Neighbors Voice Concerns, Opposition to Current Plans for 913 Wheatland as Part of $93M St. Joseph Hospital Redevelopment
About 40 neighbors gathered Monday night to express their concerns and craft a strategy for their objections for plans for a four-story apartment building at 913 Wheatland Ave., a part of the proposed $93 million redevelopment of the old St. Joseph Hospital site.
Organizer Peter Brown, who lives on Marietta, made it clear that their primary concern was the density of the proposed apartment complex and its imposing size on what is currently a one-third acre, tree-lined parking lot, along with the problems it would bring for infrastructure, sewage, parking and logistics.
The planned apartment building is part of phase one of a larger redevelopment scheme being pushed by the city of Lancaster for the old hospital site along College Avenue.
Late last month, Lancaster City announced that UPMC had reached an agreement with a buyer and principal developer, Washington Place Equities (WPE) and the infamous HDC MidAtlantic as a partner. HDC MidAtlantic is the largest developer of government housing in Lancaster and traffics in low-income housing credits.
Initial plans for development include adding 325 housing units, more than a third of which would be subsidized public housing.
The proposed development requires a rezoning of the main site, as well as special exemption for the property at 913 Wheatland.
On Aug. 3, the Lancaster City Council Community Planning Committee voted 3-0 to advance a request to rezone the property. The measure they passed would change the property at 250 College Ave. from “hospital complex” to “mixed use” zoning.
The measure will get a first reading at the full council meeting tonight.
Brown called the proposal for 913 Wheatland “problematic” because of the high-density of the proposed apartment building.
“Everyone here may have their own individual views about particular aspects of this redevelopment project, both the project as a whole and the small part of it planned for 913 Wheatland Avenue; but what we are getting together to discuss this evening, and moving forward, is the question of the appropriateness of the plans for this specific property, 913 Wheatland Avenue, and the problems associated with those plans,” Brown said, speaking to the crowd that gathered at the site Monday night. “I want to stress that we are not here to express opposition to the redevelopment project as a whole, but as neighbors to the lot at 913 Wheatland Avenue, we are concerned about what happens here. Moreover, we are not opposed to providing affordable housing for those who need it. The sole focus of our concern is the idea of constructing a large building, intended to accommodate a large number of people, on a small tract of land, in a heavily residential area where it would become the dominating structure.”
Those gathered raised the issue that neither the developers nor the city had contacted them about the project, and that it was being rushed through with little community discussion.
Pam Stoner, another neighbor in attendance worried about alley access to her property, said that the project required the special exemption at 913 Wheatland as part of the redevelopment as a whole, and that without it the developers wouldn’t be able to get the low-income housing credits that the developer said are a make or break for the whole project.
“If they don’t have the support of the community, they can’t get the special exemption, and without it and the rezoning, the whole project stops,” Stoner said.
Another neighbor said that it was critical for neighbors to unite – regardless of their reasons or concerns – so that their voices would be heard by the city and the developers.
“They better listen to our voices and the more voices we have the better. They character of this neighborhood must be respected,” she said.
The Wheatland Avenue neighbors, like neighbors elsewhere around the site, have not been contacted by the city or the developers.
Other neighbors have voice concerns and objections ranging from worries that the mixed use development could bring gentrification that could price out current lower-income residents, to concerns that the government housing component would lower property values and bring more crime.
But Brown said he wants his neighbors to stay focused on their concerns on 913 Wheatland.
“Our concern is with the size of the building, its towering presence, and its many possible adverse effects on parking, infrastructure, water pressure, sewage, stormwater runoff, shade trees, green-space generally, access to surrounding properties, and numerous other similar concerns…that’s why we’re raising questions,” Brown told Lancaster-blog later. “We want to stay laser focused on that main set of questions.”
The group gathered signatures and is planning to bring their concerns and petition to the mayor’s office, as well as to attend all of the planning, zoning, trees commission and other meetings.
The developers have a lot of bureaucratic hoops to get through, and even with the city’s collaboration there is ample opportunity for opposing groups to bring this to a halt until their concerns are met.