Plenty of land in Lancaster already has been developed. Using air rights to build atop of existing buildings is intriguing. [editorial] | Our Opinion

THE Issue

“A 10-calendar year-outdated downtown Lancaster garage could draw a new form of improvement most probably never ever viewed prior to in the county — out of slim air,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Tom Lisi reported Sunday in the “Lancaster Watchdog” column. “Through a general public documents request, LNP | LancasterOnline received a order agreement from the South Central Transit Authority to promote the ‘air rights’ for the room over the Red Rose Transit Authority’s Queen Street Station Parking Garage at North Queen and East Chestnut streets. Lancaster-centered developer Eberly Myers LLC agreed to invest in the air rights for $790,000, with closing approval however wanted from the Federal Transit Administration and the Pennsylvania Division of Transportation. Closing on the offer is also contingent on the developer securing building financing and contractors to get started creating, according to the arrangement.” Eberly Myers secured an initial agreement to explore producing the air rights in June 2020.

At very first look, the strategy would seem bizarre.

Air rights?

How could air be a authentic estate commodity?

But when land and housing are scanty, specifically in metropolitan areas, setting up vertically is sensible. So we’re intrigued by the prospect of vertical development coming to Lancaster.

Lancaster city’s skyline is charming. Building upward only will insert to it.

Building atop of present buildings can be a intelligent way of maximizing the use of land, the availability of which is ever shrinking.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Lisi claimed Sunday, “Eberly Myers wants to make a 4- to six-story condominium making on prime of the parking garage that would contain 70 to 90 studio and 1-bed room residences, in accordance to Benjamin Myers, a husband or wife at the developer team.

“It could be the initial-at any time housing improvement in Lancaster County crafted on home obtained via air rights — basically the ‘land’ previously mentioned an present developing.”

As Lisi described, “Air rights describe a fundamental element of house legal rights in the United States, which have their roots in English widespread regulation, in accordance to Matt Crème, a Lancaster-dependent land-use attorney and solicitor for a variety of municipalities in the county.”

That basic principle: “The ownership of a property extends all the way down to the main of the earth and up to the heavens,” Crème reported. “And you can — the phrase is ‘sever’ — the mineral rights for case in point, or the air rights and promote individuals separately.”

Down “to the core of the earth and up to the heavens” — how very poetic.

A deal was in put in the 2010s for a developer to construct luxurious condominiums over the Queen Street Station Parking Garage, but the program evaporated in the wake of the Terrific Economic downturn.

Then, in 2017, the Lancaster-primarily based nonprofit developer HDC MidAtlantic “had an selection arrangement to create the air legal rights for an cost-effective housing improvement,” Lisi pointed out. “But the affordable housing builder was unable to fix a $3 million financing hole to transfer forward on the task, according to Dana Hanchin, HDC’s president and CEO.”

That is a true disgrace. Lancaster city and county required, and nevertheless have to have, additional reasonably priced housing models.

Even though this most up-to-date challenge isn’t likely to build $500,000 condos like the one particular that fizzled in the 2010s, Myers told Lisi that the objective would be to hire the studio and a single-bed room models at about $1,100 to $1,600 for each month.

Christopher Delfs, director of Lancaster city’s Division of Neighborhood Setting up and Economic Improvement, said one key details source estimates that the normal lease in the city in 2021 was $845 for studio apartments and $1,141 for just one-bedroom apartments. (The typical for two-bedroom residences: $1,277.)

So these rental units would cost more than the recent town averages. We only can hope the rental rates really do not increase between now and when the task is accomplished.

Which isn’t a certainty, but as Greg Downing, govt director of the South Central Transit Authority — which operates each the Crimson Rose Transit Authority and the Berks Region Regional Transit Authority — informed Lisi, the authority has “never been this close” to a last deal.

Downing reported the $790,000 cost is centered on land appraisals of the air legal rights.

Federal and condition regulations tied to the parking garage call for that air rights be sold at “fair industry price,” Downing spelled out.

If the offer is permitted, the South Central Transit Authority will use the dollars for Red Rose Transit Authority functions — which would be a boon to the program.

Myers reported constructing on an currently-current framework gets rid of some of the hazard for a developer. “I know the risks of vertical constructing commencing at 85 ft as opposed to digging in the floor and discovering water or rock,” which can produce surprise expenses, Myers informed Lisi. (The metal-and-concrete parking garage was built to be capable of managing supplemental floors.)

An additional reward for the developer: the possibility to give parking with out obtaining to shell out income to make it at a typical price tag of a lot more than $20,000 per parking space.

Concentrating housing in the vicinity of transportation hubs is superior arranging. And it could be advantageous for the environment, except that the motorists who use the Queen Road Station Parking Garage are not applying it for its primary intent, which was to park their individual cars and then use public transportation.

The 395-place garage is absolutely occupied, Downing explained, and has a ready checklist. County employees get a price cut on the $65 monthly rate — Downing, inexplicably, declined to divulge the price cut amount of money. (Businesses can get team fees at $55 a month with a yearlong agreement, in accordance to the Purple Rose Transit Authority website.)

“The federal transit resources that paid for the $20.2 million parking garage ended up intended for ‘multimodal’ transportation,” Lisi stated, “meaning the expectation was that people who parked at the garage would then hop on a bus” to the Amtrak station, which is a mile away and has minimal parking.

But only a handful of garage customers in 2022 acquire the bus to get to the Amtrak station, Downing said.

This is disappointing.

And we’re not sure that the problem is heading to increase when apartment renters are parking in the garage.

But vertical improvement making use of air legal rights is an intriguing chance for Lancaster. We hope it pays dividends not just for builders, but for the community.