Over 70 neighbors and residents turned out for the West Side Neighbors January Meeting to hear about developments on the Tire and Wheel Site. After a few other agenda items were covered including the bid for construction of HP Park opening and showcasing upcoming events in the neighborhood including an African American History Showcase, Neighbors Helping Neighbors day of community work and the annual MLK Luncheon, the main presentations began.
Thom Lobasso from Re-Invest Solutions, the current owner of the site, opened the session with an overview of what has been happening since demolition ceased on the site. They have sold both the small brick church on College St and Hollinger building on the corner of College and B St. to private companies who are renovating them. They were not looking to break up the main property so they have be working to find a developer who could purchase the whole site and develop it in accordance to the borough’s zoning and codes guidance. Those guidelines require approximately 1.82 acres of the 9.96 acres site to be designated as open, public space, and rest being for both non-residential/commercial use and residential housing.
He also provided updates on the environmental testing on the site and reassured residents that testing came at the highest acceptance levels so the site could be cleared for further redevelopment.
The company had been in talks with multiple developers but they evaluated that PIRHL had the best plan to develop the property with an integrated design. They have been in business since 2004 and focuses specifically on senior and affordable housing design. They have been in discussion with the borough to evaluate how their plans will follow the zoning guidelines outlined for the property.
David Uram from PIRHL presented one conceptual design for the property but noted that this was the 10th version of it and there could be 10 more iterations until it is finalized and accepted by the borough. The concept that was presented outlined affordable, workforce rental housing on the northern portion of the property that borders D St, open park space between B and C Streets, and the area between A and B Streets would be half senior living garden apartments and retail and office space on the corner of B St. and N. College St. B Street would be extended through connecting N. College Street to Factory Street and would give 1 acre back to the borough for the street. C Street is not going to be reconnected but instead it will be a green space/pedestrian walkway space between College St. and Factory St.
There is a proposed traffic circle at the intersection at B Street and N. College. The borough has done extensive traffic studies and has evaluated that a traffic circle would be safest for pedestrians and vehicles and would be best to keep the flow of traffic moving. There were questions from the neighbors about how it could handle the increase in traffic when more residents would live there and with new retail. They said that had been part of the borough study and it should keep things moving. The current intersection is not ideal as traffic flowing north and south on College St does not stop so cars turning either way from B street some times have to wait which can back up traffic along B street. Another comment that was brought up after the meeting had ended was that traffic has actually decreased already from the factory closing so it may increase to pre-factory closing levels or increase more than that.
The housing along the north end of the site would include 40 town houses with 2 & 3 bedroom units, 12 units that will be 2 family semi-detached with 2 & 3 bedrooms. The senior living complex would have 50 garden apartments with one and two bedroom units. It would be outfitted and marketed towards seniors with railings in halls and apartments for stability, color identification to easily note different floors and other best practices in senior housing design. There would also be 20,000 square feet for commercial mixed use which would be the retail/office space. Sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and infrastructure improvements are also planned although exact details were not covered. There would also be an onsite management office which would include a community room for meetings, birthday parties or other events. Their would also be a business center that would have a few computers for community use and free wifi. There will likely be a small fitness center or youth game space but details haven’t been finalized yet.
The senior housing complex is planned as 4 stories and one neighbor did ask if that is an appropriate scale for our neighborhood. David said that if some parking could be reduced the footprint for the building could be extended and likely dropped to 3 stories but the current design is laid out to align with the borough zoning requirements so they would have to follow up to see how parking could be reduced to make the change. The Hollinger building on the corner of B and College is 3 stories. We would be interested in learning what the actual height 4 stories would reach in comparison to the Hollinger building height. That information was not available at the time of the meeting.
The townhouses and two family homes are supposed to align with green building standards including: low flow faucets, energy star appliances and lighting, low VOC paints, caulks and sealants and green label carpeting. They also will have a fully equipped kitchen, central AC and washer and dryer hookups.
PIRHL discussed how it will be financed and noted that this is not Section 8 housing as that is a voucher system. Section 8 means that a person can get a voucher to assist with rent and live anywhere so they could use it there but there is no subsidy directly related to this property. The property would be for people at or below 60% of the median income for Cumberland County. That comes out to yearly income that doesn’t exceed $43,140 but that a person must have an income of at least $15,120 meaning that the apartments are for working families that may not be making enough to afford market rate rentals. PIRHL noted that their income is only checked at the time of lease so if they get a better job and their salary increases, they are not in jeopardy of being evicted. Tenets will have to pass background checks, follow lease provisions and house rules and housekeeping requirements and parking regulations. They said any issues and complaints with tenants would be promptly addressed if anything should occur.
The way the housing is developed using tax credits for the building of the site requires the homes to be rentals for 15 years but there is a possibility that units could be purchased after that point. This is not yet implemented but neighbors did encourage the developers to highly consider this option. Long term renters and home owners often stabilize communities. If the space is well designed, we are hopeful renters would see this as their long time home and invest in the community.
PIRHL has designed affordable housing in Chambersburg where the Southgate Shopping Plaza is. The plan was to remove a parking lot and empty retail store front and design workforce housing in its place. They presented some overview of that project but they should be sending us additional images of that complex so we can get a better picture of what a similar site looks like. They have also designed housing in York although the example wouldn’t be as comparable due to scale in the York urban environment.
After the basic plans were presented neighbors asked a range of different thoughtful questions about the space. One question related to the playground area on the green space: are there other options that could be looked into that don’t replicate what is already in place at parks nearby? PIRHL said they are open to looking at options that work best for the area. The green space is one area that is not being paid for directly so outside funding sources would have to be found before these amenities would be fully implemented. It was also requested that the trees bordering the site remain and additional trees can be planted to compliment them. The site has 10+ tall, mature poplar trees on the edge of the property. People also inquired if the increase in housing could cause an issue with the schools supporting the students. PIRHL again brought up that the borough zoned the site with the idea that yes it could support increased student population but that this specific question would have to be put forth to the school district for verification. (I may have forgotten to add some questions that were asked, if you recall other important points, please let me know and I can add them).
The company is still in discussion with the borough and the plans have not yet been approved but updates will be posted as we hear more concrete information or if additional meetings are proposed. Thanks goes out to all of the neighbors who showed up, listened intently and asked thoughtful questions.