An independent news publication of
United Way of Lancaster County


City steps up its planning for redevelopment at County Prison site

(Source: OUL file images)

Lancaster city planning officials want to make sure they have a strategy in place for the County Prison site next to Reservoir Park.

The 4.73-acre property is on track to become available in a few years following the relocation of the county’s correctional operations to Lancaster Township. Its redevelopment has tremendous potential to enhance the neighborhood and constitutes a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, Chief Planner Douglas Smith told City Council this week.

To prepare, the city is looking to create a “small area plan” there. It will not concentrate on the prison site alone, Smith emphasized, but will take a holistic approach, addressing issues at the property and in the surrounding neighborhood such as transportation, housing, economic opportunity, infrastructure, open space and aesthetics.

The city hopes to secure a consultant and begin work this spring. There will be an extensive public engagement effort, Smith promised.

The analysis will cost around $200,000, he said. The city has $25,000 in hand thanks to a Keystone Communities grant from the Department of Community & Economic Development. It is hoping to secure another $122,500 from DCED through its Municipal Assistance Program. On Tuesday, City Council will consider a resolution authorizing the administration to submit the grant application.

Now in the schematic design phase, Lancaster County’s new correctional facility will be built in Lancaster Township on land adjoining the county’s Central Park. Officials hope to break ground in early 2025: Construction is projected to take about two years, tentatively putting the opening in late 2026.

The existing County Prison property is county-owned. City and county officials have said they will work together to transfer it when the time comes. It will likely go to a third-party developer: The city does not have the resources to hold the property itself for any length of time, Mayor Danene Sorace said Monday.

Planning for the prison’s move is listed as an important near-term priority in Our Future Lancaster, the comprehensive plan adopted last year. Redevelopment of the site “should close gaps in the existing neighborhood fabric and maximize Reservoir Park as a community anchor,” the plan says, as well as provide for “neighborhood-serving” businesses such as a grocery.

As a private development, the property would return to the city tax rolls for the first time in more than 150 years. Planners are also excited at the prospect of adding to Lancaster’s stock of housing and community space, Smith said.

The comp plan envisions small area plans being created for other key sites as well, including Engleside, the Northwest Gateway and Sunnyside Peninsula.