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United Way of Lancaster County


Pocket park, or housing? City changes course on vacant Beaver Street lot

The entrance to 339 Beaver St. (Source: Google Street View)

A blighted vacant lot in the 300 block of Beaver Street in Lancaster is to be returned to the housing market after more than a decade of efforts to redevelop it as a community park or garden.

Click to enlarge. (Source: City of Lancaster)

The 0.19-acre lot at 339 Beaver St. is nestled amid a block of narrow row houses. It reverted to city ownership in mid-2021.

The Department of Public Works has been exploring options for a park there, but it just isn’t suitable, Public Works Director Stephen Campbell told City Council this week.

The site “is a very oddly configured one,” he said, and the rear of the property slopes upward, which keeps about a third of the site from being incorporated into the park design. Sightlines in and out of the lot are poor; despite efforts to make it secure, it has been a magnet for bad behavior, including trespassing, trash dumping, vandalism and fights.

Those issues can’t easily be remedied. Moreover, it would cost too much to install the infrastructure necessary for a park, including provisions for stormwater drainage, he and Mayor Danene Sorace said.

The expense, had the city proceeded, “would have far outweighed the benefit,” Sorace said.

Ewell Gantz Playground. (Source: Public Art Archive)

The money would be better spent elsewhere, Campbell said. In particular, it could go toward upgrades at trio of existing parks and playgrounds in Lancaster’s southeast: The South End Park at 10 Furnace St.; the Ewell Gantz Playground at the corner of South Christian and North streets next to The Mix; and the Joe Jackson “Tot Lot” at South Christian and Dauphin streets.

Are three are priority sites for renovation in the parks and open space master plan that the Public Works Department is in the midst of crafting.

The shift means the city will forego a roughly $126,000 state grant that was earmarked for the Beaver Street site. All other funding can be repurposed, Campbell said.

The plan is to hand off 339 Beaver St. to the city redevelopment authority to market and sell it. The transfer will require City Council approval, as would be the case for any city-owned property.

Campbell said he ultimately expects a row house to be built, like the rest of the block.

Arranging for the sale and restoration of blighted properties is one of the authority’s principal duties. Its contracts with developers, both for-profit and nonprofit, require them to complete renovations within a set amount of time; and, in the case of residential properties, to rent or sell to low- or moderate-income households.

Efforts to redevelop 339 Beaver St. go back to 2011, when the property was declared blighted and the redevelopment authority took it by eminent domain.

In 2013, the authority gifted it to Lancaster Community Gardens, a nonprofit that planned to install raised beds where neighbors could grow vegetables. That idea stalled — in part because the site is too shady, Campbell said — and the authority resumed ownership in 2016.

In 2018, the nonprofit Lancaster Equity bought the site for $1,500, planning to work with a neighborhood group to create a community park. The city took over the property and the redevelopment contract from Lancaster Equity in the summer of 2021.