Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg revisits proposal to allow greater housing density in residential neighborhoods

A residential street in Midtown Harrisburg

Harrisburg is revisiting an ordinance that would allow greater housing density in residentially zoned areas, the latest move by the administration to spur development in the city.

On Tuesday, Harrisburg City Council introduced an ordinance that would remove density restrictions for the city’s two main residential zones—dubbed “residential low-density” and “residential medium-density.” These two zones cover most of the city’s residential neighborhoods.

According to Mayor Eric Papenfuse, this change would make city neighborhoods more attractive to developers and offer a greater variety of housing to residents at a range of price points.

“We need more units of housing developed,” he said. “We don’t currently have a climate in which that is easy to do.”

Under existing law, the low-density residential zone allows four to eight dwelling units per acre, while the medium-density residential zone permits eight to 20 dwelling units per acre. This ordinance would remove those density restrictions.

The proposal also would repeal the current requirement in another zoning district, the “commercial neighborhood” zone, that mandates a minimum of 1,200 square feet per dwelling unit.

Last week, the city’s Planning Commission, by a 5-1 vote, recommended against this proposal, citing possible adverse consequences by removing density restrictions, as well as concerns over parking.

This is actually the second time that the administration has proposed the zoning change. Last year, council also introduced the ordinance, but ended up taking no further action on it.

Papenfuse said that he decided to reintroduce the changes now in light of a “companion” proposal to rezone a swath of Midtown Harrisburg–the Marketplace neighborhood just north of the Broad Street Market.

In that proposal, the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority hopes to sell dozens of building lots to Harrisburg-based Seven Bridges Development. The builder, however, has stated that it would develop a project only if the 14-block area is rezoned from “residential medium-density” to “commercial neighborhood,” which is better suited for mixed-use projects, according to Seven Bridges.

Papenfuse said that, together, the two proposals offer greater incentive for building on the city’s many empty lots.

“It’s the hope that people would see the effort as not just Midtown, per se, but attracting more housing throughout the city,” he said. “We need this development everywhere in Harrisburg.”

As a next step, council would need to hold a hearing on the ordinance before possibly taking any action on it.

Council also needs to hold a hearing on the amendment to rezone the Marketplace neighborhood. That hearing, originally expected for next week, has now been delayed until December, said council member Danielle Bowers.

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