The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 22, 2012

Olive Garden plans await Richland School Board approval

JOHNSTOWN — A national chain is cooking up plans to put two famous eateries on the corner of Eisenhower Boulevard and Theatre Drive.

But for Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse to find a home there, Darden Restaurants must first get permission from the property’s closest neighbor, the Richland School District, because both would seek liquor licenses.

“This is the real deal. Darden is serious about this,” CCN Properties’ Bill Trevorrow said, showing board members plans that call for both restaurants to be built on 6 acres of undeveloped land.

Designs show access to the restaurants at two locations along Eisenhower, while a secondary entrance to the site would run behind Olive Garden and LongHorn from Theatre Drive.

The restaurants’ front doors would face Eisenhower.

State Liquor Control Board law requires school approval prior to license transfer when a property eyed for such use sits next to school land.

In this case, the land borders a Richland practice field and the former Rachel Hill school, which is now used for storage.

Trevorrow said Darden would guarantee the licenses would only be transferred to another family restaurant if one of the eateries were forced to close.

“We want to work with you to make this happen,” Trevorrow added.

The land is designated commercial, which means it is zoned for restaurants and other retail, school district Solicitor Tim Leventry said.

“The important thing to understand is that this isn’t school district property,” Leventry said. “It’s private land.”

An Ohio developer sought to buy the Theatre/Eisenhower tract and 16 acres of school land to build a retail center in the same neighborhood earlier this year.

But it drew opposition from district residents, many of whom said the school should keep its land. The district eventually turned down a $2.1 million offer.

Darden’s plan would bring two popular restaurant concepts to the area.

Olive Garden is perhaps the nation’s most well-known Italian-American-themed family chain.

The eatery markets its Tuscan-style dishes and Italian family dining concept.

The nearest locations are in Hempfield Township, east of Greensburg, and on Pleasant Valley Boulevard, Altoona.

LongHorn was founded in 1981, but received a redesign in late 2007 when it was purchased by the Darden company. The chain has grown steadily since.

It’s known for a menu of fresh, “never frozen” grilled steaks, chicken and fish, Darden’s website shows.

There are now more than 350 locations across the country.

The board is expected to consider the request at its Nov. 13 meeting.

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