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Debate over downtown lot's use crops up again


November 2, 2017

Public versus private use of a downtown lot resurfaced as various borough boards and committees rehashed what to do with the empty lot at Third and Main, known as lot 8A.

In a 5-2 vote last month, the parks and recreation advisory committee recommended that the lot be designated as a public use and recreation area.

The committee wrote to the borough assembly that the public use is consistent with the comprehensive plan and that there would be no other land available on Main Street should it be sold.

Borough staff recommended the issue go before the planning commission. The planning commission discussed the issue last year and took no action.

The lot is part of a 15-acre parcel where the old school was located. After the school was demolished the borough sold lots on Main Street to the Aspen Hotel and Haines Brewing Company. Lot 8A is the only parcel left.

The borough’s comprehensive plan recommends the area be used to create a “public campus” to help attract people to downtown.

“A ‘destination’ open space with benches in a town square like setting on a portion of the campus can host summer Farmers Markets and spillover events from the Southeast State Fair and Downtown celebrations…A well–positioned mixed-use building with some ground floor retail space would further attract people and commerce adding life to the area and downtown next door,” the borough’s comprehensive plan states.

The plan’s future growth map designates the 15 acres, including lot 8A, as commercial.

During last month’s assembly meeting, Mayor Jan Hill said “an agreement was made” between borough officials and other members of the community around 2008 to add those properties to the borough’s tax rolls.

“I want us to keep the history in mind as we go through this process,” Hill told the borough assembly as they considered the committee’s recommendation.

Assembly member Heather Lende said because the school gym was left on the lot after the school was torn down, the community wanted the land to remain as recreational property after it was demolished.

Staff recommended it go the commission, citing borough code that requires the classification of lands for sale be reviewed by the planning commission. Code also states designation of any land use should not conflict with zoning and “shall be in keeping with the comprehensive plan.”

The assembly voted 3-3 to send the item to the planning commission with assembly members Tom Morphet, Lende and Tresham Gregg opposed. Hill broke the tie.

“This should go to the planning commission,” Hill said. “They are the sole planning body.”

Planning commission chair Rob Goldberg said his opinion hasn’t changed.

He wants to leave the land under borough ownership and not give it any special designation.

“I think the public appreciates having an open space there in the middle of town,” Goldberg said.

The planning commission will discuss the issue at its Nov. 9 meeting.


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