New plans aim to boost Salem Square neighborhood

Sean Philip Cotter

The neighborhood has row homes with that striking York City brickwork, but more than a few of them also feature boarded up windows and the red-and-white X signs that indicate condemned buildings.

The area is home to people trying hard to make a better community, but it also is the scene of a significant number of the city's shootings and other violence.

The Salem Square neighborhood in York City's west end, has been the target of many redevelopment efforts over the years, especially during the past decade. During Tuesday's meeting, the city council passed a resolution to seek what's called an Elm Street designation for the area, which would bring $300,000 a year in state funding for the next five years, according to Bill Faron, the president of the Salem Square Community Association.

With the resolution, the city entered a partnership with Faron's faith-based nonprofit organization, which has put together a plan they'll now send to the state Department of Community & Economic Development and the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, a nonprofit organization that operates the Elm Street program for the state agency.

Targets: If the Salem Square area — which, for this effort's purposes, is more or less bounded by Mason Avenue to the north, the Codorus Creek to the south, Belvidere Avenue to the west and Penn Street to the east — is granted the Elm Street designation, the resulting funds will be used to target five main points. According to the Pennsylvania Downtown Center website, those are: the economy, safety and cleanliness, design, neighborhood identity and, maybe most importantly, certainty that the organizations working on the area are functioning well and have staying power.

The idea is to get grant money from the state, use that on simple projects to get all of these areas moving, and then leverage that momentum to get more grants, said April Showers, vice president at Harrisburg's Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson engineering firm, who served as a consultant to the plan.

The city originally put a plan forth in 2008. The new version contains much of the old one, but with a supplement documenting progress and a focus on where the money would go over the next five years.

This includes general area-improvement-type efforts such as adding trees and public trash cans. There are also upkeep measures such as the maintenance of the 300-plus gates the police force and community organizations have partnered to put in to cover up breezeways between row homes, nooks and crannies that have provided many a spot to deal drugs or escape routes for people running from police, according to the plan.

The plan highlights streetscape and facade improvements, saying more will come if the area is granted more money. The future projects would focus in part on the area around Lincoln Charter School on West King Street, it says.

Concerns: Faron said his organization went door to door, asking the locals about the neighborhood.

"Two big concerns were youth programs — things for kids to do — and community safety," he said.

Neighborhood resident Al McCowin, who was walking with his young son Tuesday afternoon near Lincoln Charter School, agreed.

"Some type of center for kids," he said. "Something for the young ones to do."

The most headline-grabbing project over the past few years likely was the rehabilitation of former nuisance bar Gus' Bar in the 500 block of West Princess Street. The Salem Square Community Association aims for part of that to be an outpost of Martin Library, with computers geared toward use for kids in school.

The former bar is also intended to become a police outpost, from which officers can undertake community policing efforts in the area that's experienced its share of violence.

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Area resident Saint Matthew Bell said a major issue is that the police only show up in the area when people call 911. He thinks a police outpost will help, but he's not enthusiastic.

"It'd be effective, but it'd only be effective to a point," said the 30-year-old, who added he'd like to see the city's curfew ordinances for minors enforced more strongly.

Bell said he thinks the area's problems go much deeper than police coverage.

"People need to just follow the rules," he said. "Without rules, there's just chaos."

The plan involves a few different approaches to trying to decrease the crime in the area.

"We took a walk around the community with Chief Kahley, and we decided more lighting and cameras would be helpful," Faron said.

The city is in the very early stage of plans to put up some cameras around the area, and to encourage — using money — people and businesses to put up cameras the police will be able to access on privately owned buildings, he said. This is based on what Faron said was a successful program in Lancaster.

Faron said his organization and the city will hold a community meeting about this before the program moves forward; there's no immediate timeline for it at the moment.

— Reach Sean Cotter