Nobody ever said that developing affordable housing for seniors is easy.
And at the stately Long Home, a vacant property on the western edge of Lancaster city, the task has been anything but.
The challenges have prompted property owner Presbyterian Senior Living to change directions several times during its eight years of ownership.
And now, the nonprofit is taking another new tack, by proposing a $17.8 million venture that would create 52 apartments.
The Dillsburg-based developer discussed its latest path at a meeting of the city Historical Commission earlier this month.
The new plan would be 19 percent smaller than a 2013 proposal for 64 apartments that fizzled due to a lack of financing.
The housing still would be for seniors age 62 and older with low or moderate incomes.
“This is just a conceptual design. None of it is fixed in stone,” said Malynda Hivner, Presbyterian Senior Living’s controller for community-based housing.
The Historical Commission gives advisory votes on whether construction or renovations proposed in the city’s historic district comply with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards.
The panel did not take action on the proposal.
But its members gave favorable comments while asking Presbyterian Senior Living to return to a future meeting with information about the type of building materials it would use.
Robert Fields, commission vice chairman, said the presentation’s purpose “was just to look and see if they’re going in the right direction and we thought they were. This is a reasonably attractive way to use the lot.
“It’s certainly not out of character” with the neighborhood, said Fields.
Ray D’Agostino, chief executive officer of the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership, welcomed the new proposal.
D’Agostino said the project would help address a persistent need for affordable senior housing here while fitting with surrounding properties.
Senior housing since 1905
At the western edge of the city, the Long Home opened in 1905 to care for elderly poor countians. The facility was established by the will of Henry G. Long, a former judge and state legislator.
The 28,500-square-foot structure stands on a 4.0-acre site bounded by North West End Avenue, Marietta Avenue and West Walnut Street. The site is zoned R-4, for high-density residential buildings.
Presbyterian Senior Living bought the property in 2008 for $1.86 million, courthouse records show.
In 2012, Presbyterian Senior Living moved the Long Home’s 31 residents to its newly constructed Long Community at Highland, between East Roseville Road and Oregon Pike.
The property has stood vacant since.
Initially, Presbyterian Senior Living planned to sell the city property.
But lacking strong offers and seeing a strong need for affordable housing for seniors, the nonprofit changed its mind.
Its 2013 plan called for converting the Long Home into nine apartments. Wings of 24,000 square feet and 34,400 square feet would have been constructed to create the 55 remaining units.
However, the plan fizzled when Presbyterian Senior Living failed to win tax credits for it from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, said Hivner.
“It’s very tough to get (the tax credits),” said Hivner, noting that the agency gets about 130 applications a year but has the capacity to fund only about 30.
Still, Presbyterian Senior Living “took some of their comments to heart” and revised its plan for the site, she said, though she declined to specify how.
Presbyterian Senior Living went back to PHFA for Long Home projects unsuccessfully in 2015 and this year. It now envisions reapplying in 2017.
PHFA spokesman Scott Elliott said that because its tax credits are in short supply, it’s not unusual for developers to tweak and resub their proposals.
New uses for old structure
If Presbyterian Senior Living is awarded tax credits next year, construction could start in 2018.
Its latest plan would convert the Long Home building of 28,500 square feet into social spaces. These would include an exercise room, meeting rooms, reading room, game room, chapel, art studio, yoga studio and a library.
A new building of about 64,000 square feet containing those 52 apartments — 46 one-bedroom units and six two-bedroom units — would be constructed on the property’s West Walnut Street side.
This apartment building would resemble a string of row homes, to fit with the architecture of the area, said Hivner.
A carriage house in mid-block on West Walnut Street would be moved east to the corner at North West End Avenue. This building would be used as a classroom and community space.
The west side of the relocated carriage house would connect to the apartment building, and the south side of the apartment building would be tied into the Long Home.
Some 55 parking spaces would be added to the west side of the site, accessed from West Walnut Street, supplementing the 16 spaces now on the site.
The redeveloped site would be named Long Crest.
Hivner noted that Presbyterian Senior Living has two main hurdles to clear before the project becomes a reality.
Besides obtaining tax credits from PHFA, the developer would need to submit a land development plan to the city and have it win approval.
“We have a long way to go,” Hivner said.