A city agency's plan to tear down three rowhouses to build a park beside a luxury condominium project is drawing criticism from some city planning officials.
Some officials of the city Planning Commission — which voted 3-2 against the proposal at its July 20 meeting — say spending tax dollars to buy residential properties so they could be torn down and taken off the city tax rolls isn't in line with the authority's mission of increasing home ownership.
The Redevelopment Authority says the park would add green space to the city, help reduce the amount of rainwater entering the city’s combined sanitary and stormwater sewer system and add a sidewalk and improve sightlines — all authority goals.
The authority has spent about $200,000 to buy two of the three properties to build the park, first proposed in 2013 when the condo project was taking shape.
The owner of the third, who is refusing to sell, did not return calls from LNP. The authority now wants to use eminent domain — taking over of private property for public good by offering a fair market price.
The Lancaster Press building, at Prince and Lemon streets, was built in 1907 as a cigar factory. From 1922 to 1992, it housed a printing company. From 1997 to 1998, a packaging firm operated there. The city owned it after that until it sold it to developer Ed Drogaris’ group for $200,000 in April 2014.
Helps sell condos
The authority, which made a $900,000 loan to the Press Building project, says the park will help sell condos — priced at $200,000 to $600,000 per unit.
Linear Park, off of Lemon Street, is a block away from the proposed park. It has a walking path, an exercise loop, basketball courts, play ground equipment and swings.
At a recent planning commission meeting, the authority claimed the houses are derelict. Jean Weglarz, a planning commission member, blamed the authority for that because it has owned two of the properties since mid-2014.
Former mayor Art Morris, who was present at the meeting, supported that view.
According to Weglarz, the park is primarily intended to benefit the condo project, an assertion disputed by the authority.
“If it’s a park, anyone can use it,” said Randall Horst, authority chairman. In April, the authority told the commission that Press Partners, which owns the condo project, will maintain the park once it's built.
Drogaris, the condo project’s developer, told LNP that he didn’t ask that a park be created, but agreed it would be a positive for his project. He said the condo developers have, in the past, sought to buy the three houses but walked away from the plan because the price demanded by one of the properties was too high.
Weglarz and another Planning Commission member, LaGena Wright, said the authority should renovate and sell the two houses it already owns.
Morris suggested that would put them on the tax rolls. And he estimated creating the park could ultimately cost the authority $400,000 to $500,000.
The authority looked into rehabbing them, but determined it wasn’t financially feasible.
Planning Commission members Jon Lyons and Marshall Snively spoke in support of the park plan. So did a resident.
Three of the nine planning commission members were absent from the July 20 vote.
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