Whitehall and Continental Real Estate are collaborating to increase the footprint of Norton Crossing, a proposed $50 million mixed-use development at the southwest corner of East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road.

The majority of Norton Crossing will be built on the site of the Commons at Royal Landing, a 42-building, 270-unit apartment complex on 17 acres that Whitehall bought in April for $5 million from a New Jersey real-estate agent.

Also included in the project is a 1-acre parcel at 115 Shumaker Lane where an apartment building once stood that the city bought for $25,000 and demolished in August 2015 and another 1-acre parcel that the Whitehall Community Improvement Corp. owns.

The three parcels together total almost 20 acres, but Whitehall and Continental Real Estate has identified an adjacent apartment complex and retail strip center that, if added, would allow Norton Crossing to occupy the entire quadrant of the intersection.

"We are striving to build a quality community and do not want to have substandard adjacencies at the entrance to Whitehall," said Frank Kass, founder and chairman of Continental Real Estate.

Whitehall Development Director Zach Woodruff identified the two parcels as three apartment buildings and a 14,500-square-foot retail strip.

Both properties are on the west side of South Hamilton Road, just south of East Broad Street, and both are referred to as the Broad and Hamilton Plaza, Woodruff said.

If the two additional parcels are added, the size of Norton Crossing will increase to almost 25 acres, Kass said.

Four property owners are involved in the additional acquisitions, according to Kass, who added at least one is under contract and negotiations are underway with the others.

"We feel good about acquiring all the property we need," he said.

On April 4, Whitehall's City Council authorized legislation for Mayor Kim Maggard to deed the 17 acres at the Commons at Royal Landing and the Shumaker Lane parcel to Continental Real Estate for $1.

The legislation is effective 20 days after its passage.

However, the transaction will not be executed until the parcels are rezoned and a developer's agreement reached for the project in which Continental Real Estate is expected to invest $50 million, Woodruff said.

The WCIC will sell its property to Continental Real Estate in a separate transaction.

Meanwhile, the city is negotiating the purchase of the 14,500-square-foot retail center, and Continental Real Estate is negotiating the purchase of the three apartment buildings, Woodruff said.

"Now we begin the process of rezoning the parcels and creating a developer's agreement," he said of the process that involves the city's planning commission and City Council.

The city-owned property is zoned for apartments, and the WCIC-owned parcel is zoned general commercial district, Woodruff said.

Both parcels, as well as those to be added, will be rezoned as a planned unit development, Woodruff said.

After the parcels are rezoned and a developer's agreement is achieved, the city will transfer ownership of its land to Continental Real Estate.

Woodruff said the city anticipates the process will be complete by the end of July, after which demolition of the Commons at Royal Landing can begin.

Kass agreed with the timeline, adding the acquisition of the other parcels on South Hamilton Road could require the remainder of the year to complete.

"I think you'll see some demolition start late this summer. ... We hope to have the whole site clear by the end of the year," Kass said.

Woodruff said Norton Crossing will have an "urban, walkable feel" and provide "green space for the entire community."

"What is there today is not attractive," Woodruff said.

Maggard said demolition of the "ugly buildings" will be the biggest step yet in her continuing effort to combat blight in the city.

City leaders said they also were motivated to purchase the Commons at Royal Landing, which was built during World War II before Whitehall was incorporated, because of zoning violations and crime at the apartment complex.

On Nov. 16, 2015, a 28-year-old Youngstown man was fatally shot on Eastway Court, and on Feb. 27, 2014, a toddler died at an Eastway Court apartment after he tipped a stove onto himself that was reportedly being used to heat the apartment.

Active zoning complaints against the previous owners of the apartment complex were dismissed as part of the city's purchase agreement.

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