The plan to sell six vacant land parcels on Ridge Road to develop a Family Dollar Store sailed through Lackawanna City Council Monday night receiving unanimous approval in lightning fashion.
It would be the city’s third Family Dollar, a proven winner in struggling urban neighborhoods. It will provide 18 jobs, offer affordable merchandise and increase the city’s struggling tax base by adding $2 million in assessed valuation, according to Fred K. Heinle, director of development.
Yet those six vacant parcels, former brownfields on Ridge at Wasson Street have been the prize in a tug-of-war between two Lackawanna communities -- the Yemenite Benevolent Association and Second Baptist Church -- that goes back decades. Over the years each group at one point claimed ownership but was overruled by the City Council.
“There’s been a lot of back and forth on the property between the Second Baptist Church and Yemenite Benevolent Association, but the fact of the matter is that I believe politically motivated decisions played a major role in that property being empty for years,” Heinle said before the meeting.
Durban Acquisition, of Charlotte, N.C., has proposed paying Lackawanna $175,000 and will pay the $25,000 broker fee to Pyramid Brokerage Company. Lackawanna will pay for the environmental remediation, which was estimated not to exceed $60,000 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The proposed single-story 8,320 square foot structure will be consistent with the streetscape, with windows, plantings and parking in the rear and along the side, said Heinle. It still requires Planning Board approval
“We have to start taking this vacant land off the market,” said Heinle. “We’re getting a reasonable investment. They will be paying full taxes. It may generate other businesses to consider our vacant sites.”
In 2002 the Rev. Mark Blue and his Second Baptist Church wanted to purchase two of the parcels to expand their food pantry and add a community center. He had won a public bid for the land, but was told by the city the land never should have put up for sale in the first place.
And so the land sat vacant.
In June 2011 the Yemenis received approval to purchase six lots for $500 each. They wanted to build a parking lot to relieve traffic congestion at the adjacent Al-Rasheed Academy, at 109 Ridge Road, one of three Islamic schools in the area.
Blue argued in 2011 that his Baptist congregation, whose church backs up to the property, should have been notified the parcels were up for sale. The City Council listened and put off the sale so they could negotiate a deal between the two groups
Finally in 2014, the council green-lighted the sale to the Yemenite group. The land, assessed at $29,800 was to be sold for $3,000. Many of Al-Rasheed Academy’s 200 students were driven to school by their parents who were forced to drop them off in the street.
But again, the City Council put off the sale.
At Monday nights’s meeting, two members of the Yemenite Benevolent Association were in attendance. Mohamed T. Albannah of Lehigh Street was upset.
”We’ve been asking for those lots for 35 years,” he said. “If that goes, our building is landlocked. Was the sale publicly announced?”
Heinle responded: “At the last council meeting, the list of all parcels for sale in the city was approved. We are sensitive to the needs of Al-Rasheed Academy, however this is an important investment that will provide service for the broader community.”
John Ingram, a regular at the meetings, summed it up.
“That’s a no-brainer,” he said. “We need a Family Dollar.”