In a controversial move, Lancaster City Council members voted unanimously to pass the rezoning of the UPMC property which formerly housed St. Joseph’s Hospital, located at 250 College Avenue in Lancaster City. UPMC petitioned to rezone from hospital complex (HC) to mixed-use, in order to sell the property to developers who plan on using the space for retail and office space, luxury housing, and up to 30% “affordable housing.”
Since it’s closing in February 2019, the future of the property has been heavily debated and the debate has grown more intense in the wake of medical and economic crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While some see this as a welcome addition to the community, many, including the local chapter of Put People First! PA, has stressed that rezoning would be a massive step toward further gentrification and marginalization of the poor and dispossessed in the city, and that rezoning a hospital complex in the midst of a pandemic is immoral.
On the virtual City Council meeting call, comments poured in regarding the rezoning. Those in favor of the rezoning stated concerns about the property laying dormant and becoming a liability if this offer for redevelopment is not accepted, while those in opposition urged the City Council to see the potential for the property to be repaired and re-opened, or redeveloped under current zoning into a space that would benefit the community as a whole, especially the most vulnerable of Lancaster’s population. Other issues raised by those opposed to rezoning included gentrification, unspecified commitment to environmental impact and planning, increased traffic, the cost of luxury housing contributing to the rise of the cost of the proposed affordable housing.
City Council members stated that while the purpose of the property has shifted from a medical facility, it will still be serving the greater good by providing “affordable housing.” According to Mayor Danene Sorace, a deed restriction was put in place before the vote this evening that would ensure that the owner of the property would be legally bound to provide a certain amount of affordable housing for 25 years, but the definition of “affordable housing” that was offered as a legal term in the document was vague and described as a “placeholder.” Members of the public pointed out that this definition was not sufficient enough to ensure that people making minimum wage will be able to afford this housing.
Many pleaded with the City Council to table the issue of rezoning until after the current pandemic crisis has stabilized and more could be done to define “affordable housing,” as well as ensure that this property will indeed serve in the best interest of the public, not just the wealthy members of the community. Residents are frustrated and disappointed with how easily City Council voted on this issue when there was no urgency and it could have been postponed.
Put People First! PA will be continuing the fight to ensure that the owners of the former hospital complex are acting in the best interest of the community and are presenting a redevelopment plan that would include medical and dental facilities, a homeless shelter with space for families and children, transitional housing, a community garden, and a social services entity to assist in identifying and navigating resources.
Put People First! PA will be joining forces with other local organizations to call attention to this and other acts of state violence at their Medicaid March on October 3rd at 3pm, beginning at the former hospital site.