St Joe aerial 001a.jpg (copy)

The vacant UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster hospital, formerly Lancaster Regional Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital, is seen in a September 2019 file photo.

The Lancaster City Planning Commission voted 8-0 Wednesday evening to recommend rezoning the UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster hospital property on College Avenue to mixed-use.

The vote came at the end of a three-hour meeting in City Council chambers. It was attended by a large and vocal audience, the majority of whom opposed the change.

The commission’s recommendation moves the issue to City Council, which will make the final decision.

UPMC closed the former St. Joseph hospital about a year ago, less than two years after buying it. It says the current zoning, “hospital complex,” is too restrictive for the property to be sold and redeveloped.

What's at stake in rezoning UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster hospital [FAQ]

The commission tabled the issue in December. Since then, city staff have met with UPMC and two developers seriously interested in the property, said Chris Delfs, city director of community and planning and economic development.

In a memo to the commission, Delfs said both developers would seek to adapt and reuse the existing hospital buildings.

Both envision a primarily “multi-family residential” use plus offices. One may include assisted living and some neighborhood retail, along with townhouses along the property’s west side, Delfs’ memo said.

Meanwhile, UPMC has “verbally agreed” to donate its 0.37-acre property at 213 College Ave., which Delfs said is enough space for 24 to 30 affordable housing units.

Opponents, led by activists with the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee, say UPMC can’t be trusted.

Rezoning, they say, will allow UPMC to sell out to a profit-minded developer. The result, they say, will be a high-end gentrification project. Instead, the activists called for building a center to help Lancaster’s struggling and needy, with affordable housing, help for the homeless, medical services.

Other communities have them, and it could be done at the existing building without rezoning, they said. At minimum, the city should hold off on the change, they said.

“I’d like to see those things, too,” commission member Jon C. Lyons said. But he pushed back vigorously against the notion that it could be done without changing the zoning.

Nor is it reasonable to think the city has the money to acquire and refurbish the building, he said, addressing a suggestion by Matt Beakes, head of the housing nonprofit Impact Missions, that eminent domain be considered as an option.

Commission member Chris Modlin made the motion to recommend rezoning. Modlin incorporated a further recommendation, proposed by Lyons, reflecting the commission's opinion that the property should be used “in a transformational way” to provide low-income housing, help for the homeless and services for children.

More than a dozen members of the public spoke before the vote. Most vehemently opposed the change, but several residents of the neighborhood around the hospital spoke in favor of it, saying it would spur the property’s return to active use.

Michelle La Grassa, a real estate professional with Signature Property, suggested holding off. Instead, the potential developers themselves could come forward to seek rezoning, making their agreement of sale with UPMC contingent on receiving it, she said.

Multiple speakers lambasted UPMC, its actions, and the rezoning proposal, frequently to applause and murmurs of agreement from the crowd.

Commission members were clearly torn, with several saying they needed and deserved to know more before making a decision. A vote to make no recommendation one way or the other, however, tied 4-4, and thus failed.