A bit more housing, a bit more cost and a bit more time.

A long-awaited land development plan to revitalize the Stehli Silk Mill property has started its journey through the municipal approval process.

The first public review of Baltimore developer Larry Silverstein’s plan will be done by the Lancaster County Planning Commission on Monday.

The county planners’ recommendations will be passed along to Manheim Township, where the Stehli site sits. The township Board of Commissioners has final say.

The preliminary plan depicts a project that’s similar, but not identical, to what Silverstein previously envisioned for the vacant 11-acre property, which has eluded redevelopment for 40 years.

Silverstein initially had thought the historic but dilapidated complex at Marshall and Martha avenues would accommodate 120 to 140 apartments.

But once the project architects took a closer look at the buildings, they figured there was room for 165 units, Silverstein explained Friday.

Rents would be in the range of about $1,000 to $1,500 a month, as he previously estimated.

The plan also provides 4,500 square feet of restaurant space and 5,000 square feet of commercial space in the complex, near Lancaster Catholic High School.

Silverstein said the restaurant space could be a brew-pub and the commercial space a fitness center, salon or office, but he’s open to considering other uses that would be compatible with the apartments.

Now that he knows the precise uses for the property, Silverstein bumped the project pricetag up to $35 million from $30 million. He also pushed back the likely start of construction from late this year to spring 2021. In turn, that would move the opening a few months later to summer 2022 or fall 2022.

The developer praised township officials for their “cooperative” and helpful attitude toward him and his team, as they tackle an “unusual” project.

“It’s an urban development in a suburb,” Silverstein explained.

Sam Mecum, president of the township Board of Commissioners, called the filing of a land development plan “a major step forward” in the redevelopment process.

“It demonstrates a serious commitment to the project and a significant investment of time and money,” Mecum said.

Since a fraction of the site is in Lancaster city, the commissioner noted, the two municipalities “anticipate working together on the coordination of the various permitting processes, so that questions involving streetscape, open space and storm water will not result in any conflicting directives.” 

To make the venture more economically feasible for Silverstein, Mecum reiterated that the township is likely to give it a 10-year real estate tax abatement made possible by the state’s LERTA (Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance) program.

The Stehli property is zoned industrial but has an urban transition overlay that allows housing.

Going into Monday’s session, the county planning commission’s staff has lauded the proposal because it follows the county’s comprehensive plan by creating badly needed rental housing and reuses historic buildings in an area that’s already developed.

The staff recommended minor changes such as installing bicycle racks and replacing some of the parking area with open space.

Next the plan will be reviewed by the township planners, beginning with their Aug. 19 meeting.

The Stehli complex consists of multiple buildings totaling 200,000 square feet – about the size of a Walmart superstore.

The massive structures trace their origin to the 1897 announcement by Stehli & Co. of Zurich, Switzerland, that it would open a silk mill here.

Famed Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban was selected to design its buildings. The last of five phases of construction was completed in 1925.

At its peak, Stehli employed more than 1,600 workers. But decades later, competition from nylon and other synthetic fabrics led to its closure in 1954.

The next year, RCA bought the property for production of color television picture tubes and power tubes, as well as storage. RCA sold it to a warehousing firm in 1973.

It’s been vacant in recent decades and the target of vandalism that’s turned the property in an eyesore.


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