York City eyes Penn Street revitalization project

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

There's plenty going on in the York City government as election season ramps up and local organizations look to breathe new life into Penn Street.

Montez Parker, a lifelong resident of York City, and Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects want to bring big changes to Penn Street and encourage social and economic growth over the next decade. Restoring the Princess Street Center as a community building and resource sits high on the list of revitalization.

When Parker presented the Penn Street vision plan to the City Council, he highlighted the historical, commercial and geographic significance of Penn Street.

Penn Street boasts several assets, such as its proximity to a handful of local parks and major roadways that connect through the street, passing small businesses and leading to York College, according to Parker.

"This is really just an overview to see the corridor, the artery that Penn Street is," he said.

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The vision plan would have new development to restore historic buildings, like the Princess Street Center, for community use, increase walkability and safety, create park-to-park connections and create more economic opportunities.

According to the plan, the budget for the project is still to be determined.

The center has a long history in York City, with Parker noting that "it's a huge community asset." It was a schoolhouse for 70 years, starting out segregated, and when the building was sold it became a community center, according to the vision plan. He pointed out several state or federal funds that could help bring the center back as a community center. Although the Princess Street Center is not currently on any historic building registry, they do plan to apply for one in the future, Parker said.

Parker and Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects spent six to seven months developing the plan with other community partners. He said he wants to see the vision plan executed in an equitable way.

"When I say equitable, what do I mean? Everyone sees a return of some sort. We want to ensure that every dollar is increasing the quality of life, the people that live on and around Princess Street build equity and generational wealth," Parker said, in a later interview.

The Penn Street Vision Plan

The only major comments from the council were Council Member Felicia Dennis asking where to find the presentation online and Council President Sandie Walker noting that in the ARPA recommendation plan, the Princess Street Center is also listed, although it was labeled as the Princess Street Lot.

Consent agenda: In terms of recent action items, the council passed a slew of resolutions on the consent agenda to fund items for several departments like the purchase of a bucket truck for the Public Works Department and purchasing desks and two used vehicles for the York City Police Department.

However, one item was pulled from the consent agenda by Walker. She asked why an extension of a declaration of a state of emergency was still being included in the 2023 agendas.

"I'm trying to understand, is this necessary for this declaration of disaster for an emergency, we have it on our agenda every month, what's the reasoning for it?" Walker asked.

The declaration was first declared on March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim Robertson, the acting business administrator, said it's included because Diana Thompson, the city clerk, keeps it on the agenda. Thompson said when she put out the preliminary agenda, she would keep including it until told otherwise, thinking that it was needed in order to sustain health grants.

Currently, there are no health grants that need the declaration to her knowledge, but that had been the case at the start of the pandemic, Robertson said.

City Solicitor Donald Hoyt suggested the council could ask the health bureau to check that there are no grants depending on the declaration.

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The council discussed if and when nearby cities and the federal government ended their state of emergency and take a lead from them. Pennsylvania ended its COVID-19 state of emergency on June 15, 2021, according to the Associated Press.

Councilperson Lou Rivera proposed extending the declaration through April and looking into whether it is needed. The council voted to extend the declaration for the next six weeks.

Election: As the municipal elections approach, only one of the three council seats up for election has a candidate running for reelection. While Rivera and Walker are not running again for their seats, Council Vice President Edquina Washington is.

Washington said she's running again because "there's more work to do." She'll continue to work on the same initiatives she has, like focusing on economic and community development, being a voice for the community and ensuring new and returning residents have the resources they need, she said.

"[The focus will be on] anything that involved making sure our small businesses have what they need, especially our minority and women-owned businesses have what they need, you know and just work, rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty," she said.

The Penn Street Vision Plan presentation is available on the York City website at www.yorkcity.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Penn-Street-Vision-Plan-Complete.pdf.

The next York City Council meeting will be on Tuesday, April 18 at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall. The meeting will be broadcast on the White Rose Community Television website at https://www.wrct.tv/ and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/@WhiteRoseCommunityTV.

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.