At a packed Harrisburg Zoning Hearing Board Meeting on Monday night, residents’ hands shot up, one-by-one, to express their opposition to a proposed affordable housing project for seniors.
Local development group RB Development, along with several partners, presented their plans for Bethel Village, an affordable housing community for senior citizens at N. 6th and Herr streets.
The proposed development was discussed at a community meeting a few weeks ago with little opposition from residents, most comments coming from supporters of the project. However, at Monday’s meeting, many residents waited nearly four hours to get the chance to voice their concerns.
“I’ve spoken to many of the neighbors, and no one objects to affordable housing,” said Ted Hanson, a long-time resident of Boas Street.
However, Hanson presented board members with a petition signed by 60 neighborhood residents. Their main concern: parking.
The Bethel Village project proposes a 49-unit building for qualifying low-income seniors on land that once housed, in part, the historic Bethel AME Church, which burned down in 1995. Last week, Bethel Village purchased the land from Bethel AME, a partner in the project.
Bethel Village is proposing four parking spots for their building, 15 fewer than the required number under the zoning code, explained Esche McCombie, an attorney with McNees, Wallace & Nurick, the law firm representing Bethel.
However, Bethel Village developers do not see this as a problem, explained Ava Goldman of Gardner Capital, another partner in the project. Based on her experience working in affordable housing development, she expects that a large majority of their seniors will not own cars.
But residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting painted a picture of a congested neighborhood with little room for the vehicles of people who already live there, let alone those for as many as 50 newcomers.
“There are nights when I come home at midnight from the hospital, and I cannot find a parking spot,” said resident Allison Deturk-Malia, a nurse. “You mean to tell me that four parking spots are going to be OK for our neighborhood? I don’t think so.”
McCombie reiterated that they don’t expect most residents to have cars, and for visitors and family members, they referenced new on-street parking recently added to 6th Street. They also plan to incorporate bike racks on their property.
Some residents brought up concerns with the facade of the building, saying it wouldn’t fit in with the historic neighborhood. Others commented on traffic in the neighborhood, explaining that it can already be unsafe for pedestrians with cars turning off of 6th onto Boas at high speeds. They suggested that the development would make the situation even worse.
“We want to work with the neighbors,” said Blane Stoddart of RB Development. “We would not do anything to put you in danger or to put your kids in danger.”
Despite the neighborhood concerns, Stoddart emphasized that they fully plan to move forward with the $15 million project, saying that they have already received low-income tax credit money from the state. Financially, Bethel developers said that they cannot provide more parking.
“This is a project that is going to happen,” he said. “Seventy-one percent of Harrisburg residents qualify, income-wise, to live in this project.”
Zoning board members voted to continue the Bethel Village discussion in a special hearing on Aug. 3 at 6 p.m.
Also on the long agenda for Monday night were several other projects that received continuances.
At June’s zoning meeting, Harrisburg-based D&F Realty Holdings presented its plans to convert a 16,500-square-foot building at 423 Division St. into an apartment building. The building previously housed Congregation Chisuk Emuna before it was damaged in a 2009 fire. In recent years the building has remained blighted.
D&F’s proposal included no on-site parking spots, but developers said they spoke with the Scottish Rite Cathedral about utilizing their lot, a few blocks away.
Zoning board Chair Thomas Leonard said that he needed to see a formal agreement with the cathedral and continued the project to the Aug. 16 meeting.
If you like what we do, please support our work. Become a Friend of TheBurg!