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Baker building plans advance despite neighbors' concerns
The organization looking to turn York City's empty Baker building into dozens of apartments got a preliminary go-ahead Monday night after making its plan more modest.
"What you have before you is a scaled-back version of the building — Baker building 2.0," attorney John Baranski Jr. told the city planning commission during its Monday night meeting.
In front of a relatively large audience that had some concerns, the five commissioners unanimously voted to give the board's blessing to the plan after expressing apprehension in May about a more ambitious version.
Tri Corner Homebuilding Solutions, which has offices in Harrisburg and Stewartstown, next will take its plan to put 43 apartments into the building at 232 E. Market St. before the city's zoning hearing board during that body's meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 21, at City Hall.
The company is proposing to keep the exterior of the building largely as-is, but it will overhaul much of the inside, turning the space into one- and two-bedroom apartments ranging from about 560 square feet to 1,080 square feet, according to the plans presented at the meeting. The apartments will cost about $1 to $1.20 per square foot, so somewhere in the range of $560 to $1,300 per month.
Between the parking lot in the back and a few spaces in the basement, the building would have 65 parking spots, according to the plans; that's right at the 1.5 spaces-per-unit ratio the city's zoning ordinance requires.
The building, which was built in the 1950s for the J.E. Baker company, is currently vacant. Tri Corner is attempting to buy the 44,000-square-foot structure and the parking lot across East Mason Avenue behind it from the York County History Center, which until recently was called the York County Heritage Trust.
Tri Corner previously had sought to add two floors and 16,000 square feet on top of the current four-story building; that plan called for putting in about 59 apartments with the same 65 parking spaces. In May, the planning commission expressed concerns about that density and how that many apartments would snarl parking in the area. The latest plan does not call for adding floors.
Despite the changes, about 20 residents of the surrounding area showed up Monday night and voiced concerns that the project will bring crime and congestion.
"We don't mind a multi-family — we do mind that number of units," said neighbor Joan Burgasser, who first read a letter from another local who "strongly opposed" the plan.
Ralph Shockley, who also lives nearby, was concerned about what would happen if the developers "throw that in the middle of the neighborhood."
"They'd bring people into the neighborhood who wouldn't — you know ..." he said, saying that if the prices of the units end up dropping, it'll bring in people who would be more likely to commit crime.
Bill Schintz, who lives right across the street, said there's little crime on that block.
"If this turns into a low-income project or Section 8 (housing), my fear is crime would increase a little bit," he said.
Kevin Hodge, the real estate agent who's trying to sell the building, spoke in favor of the plan, comparing it to the Keystone Color Works building, a 29-unit apartment building that opened its doors in May several blocks to the north and west at 175 W. Gay Ave.
That building is another old structure refitted and rehabbed into apartments geared toward young professionals in York City, containing apartments going for about $600 to $1,200 a month, much like those that would be in the Baker building. It quickly filled up, with most of the apartments leased out before it opened and the rest shortly after.
"There is a demand for this," Hodge said.
He said people considering moving into the city are looking for smaller units, and there isn't much of a demand for more expensive, bigger units.
York City Treasurer Joe Jefcoat, who lives one block away, spoke at the meeting, saying he believed the plan would have a positive effect on the neighborhood.
"I think it would lower crime" because of how many people would be walking around, he said.
Tri Corner was one of four developers that presented proposals to the city's redevelopment authority to buy several acres of land to the west of the 200 block of North Beaver Street and build heavily upon it. Tri Corner proposed building 342 market-rate apartments in that area, called the Northwest Triangle, with spots for several retailers on the bottom floors of the buildings. It would have been 303,000 square feet of residential floor space and 24,000 square feet of commercial space built on what's now empty land.
Tri Corner made it onto the "short list" of the final two groups, but the RDA ultimately went with the Baltimore-based Time Group, which proposed fewer apartments.