Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Developer seeks zoning change before launching projects in Midtown Harrisburg neighborhood

These empty lots at N. 6th and Reily streets, part of the MarketPlace neighborhood, look out over the 1500 Condominiums (left), the new federal courthouse under construction (center) and Bethesda Mission (right).

A Harrisburg developer has ambitious plans to build out a centrally located Midtown neighborhood, but first is seeking a zoning change that would permit greater density and more building options.

Seven Bridges Development hopes to acquire numerous parcels from the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority to construct a variety of residential and commercial buildings in the MarketPlace neighborhood, a large swath of land that includes about 15 city blocks just north of the Broad Street Market.

First, however, the company wants to change the zoning for the area as the current zoning code does not permit much of the anticipated construction.

“Single-family houses are all you can build there [currently],” said Ian Wewer, director of development and operations for Seven Bridges. “It’s evident that no one is interested in building in the area. If you change the zoning, you might be able to change the area.”

The outlined area would be rezoned under the proposal.

Wewer spoke on Monday night at a community meeting that his company held at HACC’s Midtown 2 building, which attracted about 20 people.

He explained that the area currently is zoned “residential medium density,” in accordance with a prior plan exclusively for single-family townhomes.

The city—and then State College-based S&A Homes—built several clusters of townhouses to try to revive the once-blighted area. However, no houses have been built for more than a decade and, in June, the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority bought back the remaining 58 empty lots from S&A.

Wewer said that his company believes that the area has tremendous potential, especially with the nearby construction of the new federal courthouse. However, Seven Bridges, he said, would only consider building if both more density and a greater mix of uses were allowed in order to make their projects economically viable.

Therefore, the company is proposing to change the neighborhood’s zoning to “commercial neighborhood.” According to the city’s zoning code, this zoning designation allows a mix of medium- and high-density residential and neighborhood retail activities and encourages “pedestrian-oriented uses, while avoiding auto-related uses.”

One of many empty lots sprinkled throughout the MarketPlace neighborhood.

Wewer declined to say specifically what Seven Bridges intends to build, stating that the zoning change must come before the company fleshes out and publicizes its plans.

However, he said that proposals likely would include a mix of apartments, houses, retail and office uses.

“We’re proposing mixed use,” he said. “We want to provide more opportunity for bringing in business and providing housing for people.”

Wewer also said that he would seek community input before making final design plans.

“I want to come in front of the community,” he said. “I want to come before the stakeholders and say—what do you want this to look like?”

The city Planning Commission is slated to hear the issue at its Oct. 2 meeting. If the commission approves the change, the proposal would go before City Council for a final decision.

Residents who attended Monday night’s meeting seemed generally to support Seven Bridges’ position.

“It’s creating opportunity for projects to happen, and I’m in favor of creating opportunities,” said Julia James, who owns a house within the MarketPlace footprint.

What will Seven Bridges do if the zoning code fails to change?

“If it doesn’t pass, we’ll walk away,” Wewer said. “That’s the bottom line. Capital Heights [another stalled development project] is next door, and there lots of opportunities to do single-family there—and they’re sitting vacant.”

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