Scranton zoning update up for discussion before city Planning Commission

Jan. 25—SCRANTON — Recent revisions to a proposed city zoning ordinance — the first comprehensive update in three decades — may accommodate a planned hospital expansion while easing neighbors' concerns.

The city Planning Commission will hold a public meeting Thursday on Scranton's proposed new zoning ordinance and map, the latest step in a process that has been underway for several years.

The new ordinance includes some zoning changes for Colfax Avenue in the area of Geisinger Community Medical Center. Geisinger's plans for the Colfax blocks have been a bone of contention for some time. In recent years, the hospital bought properties in the two blocks and razed houses to prepare for expansion.

Last fall, the hospital unveiled tentative plans to build parking facilities in the 200 and 400 blocks of Colfax Avenue. At that time, conceptual renderings also showed the hospital expanding in Colfax's 300 block.

But neighbors raised concerns about what they view as too-tall structures going up next door, said Hill Neighborhood Association President Tim Schwartz.

"They still want their neighborhood to look like a neighborhood and not look like a Geisinger parking lot," Schwartz said.

The 200 and 400 blocks are zoned residential under the current ordinance dating to 1993. The latest revisions to the proposed zoning ordinance would reduce the maximum building heights from 120 feet to 100 feet in a new civic zone in the 200 block, and from 100 to 45 feet in a new institutional zone in the 400 block.

Whether proposed changes would be palatable to all parties remains to be seen. Schwartz said some Colfax Avenue neighbors think revisions in the 400 block came at the expense of the 200 block and both blocks should be on the same footing.

"They feel like their voices have been heard halfway," Schwartz said.

Geisinger addressed the zoning matter Wednesday in a statement.

"We continue to be grateful for the opportunity to work with neighbors and the city throughout this process, and we believe the newly proposed zoning requirements would be a positive step closer to meeting Lackawanna County's growing demand for high-quality care," it reads. "As healthcare services are being reduced and discontinued in our area, we look forward to ongoing review and public discussion of the new zoning proposal, including ways we can meet the community's healthcare demands within these guidelines."

City Council expects to introduce the new proposed zoning ordinance Tuesday, council President Bill King said. Council will table the ordinance to allow for a public hearing before adoption.

The city has been updating its zoning as part of the broader Scranton-Abingtons Planning Association of nine contiguous municipalities: Scranton, Clarks Green, Clarks Summit, Dalton, Dunmore, Newton Twp., South Abington Twp., Waverly Twp. and West Abington Twp.

The collaboration, also known as SAPA, allows flexibility to share land uses among the participants. If any of the nine participating municipalities agree to take on a zoning use, including less-desirable uses, the others don't need to allow them.

For the collaborative to go into effect, all nine municipalities must pass their respective new zoning ordinances. Scranton and Dunmore have yet to do so.

To review the current and proposed zoning ordinances and maps, visit scrantonpa.gov and click the "City Planning and Zoning" link under the "Your Government" tab.

Thursday's planning commission meeting at City Hall begins at 6 p.m.

emailto:Contact the writers: jlockwood@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5185; @jlockwoodTT on Twitter; jhorvath@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9141; @jhorvathTT on Twitter.