Lancaster City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a request by UPMC Pinnacle to rezone the site of the former St. Joseph Hospital.
The move is expected to pave the way for plans for a $90 million project to transform the property into a mix of office, retail and market-rate and affordable housing.
The project will be a joint venture between Baltimore-based Washington Place Equities and Lancaster-based affordable housing developer HDC MidAtlantic.
The vote changes the zoning at 250 College Ave. from hospital complex to mixed use.
Washington Place Equities plans to convert the old part of the hospital into 150 to 175 market rate apartments while turning the new wing into 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of office space. It also plans to build around 30 townhomes in the area that is currently a parking lot behind the old hospital.
HDC’s end of the deal involves building around 120 units of affordable housing, two 30-unit buildings near the hospital in phase one, with 60 townhomes on the hospital property in phase two. Tenants in the townhomes could have an opportunity to purchase their homes well below market value after 15 years.
The proposed development is the result of more than a year of negotiations between UPMC and the city, which pressed for the inclusion of the affordable housing portion of the project. As part of the plan, UPMC is donating two other nearby parcels to be used to build phase one of the affordable housing.
“This has been a successful process for city planning,” said Chris Delfs, the city’s director of community planning and economic development. Prior to the vote, Delfs told council that a restriction requiring part of the parcel to be restricted to use for affordable housing was added to the property’s deed.
Despite the promise that 30% of the housing being developed will be affordable, an amount council president Ismail Smith Wade-El previously praised as the most included in a project in the city in years, the rezoning was opposed by members of the antipoverty activist group Put People First! Pa.
The nearly 90 minutes of public comment prior to the vote was evenly split. The arguments followed the same familiar lines they had through a number of previous meetings where the proposal was discussed.
The opposition stuck to what seemed to be Put People First! Pa.’s talking points, railing against UPMC’s “corporate greed” and calling for the facility to remain a hospital in case it is needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, or to be converted into a combination medical and dental clinic, homeless shelter, social services offices, and a community garden. Many of those identifying as members of Put People First! Pa. were residents of other Lancaster County municipalities.
Supporters of the rezoning, included Lancaster Equity, a coalition of community organizations committed to advancing the cause of affordable housing and economic opportunity in the city, the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, and the Lancaster City Alliance. The plan also had the support of the vast majority of residents of the neighborhood who commented and was unanimously recommended by both the city and county planning commissions.
Proponents argued it will help revitalize the neighborhood and prevent the hospital facilities from becoming blighted. The project will also help create jobs, they argued.
Focus on development
As council member Faith Craig, who introduced the measure during the meeting, pointed out, the vote only changes the zoning of the property. It does not approve a particular plan or allow construction to proceed.
“Many more public meetings and approvals will be required for the site to be developed,” she said.
Opponents of the project have vowed to continue to fight against it.
“We will continue to fight for our redevelopment/reuse vision regardless of who owns the property,” said Matthew Rosing, who is the coordinator of Put People First! Pa.’s Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee.
There is no current timetable for when any development plans will be filed by Washington Place Equities and affordable housing developer HDC MidAtlantic. Those plans will need to go through the usual process which includes reviews by both planning commissions and approval by council.