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Lombardo’s gets zoning approval for herb garden

227 W. James St., left, and 217-221 W. James St. Lombardo’s Restaurant plans to incorporate buildings on the right into its expansion but wants to demolish the one at left. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The team expanding Lombardo’s Restaurant on Lancaster’s north side cleared a procedural hurdle this week, securing Zoning Hearing Board approval to build a neighborhood herb garden at the site of a blighted building.

Immobili Commerciali, a development firm owned by Sam Lombardo, is in charge of the project. Last month, it finally secured permission from the city to tear down the row home at 227 W. James St., provided that the garden replace it. (The arrangement also calls for Lombardo’s to permit neighbors to park in the restaurant’s lot during off hours.)

Immobili plans to construct a garden at the site, covering the same footprint as the main section of the building that is coming down.

It will be open to the public from dawn to dusk. Neighbors and the restaurant will be able to grow herbs there, and it will host a rotating series of sculptures, sourced with assistance from local colleges and the city’s Public Art Office, attorney Mike Davis of Barley Snyder told the board.

The idea stemmed from meetings with neighbors, he said. They’re supportive, he said, noting that the garden creates no negative externalities, such as noise. On the contrary, he said, it would be a neighborhood asset, built and maintained at Lombardo’s expense.

The city’s zoning ordinance has a category for parks, but not for public gardens, so this would be a “use not provided for,” Davis said. Accordingly, he requested a “special exception” allowing it, which the board granted unanimously without debate.

It took Immobili a full year to obtain the right to demolish 227 W. James St. The city’s Historical Commission objected repeatedly, saying the West James Street streetscape could not afford the building’s loss and that Immobili, having bought the building, was responsible for its condition and upkeep.

The Lombardo’s project includes expansion of the restaurant and addition of a deli, cigar bar and outdoor dining areas. The project budget is about $7.5 million.