AS I SEE
IT / JOSH FIRST
the mansions, but make them condos
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
to demolish three signature and historic mansions on Harrisburg's attractive gateway
community of Front Street in order to build a
raises tough questions about urban redevelopment.
administrations, the environmental community, and "green developers"
like myself have long touted urban redevelopment and "smart growth"
as a major solution to the very real problem of suburban sprawl
After all, redeveloping inner cities into attractive places to live and
will ensure that surrounding undeveloped green spaces are used up only
the theory, anyhow.
Knackstedt's redevelopment proposal challenges the assumptions behind
theory and poses some questions that must be dealt with fairly and
is no different
from so many other historic cities nationwide with many formerly
but currently dilapidated historic buildings, surrounding suburban
just a couple of key residential "anchor" communities. One of those
few anchor communities is Uptown, which Knackstedt will alter forever
proposal is fully implemented.
But Harrisburg cannot afford to lose
appropriate redevelopment momentum led by local entrepreneurs like Alex
Hartzler and the late John Vartan, whose love for the city and passion
combining good deeds and good business led to rediscovery of the city's
greatness by so many families.
addresses some of the public's concerns about aesthetic appearance, she
maintained a tin ear regarding traffic safety, environmental issues and
neighborhood function concerns -- the core of public interest in the
disposition. Even in farm country you can't just do whatever you want
property; there are always some public interests that must be
the more so is this true inside a key neighborhood.
balance must be struck
between Knackstedt's private property rights and the demonstrably
public interest in preserving the appearance, function and safety of Harrisburg's main gateway corridor.
families' investments and futures depend on getting this particular
right. That balance means that Knackstedt should be able to do
the mansions, and also that the community should have a lot to say
generous enough to spend two hours with me and a handful of other
citizens. She graciously led us on a tour of all three buildings and
most of the questions we asked. I grew up in the building trade and
basements to the attics, I saw nothing indicating that the mansions are
a state of disrepair that they should be demolished.
particular, the historic
federal-style home that Knackstedt lives and works in is in such
condition that I offered to purchase it from her (my wife and I have
trying to purchase a large home in Uptown for years and hers is
Tearing this one down or gutting it is unnecessary and would be a
crime, in my
other two (stone)
mansions have lost some or much of their residential utility and charm,
each can be turned into condominiums in their current condition. Even
would be for Knackstedt to follow the trend of some other cities that
successfully grappled with this same historic preservation vs. economic
development (urban redevelopment) conundrum.
places like Boston and
Washington, historic facades and entire blocks of historic buildings
incorporated into new, modern construction in such a way as to preserve
feel, appearance, and function of the neighborhood without sacrificing
rights, and while also promoting economic development. It's a
kind of design seems
like a logical and fair solution to Knackstedt's proposal. Gutting and
redeveloping the two stone mansions, and then linking them together
or four floors of modern construction that incorporates Knackstedt's
proposed design elements would be a significant win-win solution and
everyone's goals. CURRENTLY, IT LOOKS like the situation is headed
lose-lose result, where everyone loses. The situation calls for
vision and good will.
all of the hard work
by so many to keep the city alive, Harrisburg deserves nothing less.
aesthete herself, Mary Knackstedt knows that better than anyone.
FIRST is president and
CEO of Appalachian Land & Conservation Services Co.
2005 The Patriot-News.
Used with permission.