City Council tonight approved new apartments and office space for downtown Harrisburg, but not before one council member issued a warning to developers of future projects.
Speaking tonight before a vote on two projects proposed by Harristown Enterprises, council President Wanda Williams read a statement criticizing the recent spate of high-end apartment projects downtown, calling them a form of gentrification.
“Many buildings downtown are being renovated for upscale apartments,” Williams said. “I want them renovated for people with lower paying jobs.”
Harristown has spearheaded many of the apartment projects in the downtown neighborhood, including office-to-residential conversions on S. 3rd Street and in Strawberry Square. Since 2016, it has added about 50 higher-end apartments in the area of 3rd and Market streets.
One of the Harristown projects approved tonight will bring yet more housing to the downtown business district. The company plans to convert a vacant, turn-of-the-century office building at 221 N. 2nd St. to an apartment building with 12 one- and two-bedroom apartments and a 500-square-foot retail space.
Williams said she wants affordable housing projects downtown to keep pace with job growth in that area.
“I’m very in favor of developers investing in Harrisburg, but until we talk about having affordable housing for everyone–including cashiers and clerks who work in downtown bars and restaurants–in every neighborhood of our city, we have not done our jobs,” Williams said.
Following her statement, council voted unanimously to approve the projects. In addition to the residential conversion, Harristown received approval to construct a new, six-story office building at 21 S. 2nd St., the former site of the Coronet restaurant. Harristown razed that property to accommodate the new project, which will also feature retail space on the ground floor. Harristown is awaiting an anchor tenant before starting construction.
Council also passed a resolution tonight in support of a statewide, grassroots redistricting effort. An initiative led by Fair Districts PA seeks a constitutional mandate to create a non-partisan citizens commission to redraw legislative maps. Members from the Dauphin County chapter of Fair Districts PA asked council to support their legislation.
“This resolution would say that Harrisburg believes in fair redistricting,” said Jayne Buchwach, a city resident and member of the Dauphin County Fair Districts chapter. “Harrisburg was among the disenfranchised cities in Pennsylvania after redistricting in 2011.”
Chapter coordinator Jean Handley explained that Harrisburg was “cracked” during the 2011 redistricting process — meaning it was split between two congressional districts, thereby diluting the voting power of the largely Democratic city.
Most of Harrisburg lies in the state’s 4th congressional district, which is currently represented by Republican Scott Perry. Republican Congressman Lou Bartletta represents South Harrisburg neighborhoods in the state’s 11th congressional district.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the state’s congressional map “clearly, plainly and palpably” violates the state constitution. The legislature has until Feb. 9 to draw a new map.