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Lackawanna mayor agrees to sell site for affordable housing

The fight over the sale of property for construction of a low-income apartment complex on Ridge Road ended quietly Wednesday in State Supreme Court with the announcement that Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski has signed the ordinance approving the sale.

Lawyers for the developer, Community Services for the Developmentally Disabled, told Justice Tracey A. Bannister that they had reached a settlement with the city and were withdrawing their complaint.

Community Services had filed a lawsuit against Lackawanna seeking to compel the city to follow through on plans to sell the property, formerly site of Friendship House, so it could build 32 apartment units there. The City Council had previously approved the project in December 2016, but the mayor had refused to sign the ordinance.

Then, when the composition of the council changed after Jan. 1, it was not clear whether the project still had the votes to move forward and the developer took the city to court.

Finally, after a lengthy executive session on Monday, the council voted 3-2 to sell the 2.5-acre property to the nonprofit, which already has begun preparation on the site at 264 Ridge Road.

Even then, the council's vote was not a whole-hearted approval. Third Ward Councilman Joseph L. Jerge, who preferred that the city sell to a for-profit, tax-paying entity, explained his yes vote by saying, “I think the possibility of a long, drawn-out court battle could financially devastate the city, lead to a higher tax burden and lay-offs.”

"If that parcel of land were to be developed for housing, the economic impact to Lackawanna would be better served by single-family homes as opposed to a not-for-profit, low-income housing project," he said.

Mindy Cervoni, chief executive officer of Community Services, has said she believes the fears of those opposing the apartment complex are unfounded.

On the contrary, she said Monday, “We believe that this project will revitalize the community. A huge community room, a gorgeous playground. This is a complex for families. Who doesn’t want to put an Aldi’s next to a building like this?”

No explanation was given in court for Szymanski’s change of heart about the project. There had been no indication of it on Wednesday when the mayor fired the city’s development director, Fred K. Heinle, who had worked on the sale of the property to Community Services for much of 2016. Heinle had held the position with the city since 2014.

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