Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Another Loss: Long-time owner gets OK to demo 2 blighted buildings in downtown Harrisburg

HARB last night gave permission to raze these two buildings in downtown Harrisburg.

Another slice of historic Harrisburg seems fated for the wrecking ball, as a long-time property owner has received permission to raze two small downtown buildings.

By a 4-1 count, the Harrisburg Architectural Review Board (HARB) last night voted to allow retired area attorney Gilbert Petrina to demolish 512 and 514 N. 2nd St., a commercial building and an apartment building, respectively, that he has owned for at least 35 years.

Petrina’s son, Gilbert Petrina Jr., attended the meeting, saying that his father, who is in his 80s, was too ill to attend.

The younger Petrina told the board that he and his father wished to tear down the buildings, following receipt of a city condemnation notice for the long-vacant properties.

“My goal is to get these down as quickly as possible,” Petrina said. “They’re a blight. They’re a hazard.”

Several board members pointed out that the properties were blighted only because they had been neglected for so long by the owner.

“I’m disappointed the properties have reached this point,” said member Jeremiah Chamberlin. “Ten years ago, they would have been restorable.”

Chamberlin, who lives nearby, pointed out that, over the years, several people had tried to buy the buildings in order to save them, but Petrina was not responsive to those overtures.

“I don’t know why my dad held onto them,” the younger Petrina said.

Indeed, the buildings are in terrible shape, with broken windows, boarded-up back ends and a distinct lean.

Attorney Jeffrey Clark, who owns the building next door, said he fears the buildings could collapse, damaging his property.

“The building is a complete blight,” he said of 512 N. 2nd St., a late 19th-century, two-story, 1,500-square-foot commercial building. “It’s a fire hazard, it’s a safety hazard, and it’s an aesthetic nightmare.”

The second property, a three-story, circa-1920 apartment building, larger at about 2,000 square feet, seems to be in slightly better condition.

Petrina said that, someday, he’d like to build a new structure on the site. Until then, he proposed using the lots for parking and said that he already had interest from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, which occupies the historic Gannett Fleming building on the opposite corner. He said he hoped that parking revenue would help offset the cost of the demolition.

That proposal led to pushback from both residents and the city.

Several members of the neighborhood group, Capitol Area Neighbors, were in attendance, and they objected to any proposal for another surface parking lot.

“When we get more temporary parking, people get used to it and keep it as temporary parking,” said member Kathy Speaker MacNett. “I don’t want more property to become parking.”

Assistant city Solicitor Tiffanie Baldock said the city could not allow additional commercial parking in that area anyway because doing so would violate its agreement with Park Harrisburg/SP+, which runs the parking system under a long-term lease with the city.

“From the city’s position, a temporary parking lot would not be possible,” she said.

Nonetheless, Petrina, who lives in Virginia, said he still would proceed with the demolition and reiterated that, someday, he hoped to build on the site, though he lacks a plan to do so. He said that he wanted to start demolition as quickly as possible and told his engineer, who attended the meeting, to solicit bids.

“I just need it down flat, and we can go forward from there,” he said.

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