able to operate at a price point for climate-controlled storage that will be tough to beat. He said that spaces will range from 50-to 300-square-feet, and that one of his goals is to make the facility an asset for local business operators who might be pinched for space as rents for retail space remain high.

Camara said that the plans were designed to provide ease of access, and that a dock and fork lift/operator will be available to facilitate load-in/load-out.

“We’re not going to skimp on any finishes or details,” said Camara, who also noted that they will dedicate a portion of the corner at 10th and Maple streets to the city so that a currently too-tight turn radius for semitrailers can be improved to make the corridor more pedestrian-friendly. Separately, Camara said that he’s hoping the direction of travel on Water Street can be reversed back to its original flow, so that it fits again into the city pattern of alternating directions of travel on cross-streets. (Camara said that the direction of travel had been changed away from its original intended purpose when the school opened.)

Camara said that it’s been good working with the city so far.

“We’re kind of the first guys over the walls in terms of trying to develop big projects in the city,” he said. He drew a parallel between the challenges that had to be overcome during development projects with the currently-much-lamented street construction in Lebanon, which Camara said will look great once it’s done. “Pain on the front end” but worth it in the end.

His hope, he said, is that projects like this – and the redevelopment of the former Lebanon Catholic campus – help address the “donut” problem he sees in Lebanon, where it seems like all the communities surrounding the city are getting improvements and new services/offerings while investors seem skittish of the city itself.

Speaking of the Lebanon Catholic developer, Shakher Patel, Camara noted: “Putting blood, sweat, and treasure on the line – that should be encouraged, nurtured, and supported by the powers that be in the city.”

With that spark, Camara said, and hunger for investors to come here, progress will happen quickly. Lebanon, he said, is an ideal place to work, live, and play, especially if you can get amenities and housing brought to market close together for an energizing effect.

“Hopefully it spurs other investors,” said Camara. “New investors, new ideas in the city – that’s a great place to be.”

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Davis Shaver is the publisher of LebTown. He grew up in Lebanon and currently lives outside of Hershey, PA.


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