The Lackawanna City Council approved a new comprehensive plan for the city Tuesday evening but delayed action on a new zoning ordinance.
In a way, the Council members were bowing to what they believe will be sainthood for Father Nelson Baker in postponing action on the zoning changes. Some of them are thinking about a hotel and other development to serve the expected surge of pilgrims to Our Lady of Victory Basilica if the Vatican canonizes Father Baker, who was from Lackawanna.
"In Lackawanna," Mayor John J. Kuryak explained, "it's not a question of if but when Father Baker is declared a saint. And we want to be ready."
Kuryak, who attended the meeting, said one of the reasons he favors further study of the zoning ordinance is to assure that it's flexible enough to permit major hotel development to accommodate tourists when Father Baker, founder of Our Lady of Victory Basilica, is canonized a saint by the Catholic Church.
Kuryak said the city has considered creating a "mini-master plan" just for the corner of Ridge Road and South Park Avenue, where the Basilica and Our Lady of Victory hospital and family care center come together.
The prime real estate on the northwest corner, currently occupied by aging businesses, is adjacent to City Hall, which some city officials would like to tear down and rebuild elsewhere. That would open up 2.5 acres -- the whole end of that block -- for a major hotel development.
"So before we adopt the zoning," Kuryak said, "we want to make sure our master plan for the whole city incorporates that possibility. Our city just has to be prepared, so that when it does happen, we're already at third base and only have to go to home plate."
The proposed zoning changes, several Council members said, will also eliminate much of the spot zoning that has occurred over the years, in favor of a more uniform zoning that would restore continuity to certain streets and allow for development of corridor businesses.
As for the comprehensive plan, minus the zoning, many objections were addressed before the final vote, which was unanimous.
A proposal to relocate two popular soccer fields was eliminated because of opposition by the Yemenite community. Community spokesman Mohamed Albanna said he was pleased that the soccer field will never be moved, except in the unlikely event that toxic contamination is found there.
First Ward green space will be protected for recreational use despite its zoning for industrial use.
"It's always going to be a park setting," Kuryak promised.
First Ward Councilman Richard Estrada added that the property, formerly occupied by Lackawanna Foundry, has been cleaned up and beautified.
"I was worried about green space," said First Warder Carol J. Daley, who is the city clerk. "Now they're going to keep the bocce field and plant green across Route 5 and plant trees on Dona Street. It's where Bethlehem Steel property abuts Lincoln Street."
Also under study is a proposal to reduce the five-member Zoning Board of Appeals to three members.