The site of Lancaster County’s last drive-in movie theater, unused since a 2005 showing of “Witness,” is being redeveloped into something a little more common around here: housing.
Land owner ACP Properties, based in Ephrata, is proposing to build 170 apartments and townhouses, a bank, restaurant and retail store on 17 acres where the Columbia Drive-In operated for more than 40 years.
West Hempfield Township supervisors will discuss the project, tentatively named Sedgewick, at a meeting Tuesday.
ACP Properties seeks to build on a 17-acre tract along Columbia Avenue (Route 462) and Meadow Road.
In all, the developer proposes 163 mid-rise apartments and 11 townhouses, along with 18,000 square feet of retail space, not including a restaurant and bank, according to the conditional use application submitted to the township.
The mixed-use design is permitted in the district zoned highway commercial, where the proposed development is located.
The property also sits within the urban growth area that county planners have carved out for increased development.
The Columbia Drive-In theater — the last theater of its kind in Lancaster County — closed in October 2005.
‘Your own little capsule’
Before it shuttered, residents attempted to save the theater by submitting a petition with more than 20,000 signatures to the original private developer, Steve Hogan of Hogan Development Co., to no avail.
The creator of the petition, Stephanie Haines, expressed disappointment after learning of the new proposal.
“I was very hopeful that someone would actually rebuild (the drive-in),” Haines, 51, said Thursday. In the age of streaming, she said the concept of drive-in theaters is alluring again.
“People don’t want to get out of their cars and sit next to other people, but they still want to see a movie and be antisocial,” she said.
Haines worked extensively with former Columbia Drive-In owner Tucker Mooney, who told LNP upwards of 500 cars would pack into the drive-in on weekends to see first-run movies.
Residents would park their cars, turn the radio dial to 92.1 FM and listen to films through their vehicle speakers.
“We had to jump a lot of cars at the end of the night,” Mooney said.
At one point, Mooney was offered a buyout of the property but turned it down, a decision he says he now regrets.
Joe Miller, owner of The Comic Store on McGovern Avenue, recalled taking his children to many nearby drive-in theaters, including the Columbia Drive-In. “You’re in your own little capsule,” the 66-year-old said of watching the movies from within in a car.
“You had your own food, and you (didn’t) have to dress up,” he said. “It was great.”
The theater projected its final film, the Lancaster-based thriller “Witness,” on October 16, 2005, according to LNP archives.
Hogan’s company purchased the property from brothers Gardiner T. Murphy Jr. and Michael P. Murphy for $895,000 in 2005 and sold it to ACP for $5,000 more in 2016, according to property records from the Lancaster County Property Assessment Office.
The developers, past and present, were unable to be reached for comment.