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$15M plan to bring affordable housing to Lancaster’s former Rebman’s site moves forward

A $15 million mixed-use project to bring affordable housing and neighborhood services and businesses to the long-vacant Rebman’s property in southern Lancaster city is one step closer to fruition.

The plan, from local entrepreneur Jeremy Feakins, founder and CEO of the OZFund, has received approval from the city’s Zoning Hearing Board. Feakins sought six variances and one special exception.

Cinthia Kettering, the OZFund’s business development director, said the next step is to apply for permits and to start breaking ground. The hope is for a mid-2023 opening.

The 1.4-acre site would also house a medical clinic, a grocery/general store, a café, a day care center and a commercial use to be determined.

The 13,000-square-foot Rebman’s building at 800 S. Queen St. would be demolished and the four-story, 88,000-square-foot building erected in its place would feature 72 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with monthly rents ranging from $900 to $1,100.

To be eligible to live there, a household could earn no more than $52,800. That’s 80% of the county’s median income of $66,300, LNP | LancasterOnline reported. That number could change by the time the apartments open.

A small building at the rear of the property Feakins has been using as his office would be converted into the day care center. The special exception that the zoners approved allows the café, according to LNP | LancasterOnline.

Kettering said the project aims to bring businesses and working families back to a location that’s been vacant for 10 years. That’s why a day care center is part of the mix, because the goal is to serve the tenants and the larger community, she said. “The main idea is to help that area.”

In addition, the Rebman’s property is in a federal Opportunity Zone, a designation that would give project investors tax breaks on their capital gains. Opportunity Zones were created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

It’s a chance to stimulate economic growth and encourage long-term private investment, Kettering said.

The OZFund’s website said it is “dedicated to transforming distressed properties into affordable housing and commercial spaces” with an emphasis on sustainability.

Features and amenities of the Rebman’s apartments include a washer and dryer, a fitness center, wheelchair accessibility, free parking, high-speed communication, monitored security, renewable energy/solar, and a rooftop garden in which tenants can part in a community-supported agriculture program.

“Besides the decorative benefit, roof gardens may provide food, temperature control, hydrological benefits, architectural enhancement and recreational opportunities,” according to the OZFund website. “The practice of cultivating food on the rooftop of buildings is sometimes referred to as rooftop farming … usually carried out using hydroponics, aeroponics or other environmentally focused irrigation system.”

“All of us felt it was a really interesting project,” said Rudy DeLaurentis, chair of the Lancaster City Zoning Hearing Board.

DeLaurentis liked the components that went with the affordable housing – grocery store, café, medical clinic and rooftop garden.

“The idea that you can pick your own vegetables for dinner sounds so cool,” DeLaurentis said.

The plan even added 16 bicycle spaces. “That’s forward thinking,” he said, as people move away from cars.

DeLaurentis said he’s also sensitive to concerns about gentrification, and that it’s extremely important to get affordable housing in all quadrants of Lancaster – not just downtown.

“I’d really like Lancaster to have a good mix,” he said, of upper-, middle- and lower-income housing.