BY BERNARD HARRIS, Staff Writer
With plans in place for the Lancaster Press building to be renovated into luxury condominiums on one side, a new parking garage being built behind them and other multimillion-dollar projects slated nearby, the three old rowhouses in the first block of West Lemon Street appear tired.
A redeveloped block would be better off without them, Lancaster city officials have determined.
Last week, city Economic Development & Neighborhood Revitalization Director Randy Patterson received the blessing of city Redevelopment Authority board members to proceed with plans to acquire 31, 33 and 35 W. Lemon St.
The three rowhouses will be demolished to create space for a small, urban pocket park, said Patterson.
The .07 of an acre of green space will "enhance the properties around it," he said.
The park also will increase the sightlines of motorists at the Lemon and Market streets intersection, he said.
Patterson noted there is now no green space in the block of buildings and pavement.
He could not estimate the cost of the project, saying he didn't know the acquisition costs of the three properties and had not discussed specific plans for the park with city Public Works officials.
Patterson said the city will appraise the properties and offer the owners fair-market value.
While he hopes for a "friendly taking," in which the owners agree to allow the city to take the properties, Patterson said the city is prepared to take them anyway through its powers of eminent domain.
It may do so because the use of the property for a park is considered a taking for the public good, he said.
Patterson said the city Redevelopment Authority cannot take the properties in the manner it usually does.
Typically, the city steps in and seizes properties if they are blighted.
"They meet code," he said of the three rowhouses.
The houses, built about 1900, are on the north side of West Lemon Street between Market Street and a two-story mid-20th century addition to the Lancaster Press building.
That addition is due to be torn down when the press building is renovated into 50 condominiums and apartments, at a cost of $16 million to $17 million. Work is expected to begin before the end of the year.
Patterson said the owners of the rowhouses have been notified of the city's plans.
Each of the three rowhouses have been divided into two rental units. Both 35 and 33 W. Lemon St. are fully occupied, he said. The third house, at 31 W. Lemon St., is vacant.
County property tax assessments, last done in 2005, place values on the properties ranging from $43,200 for 35 W. Lemon St. to $67,600 for 33 W. Lemon St.
Patterson expects new appraisals to come back with higher amounts.
He said no zoning approval is necessary for the creation of the pocket park, but the plans must be approved by City Council members.
He said city Public Works officials will study whether the park is large enough to be used for "green infrastructure." Doing so would involve building "rain gardens" with deep drainage beds, or some other means that would allow channeled rainwater to soak into the ground rather than reach the city's combined stormwater and sanitary sewer systems.
Lancaster is making such improvements citywide to divert rainwater and prevent overflows of raw sewage into the Conestoga River during heavy rains.
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