An eight-story apartment building has been proposed for a downtown Lancaster property recently considered for a boutique hotel.
The property at 116-122 N. Prince St. includes the former Teachers Protective Mutual Life building at 118 N. Prince St., as well as the adjacent parking lot that had been a pop-up park when the entire complex was the planned site for The Surveyor Hotel.
Two-and-a-half years after the would-be hotel developers sold the property, its new owners have proposed a 68-unit apartment building with first-floor retail that would rise seven stories from Prince Street and eight stories from the slightly lower Water Street side.
Situated in a block of mostly two- and three-story buildings, the proposed mixed-use development’s height was the focus of much of the discussion this week by the Lancaster City Historical Commission, which got a first look at the plans for the building that would be situated across from the Prince Street Garage.
“This project really looms over the neighboring buildings. It’s as tall as the parking garage,” historical commission member Steven Funk said during a “conceptual discussion” of the project Monday. “It’s a bit jarring to look at that Prince Street elevation.”
Judy Zimmerman Herr, a resident of Steeple View Lofts at 118 N. Water St., said the new building “would cut off our sun and our view and make Water Street feel quite different.”
A project of Landis Communities, Steeple View Lofts is a downtown loft apartment project for people ages 55 and up that consists of 36 one- and two-bedroom apartments. It opened in 2013 following renovations of a four-story tobacco warehouse.
Mimi Shapiro, who lives about two blocks away from the proposed building, offered the only other public comment at the meeting. She too questioned the size of the project, saying it would “look like a wall” from Water Street. “It’s just so massive, I don’t see how it’s going to fit,” Shapiro said.
The project is being developed by Don Herman and Kirk Sears, executives at Mountville forklift maker Lift Inc., who bought the property in 2019. The purchase, which was unrelated to Lift, continued some real estate investments made by Herman and Sears, who did not attend the historical commission meeting.
Charles Alexander, the architect who presented the plans, said that while the building’s design included elements that would make it seem less tall — such as setting upper two floors back from the street and not extending outside brick to the top — the building’s overall height and scale was necessary to fit in enough units to make the project financially viable.
“We ran the numbers, and it’s a squeeze as it is,” said Alexander, principal at Alexander Design Studio, which is based in Ellicott City, Maryland.
The building would include one- and two-bedroom market rate apartments with amenities such as a fitness center, bike room and rooftop dog walk area. Apartments on the top two floors would be two-story duplexes.
“It’s close to the heart of the city, and it’s a great place to be, and I think the developer is very excited about creating a super-high-quality residential experience,” Alexander said.
Commission members discussed some ways to soften the height of the building but didn’t raise substantive objections to its size. Funk, who had called the building’s height “jarring” said a high-rise was inevitable for such an open lot in downtown.
“The reality of the demand in the market in the city is that any piece of vacant land is going to have a high-rise on it,” Funk said. “Nobody is going to build a two- or three-story building and see a return on their investment.”
Funk questioned the plan to demolish a brick garage on Water Street with three archways, noting that its preservation had been a condition of approvals for The Surveyor Hotel. “It’s part of the streetscape, it can’t be just tossed aside,” he said.
Alexander said the Water Street garage could be preserved, although it would require redesigning the public-access courtyard extending Prince to Water streets that has the main entrance for the residences.
Following this week’s conceptual discussion, the developer will return to the historical commission with a formal application. Plans will also be reviewed by the city’s zoning hearing board, traffic commission, shade tree commission and planning commission.
The three-story former home of Teachers Protective Mutual Life was bought in March 2015 for $875,000 by Kyle Sollenberger and Crystal Weaver, who then announced their intention to expand it for The Surveyor Hotel, a 60-room hotel with a restaurant. Plans showed the hotel rising four stories on Prince Street.
As they assembled plans for their new hotel, Sollenberger and Weaver, who also own Prince Street Cafe and Passenger Coffee Roasters, created a seasonal pop-up park on the adjacent 32-space parking lot. The Prince Street Park had some seating areas and hosted a variety of food and drink vendors and was also the site of a seasonal Christmas village.
Ultimately, trouble with financing and investor partners getting cold feet prompted Sollenberger and Weaver to pull the plug on their hotel project. They put the property up for sale and it was bought in December 2019 for $995,000 by Herman and Sears.
Teachers Protective Mutual, which had owned the circa-1860 building since the 1930s, moved its employees in 2015. The adjacent parking lot was once the site of Degel Israel's Hebrew School, which was sold in 1961 to Teachers Protective and then turned into a parking lot.