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United Way of Lancaster County


City Council to weigh in on The Apartments at College Avenue

A rendering of The Apartments at College Avenue. (Source: HDC MidAtlantic | Tippetts Weaver Architects)

Last month, Lancaster city’s Historical Commission concluded, by a 4-0 vote, that the proposed five-story Apartments at College Avenue development would not be out of character with its surroundings.

On Tuesday evening, Lancaster City Council is scheduled to vote on whether it agrees. A “yes” vote would put nonprofit HDC MidAtlantic’s 64-unit affordable housing project, which would be the first of its kind in Lancaster in decades, one step closer to reality. It is budgeted at $16.4 million, up from $15.4 million.

Council’s meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 120 N. Duke St. Meetings are livestreamed on the city’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

The plan has drawn strong opposition from nearby residents, who contend the building is too large and will generate too much traffic. Homeowners along the 600 block of West Chestnut Street say they don’t want it looming over their back yards, just a few feet from their property lines.

Neighbors want the project scaled back to the 30-unit size that HDC MidAtlantic had initially proposed, said Jay Rosenthal, one of the block’s residents.

Rosenthal is among a half dozen petitioners who are appealing the city Zoning Hearing Board’s decision to grant a number of variances for the project, including one allowing the building’s south wall to be just 6 1/2 feet from its property line.

This plan shows the proposed footprint of The Apartments of College Avenue extending from College Avenue, left, toward Elm Street, right. Click to enlarge. (Source: HDC MidAtlantic | Site Design Concepts)

That’s not only a privacy concern but a safety risk, Rosenthal said. He contends there should be a lane between the properties wide enough to allow emergency vehicles access in case of fire.

The building’s mass is comparable to that of nearby buildings along College Avenue and its detailing echoes elements commonly found in the surrounding streetscapes, project architect Gary Weaver told the Historical Commission.

Commission members noted their job is to review how buildings look from public streets and sidewalks — a private back yard is beyond their purview. The commission determined the building’s scale and appearance are suitable for its College Avenue site, and that it would not be readily visible from West Chestnut Street.

At last week’s City Council committee meeting, Rosenthal and other neighbors reiterated their objections. They don’t object to affordable housing as such, they stressed, only to this project’s scale and the resulting neighborhood impact.

Block resident Michaela Allwine, who works to expand affordable housing as Director of Housing and Community Development at the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, added her voice to the concerns about emergency vehicle access. She’s in favor of the project as long as it’s done safely, she said. (Allwine is not a party to the appeal.)

Other neighborhood residents have publicly expressed support for the project as presented.

City Chief Planner Douglas Smith told City Council the Historical Commission had done a thorough review and that from a city planning perspective, the project has many benefits.

Weaver, the architect, acknowledged the building’s size but noted the site has been zoned to allow that scale for decades. He said the project team is continuing to meet with the city and its fire department to work through the fire-safety issue.

The Apartments at College Avenue are the first step in an ambitious mixed-use redevelopment plan in and around the former St. Joseph Hospital campus.

Building that 64-unit initial phase will require demolition of a vacant one-story medical building on the site. City Council will consider that as well; the Historical Commission is recommending approval.

City Council’s vote is one element of the approval process, which also includes reviews and a vote by the Planning Commission.