By Karen Blackledge
The Danville News
DANVILLE — By a 6-to-1 vote, the Danville Borough Council approved changing the zoning of Holy Family Convent so Geisinger Health System can use the property for offices for up to 400 employees.
The rezoning affects other properties which will be changed from multi-family residential to highway commercial use.
Councilman Wes Walters Tuesday night voted against the rezoning. After the meeting, he said there were “a lot of things that need looked into yet” including runoff and traffic patterns.
Robert Davies, chief support services officer at Geisinger, said the next step would be to submit a land development plan which should address concerns of neighbors in that area of 1 Montour St. “We will do our best to satisfy their concerns. We want to be a good neighbor,” he told the council.
The Danville Planning Commission previously held a public hearing and recommended the change be approved.
Voting in favor of the rezoning were council vice president Bill Rogers and members Betty Ann Moyer, Bill Hause, Max VonBlohn, Collins Stump and Scott Richardson. Council president Dick Johns was absent.
The council held a public hearing before its meeting on the proposed rezoning with 18 people attending.
Rogers, who was presiding, broke the gavel while banging it on the table trying to stop a man from continuing to question Edward Azary, of Upper Mulberry Street, who was speaking at the podium at the time. The questions were about Geisinger employees paying taxes to work in Danville. Azary told those attending to look on the positive side, that the Holy Family property will be placed on the tax rolls and employees will pay a tax to work here.
One woman said Montour Street is surrounded by commercial properties with no privacy. “Put yourselves in our shoes. We have a pool. Would you want 300 to 400 people watching you swim every day,” she asked. She also asked if Geisinger employees would be smoking along her street.
One woman called the Sunoco intersection Geisinger employees will use dangerous and the Route 11 intersection congested. Another woman said there is a lot of foot traffic on Montour Street including Danville High School runners.
The main building on the 19-acre convent property is expected to eventually house 350 to 400 employees who would work during the day.
Borough solicitor Michael Dennehy said the borough could impose conditions on Geisinger when it submits its land development application. “Today just zoning is in front of us,” he said. “If they have a plan for a parking lot, they need to show how to get the cars in and out of there. At this point, it is not about what they actually are going to do with it. I’m sure Geisinger is looking into this,” Dennehy said.
Amanda Temple, who with her mother owns two properties along Montour Street, said their street isn’t for two-way traffic. She asked if Geisinger considered widening the street or adding stop signs, which would be necessary with additional traffic. Davies said they hadn’t yet looked at the condition of the street.
“Without any traffic plan, it’s premature,” said resident Michael Raup. He said there should have been more effort to come up with a traffic plan.
Businessman Michael Kuziak said it was good the property will be on the tax rolls but he said infrastructure there doesn’t exist to handle up to 400 employees. “It could be made to work. I have a problem taking it out of my tax money. We’re still paying for Geisinger parking lots,” he said. “I feel Geisinger should pay for infrastructure improvements and that should be a condition with the zoning change,” he said. That could involve increasing storm water drainage or installing a red light, he said.
Davies explained Geisinger has an agreement with the Society of Sisters of Christian Charity to buy the property they have owned since 1898. He expects closing on the property to occur sometime this fall and Geisinger to occupy the top two floors of the six-story building. The 61 or 62 retired sisters have up to three years to move to their motherhouse in New Jersey.
Other properties affected by the zoning change are owned by the Montour County Housing Authority, Whadda Pizza, Scott’s Flora and Gifts, Danville American Legion Post 40 and undeveloped woodlands.