Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Council overrides mayoral veto on AutoZone.

AutoZone will purchase the vacant lot at 645 Maclay Street from Harrisburg-area developer The Vartan Group, pending approval of its proposals by the city.

Harrisburg City Council tonight firmly rejected the wishes of the city’s mayor, unanimously overturning a veto that will allow an auto parts store to proceed with plans to locate in Harrisburg.

By a vote of 7-0, council affirmed its December vote to let AutoZone, a Memphis-based car parts store, advance in the city planning process as it seeks to build at store at N. 7th and Maclay streets.

Their vote vacates several unused “paper streets” on the lot owned by Susquehanna Township-based Vartan Group, which wants to sell the property to AutoZone.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse vetoed council’s vote last month.

He argued that the city could use its discretion in approving street vacations to ask developers to enter voluntary agreements with the city saying they would abide by community standards, including the creation of affordable housing and job opportunities for minority and women laborers.

For example, council could withhold approval for a street vacation until a developer agrees to set aside affordable units in a housing project or employ local laborers – particularly minorities – on job sites.

“I think there is an opportunity for City Council to establish a review criteria for street vacations linked to the land development process that will help the city achieve some of its goals with regard to contracting and affordable housing,” Papenfuse said on Tuesday. “Historically, I don’t think there has been a clear process, but now we’re going to see renewed development… I would argue they should put a process in place.”

Tonight, council members bristled at what they said was the mayor’s new rationale for strong-arming a development project.

“I’m tired of mayor using people of color when it to [advance] his interests,” councilwoman Shamaine Daniels said. “The mayor has not sent down any legislation to address affordable housing or [minority business] participation… so I really I find this administration’s position just to be really artifice and not anything of much substance.”

Council vice president [Ben Allatt] said that the new argument the mayor raised was “suspect,” since it was not consistent with his previous objections over the project’s design.

Papenfuse usually attends council meetings, but was absent tonight to appear at a zoning board meeting in Susquehanna Township, where Harrisburg is building a new compost facility.

He was represented by business administrator Marc Woolley, who said that the mayor shared council’s goals for community-minded economic development.

“While this appears to be focused on just one transaction, for me it’s not — it’s a more global view,” Wooley said. “This corridor is on the cusp of additional development, and a program can be in place to achieve goals shared by city council and the administration. This presents a unique moment in time we can do that with this project and these projects going forward.”

City Council has discretion in approving street vacations, but that doesn’t mean it can arbitrarily deny them, deputy city solicitor Tiffanie Baldock said tonight.

Harrisburg’s planning bureau recommended this fall that council vacate the streets. With that endorsement on the record, it’s unlikely that council could justify denying the request, she said.

Baldock said that neither council nor the mayor’s office requested a legal opinion on the matter.

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