1401 Columbia Ave and 1411 Columbia Ave (copy)

1411 Columbia Ave., the future site of Meals on Wheels, is seen in a May 2019 file photo.

Lancaster has 16 of the 17 agreements it needs with property owners to allow the city to run its new Susquehanna water main under their land. 

This month, administration officials are asking City Council to give them the option of eminent domain as they negotiate the last agreement, known as an easement, with the owner of 1401 Columbia Ave.: Meals on Wheels of Lancaster.

Meals on Wheels bought the Lancaster Township property, formerly a bar and restaurant, last year for $550,000. The nonprofit plans to relocate there, giving it a larger kitchen, more office space and room for events.

It and the city have been negotiating terms, including how much the city should pay. If they can’t come to agreement, eminent domain would allow the city to obtain the easement for a price determined through a third-party assessment.

It would not put Meals on Wheels’ ownership of the property at risk.

The city went the same route to obtain an easement for the water main at the property immediately to the east, 1401 Columbia Ave., owned by investor Tom McDermott. City Council authorized the eminent domain option in May, but McDermott and the city were able to reach agreement instead, with the city paying $40,000.

Meals on Wheels Executive Director Kevin Ressler said his organization and the city are both exercising their due fiduciary responsibility as each pursues projects that are important to the community.

He said he’s optimistic a conclusion will be reached soon. Meals on Wheels hopes to begin construction at 1411 Columbia Ave. in a few weeks and be up and running by the New Year.

The new main will convey water from the Susquehanna River, running parallel to the existing main, which dates to the 1950s. Construction began earlier this year. The first phase is budgeted at $34 million; easements have cost about $265,000, according to the Department of Public Works.

The city water system serves about a quarter of Lancaster County’s population.

To authorize eminent domain, City Council must pass an ordinance. It is scheduled to be introduced Tuesday, which would allow a vote Sept. 24.

In other business Tuesday, City Council will:

— Vote on borrowing $9 million to replace the fire stations on East and West King streets.

— Vote on transferring land on the east and north edges of Ewell Plaza to the Lancaster Parking Authority for construction of its library and garage project and a related retail building.