The proposed 20-story Willow Valley Mosaic apartment building in downtown Lancaster won a pair of key city approvals on Tuesday, though several more remain before construction can begin.
Lancaster City Council’s 5-2 vote allows developer Willow Valley Living to demolish two existing buildings on the South Queen and West Vine streets property and to build a structure with an appearance as proposed.
Council took the advice of the city Historical Commission, which had recommended by a 6-0 vote last month that council approve the two “certificates of appropriateness” for the project, a venture that would create the county’s tallest building and cost more than $90 million. The commission weighed in because the site is in the city’s Heritage Conservation District.
The 147-unit building, for people ages 55 and up, would be on a site previously owned by LNP Media Group. Willow Valley Living would raze LNP’s former production building, built in 1982, and a former office annex, built in 1952. Willow Valley Living would save the historic former home of Jasper Yeates, also on the site.
Willow Valley has no timetable set for the demolition as the project must obtain two more city approvals.
Next the proposal will get scrutinized by the city Shade Tree Commission, which will review what kind of trees Willow Valley Living wants to plant and where, and by the city Planning Commission, which will review Willow Valley Living’s land development plan for the structure. Both commissions have final say on their respective issues, not council.
All approvals could be obtained as soon as November. Completion could come as soon as 2025, creating 100 to 125 jobs, adding 260 residents to downtown and pumping $12.1 million into the local economy a year, according to an economic impact study commissioned by Willow Valley Living.
But council members Xavier Garcia-Molina and Janet Diaz opposed the approvals, noting the venture’s absence of affordable housing while the city suffers from a chronic shortage of it.
Garcia-Molina said a conversation about affordable housing was necessary given that Mosaic would go “two blocks away our from our Duke Street affordable housing public towers that are crumbling.”
Diaz shared similar concerns.
“We’re constantly promising our community to have actual low income or affordable income housing. And we just keep building and building. And I don’t see anything going forward except — what, 82 units? — while we have thousands of people sitting and waiting with their vouchers to actually have a place to live that’s affordable,” Diaz said.
Diaz was referring to the number of affordable housing units to be developed at a half-dozen other projects in the city with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city announced the funding March 1.
“We understand the importance of affordable housing. We support that. But that is not our business model,” said John Swanson, CEO of Willow Valley Living. He noted that Willow Valley Living is investing in a business incubator to be created in Southern Market Center, across the street from Mosaic.
Chris Delfs, the city’s director of community planning and economic development, indicated that the city would benefit from more rental housing at all prices.
“We need housing supply in the city. Period. We have a real supply and demand issue happening right now. The market is extremely tight, which is pushing up rents,” said Delfs.
“So even though it may not appear this way on the surface, actually having (additional) housing units in every price point is going to (relieve) that economic pressure on the prices in the city,” he continued. “I want to qualify that you can’t only have (additional) units at the higher end of the scale. But we need to be looking at this as a full continuum.”
Willow Valley Living has yet to announce the cost of Mosaic’s apartments, but has described the units as upscale, complemented by resort-style amenities.
-- LNP | LancasterOnline correspondent Rebecca Logan contributed to this report.