The developer eyeing the former Lancaster YMCA property in Lancaster city disclosed Tuesday it's willing to downsize its ambitious proposal in order to preserve one historic building on the site. 

But time will tell whether the Hankin Group is willing to trim its plan further to retain an additional historic structure there, enabling it to win an endorsement from the city Historical Commission. The decision could hinge on how persuasive Hankin believes that support would be when Hankin eventually goes to City Council for final approval. 

Reducing the project even more “would be a choice” for Hankin when it returns to the commission in the coming months for an advisory vote on its proposal, said commission chair Christopher Peters, following an hour-long discussion of the project’s historic impact at the commission's monthly meeting.

Project scope

Hankin last summer revealed a sweeping plan to redevelop the idle 3.5-acre property, bounded by North Prince, North Queen and West Frederick streets, which it would acquire from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.

The Exton-based developer wants to create a mix of 230 to 250 apartments, a 440-space parking garage, restaurants, small stores and 30,000 square feet of medical offices, to be leased to LG Health. The total project would cost an estimated $60 million.

In the way, though, are the site’s four old brick buildings, all of which Hankin wants to raze, thereby maximizing both the land available for construction and its profit from the venture.

During Hankin’s four appearances before the commission, dating to September, the board’s members have voiced no objection to Hankin razing the North Queen street pair, as one has been substantially altered and the other has no historic buildings nearby.

The two historic structures on West Frederick Street have been a different story.

Compromise plan

After commission members at earlier meetings had expressed a strong desire that a historic tavern at West Frederick and North Prince streets be preserved, Hankin on Tuesday disclosed an alternative plan showing how the 1868 structure -- most recently used as Bob’s Cafe but empty since 2003 -- could be saved.

Hankin also heeded the wishes of commission members that it soften the visual impact of the adjoining five-story apartment building on the tavern and rowhouses across the street. Its solution is to eliminate the top floor of apartments, erasing an undisclosed number of units, among other changes. (Hankin's apartment building on the east side of the YMCA site, along North Queen Street, would remain five stories.)

Hankin, though, balked at preserving the 1917 carriage house next door to the tavern, saying the company’s owners had opposed subtracting even more apartments from the project; Hankin had said at the commission's November meeting that the project would no longer be "feasible" if it had to save both West Frederick Street buildings.

The developer also indicated that it felt the commission was stating a much stronger desire Tuesday to save the carriage house than the commission had expressed at earlier meetings, a reference to a comment by commission member Steve Funk that he’d be “open to sacrificing the carriage house” if the tavern was preserved.

But Funk said Tuesday that when he made that earlier comment, he was speaking only for himself. Then several other commission members spoke up in favor of keeping the carriage house in addition to the tavern.

“It’s beautiful,” said Elizabeth De Santo. “If there are no structural integrity issues with it, I’d have a hard time letting go of that.”

Alex Folk described the tavern and carriage house as “two structurally sound buildings. The reason for demolishing them is so the project is financially viable. But I would lean toward not demolishing both buildings. That’s where I would stand.”

Peters said he was "torn" on whether to peg his vote to saving the carriage house.

Suzanne Stallings, the city’s historic preservation specialist who provides support to the commission but does not have a vote, framed the issue in front of the commission this way:

By offering to save the tavern, although it would rather raze the tavern while nonetheless shortening the apartment building, Hankin is “presenting a compromise. (But) you don’t have to accept the compromise …,” Stallings said.

“We’re going to get back to, well, why could the carriage house not be incorporated? I guess it will mean the loss of units in the new construction. But the new construction could have been designed from the get-go around the two historic buildings. You have to decide, are they both worth retaining?”

Two members of the public spoke in favor of retaining both: James Delle, a board member of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County, and architect Eugene Aleci, who presented a detailed letter signed by him and 14 others who advocate that position.

Jim Fuller, Hankin vice president of planning and design, said Wednesday the company had yet to decide whether to spend the time and money to prepare a version of its redevelopment plan that would preserve both West Frederick Street buildings.

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