A group of Lancaster residents is taking the city to court over the controversial public art planned in Ewell Plaza.
In a “statutory appeal” filed Wednesday in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, the group says City Council committed “an abuse of discretion” in granting a certificate of appropriateness to the Lancaster Parking Authority’s garage project on the plaza’s east side.
The filing lists six appellants, including April Koppenhaver, founder of Mulberry Art Studios; Moirajeanne Fitzgerald, former owner of the boutique Here to Timbuktu; architect Gene Aleci; and former mayor Art Morris. They are asking the court to reverse council’s decision.
Because the 360-space garage will be in the city’s Heritage Conservation District, the certificate of appropriateness was required before the city could issue building permits allowing construction to proceed. The certificate attests that the project complies with the city’s Heritage Conservation ordinance, which sets design standards aimed at maintaining Lancaster’s historic character.
In this instance, City Council “did not determine” that the garage complies, the appeal says.
Specifically, the design envisions public art in the form of colored aluminum tubing on the building’s facade. That would clash with the surrounding buildings, a violation of the design standards, the appeal says.
Moreover, it says, the parking authority’s application to the Historical Commission was incomplete, and did not provide a final facade design, but one that is conceptual and subject to change.
City and parking authority officials declined to comment.
The art, budgeted at $600,000, is to be developed by R&R Studios. Opponents say the city wrongly elected not to bring local artists and the public into the selection process that led to R&R, and that the Miami-based firm’s initial design was recycled from earlier commissions and is inappropriate for its setting.
In October, the Historical Commission recommended against it, but City Council overturned the decision the following month. Acknowledging the previous lack of outreach, council is requiring R&R to incorporate extensive public engagement into its design process next year, followed by a vote on two or three final options.
That hasn’t quelled objections. Koppenhaver is urging public officials to cut ties with R&R and start over altogether.
At Thursday’s parking authority board meeting, she called on the authority to exert the influence it has as the garage’s developer.
“I am trying to prevent a huge mistake from happening,” she said.
Authority executive director Larry Cohen said the city is responsible for supervising R&R’s design process and the authority will accept the outcome.
The authority’s underwriting of the public art is “unprecedented” locally, he said. As for the $29 million garage complex, it will provide a home for the Lancaster Public Library and contribute to the revitalization of Ewell Plaza.
“We’re going to be proud of our legacy on this project,” he said.