Council eyes change to historic district to facilitate project – timesobserver.com

Feb 23, 2022

Josh Cotton

Staff Reporter
jcotton@timesobserver.com

Senior Housing

By JOSH COTTON jcotton@timesobserver.com The Warren City Council has tasked the city’s Planning Commission with reviewing the boundaries for the downtown historic district. The ask is with an eye toward changes that would make a proposed senior living facility on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Liberty Street. City Manager Nancy Freenock explained the dilemma at hand during Monday night’s meeting. She told the council that a firm, part of Hudson Companies, is attempting to fund the project with tax credits through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. “They are requesting funding from the Housing Trust which are federal funds,” she explained. “One of the restrictions they just discovered in this application round, Housing Trust funds cannot be used to demolish… in a historic district.” In addition to the empty lot on the southeastcorner of the intersection, the next two buildings, 235-237 Pennsylvania Ave. W., are owned by the city and expected to be demolished as part of the project. Freenock said staff looked into whether the buildings could be “considered non-contributing to the historic district” but noted that “does not appear that should be sufficient. If the buildings are removed from the historic district, it takes away the problem.” See HOUSING / A-3 Housing She said she consulted the developer about the possibility of using the existing exterior walls as part of the new construction but was told there is “nothing that can be done” with the existing structure. Freenock told the council that the firm needs the Housing Trust funding “to make the financing for this project work.” It is her request that the Planning Commission “determine whether the southern block side” of Pennsylvania Avenue from Liberty Street to Market Avenue “need(s) to remain in that district, if it does add anything to that district.” The council approved that step but the issue quickly turned into a broader discussion. “The possibility of reducing the historic section of our city would be minimizing our value and history,” Council member Wendy McCain said. “(I) feel very strongly about the citizens taking a lot of pride in our history and our historic district.” Council member Maurice Cashman pointed out that the action by the council just asks the commission to review the district. “We’re asking them a little more,” she said. The buildings have been vacant for decades. “We cannot continue to operate under a no growth model,” Council member John Wortman said. “(Our) community is losing people left and right. We need to do everything we can…. We have to make these changes.”

The Warren City Council has tasked the city’s Planning Commission with reviewing the boundaries for the downtown historic district.

The ask is with an eye toward changes that would make a proposed senior living facility on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Liberty Street.

City Manager Nancy Freenock explained the dilemma at hand during Monday night’s meeting.

She told the council that a firm, part of Hudson Companies, is attempting to fund the project with tax credits through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

“They are requesting funding from the Housing Trust which are federal funds,” she explained. “One of the restrictions they just discovered in this application round, Housing Trust funds cannot be used to demolish… in a historic district.”

In addition to the empty lot on the southeastcorner of the intersection, the next two buildings, 235-237 Pennsylvania Ave. W., are owned by the city and expected to be demolished as part of the project.

Freenock said staff looked into whether the buildings could be “considered non-contributing to the historic district” but noted that “does not appear that should be sufficient. If the buildings are removed from the historic district, it takes away the problem.”

She said she consulted the developer about the possibility of using the existing exterior walls as part of the new construction but was told there is “nothing that can be done” with the existing structure.

Freenock told the council that the firm needs the Housing Trust funding “to make the financing for this project work.”

It is her request that the Planning Commission “determine whether the southern block side” of Pennsylvania Avenue from Liberty Street to Market Avenue “need(s) to remain in that district, if it does add anything to that district.”

The council approved that step but the issue quickly turned into a broader discussion.

“The possibility of reducing the historic section of our city would be minimizing our value and history,” Council member Wendy McCain said. “(I) feel very strongly about the citizens taking a lot of pride in our history and our historic district.”

Council member Maurice Cashman pointed out that the action by the council just asks the commission to review the district.

“We’re asking them a little more,” she said.

The buildings have been vacant for decades.

“We cannot continue to operate under a no growth model,” Council member John Wortman said. “(Our) community is losing people left and right. We need to do everything we can…. We have to make these changes.”

Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox