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Scranton tables zoning vote, 'a win' for residents who fought Geisinger parking garage height

 The property on the 400 block of Colfax Ave., where Audubon School used to stand. The proposed zoning ordinance would allow Geisinger to build a parking garage as tall as 45 feet.
Haley O'Brien
400 Colfax Avenue, where Audubon School once stood. Geisinger's proposal includes a 45ft tall parking garage on this lot.

Scranton City Council tabled a vote on a new zoning ordinance Tuesday after residents rallied against a proposed hospital expansion project. Residents cheered when council passed the amendment that would limit the height of a new Geisinger parking garage.

Linda Lyons is part of the group that lobbied for the change.

“Tonight was such a win," she said. "I’m crying, she’s crying, we’re all sitting here with tears in our eyes, because we’ve been fighting this for a year.”

Geisinger is planning to build parking garages and a hospital building to expand emergency services at Geisinger Community Medical Center near Nay Aug Park. The proposal includes an eight-level parking garage that would stand almost 100 feet tall.

East Scranton residents gathered weekly for the last year, discussing their worries and how the project may affect their quality of life. They initially opposed the project altogether, but they eventually came up with a compromise.

They asked that the zoning limit the height of the new structures to 45 feet, about the height of a three-story home.

Council voted 4 to 1 in favor of the amendment to limit the height of the development. Council member Gerald Smurl voted no.

"I was pleasantly surprised," Jessica Nolan said. "That it went so far in our favor, a four to one vote in favor of the amendment."

City Council President Bill King said the decision wasn't easy.

"We're trying to meet the needs of the neighbors, on top of trying to address the medical needs for the citizens of our city," he said.

Council members Jessica Rothchild and Tom Schuster shared the same sentiment. Council Vice President Mark McAndrew said the 45-foot compromise wasn't a big ask.

"We want good healthcare. The victory for us is the height of the buildings," Barbara O'Malley said. "We just didn't want a 100ft building in the middle of our residences."

If and when Geisinger gets zoning approval, studies will be done to determine details of the plan. O'Malley says she wants to have a say in the process moving forward.

"We want to make certain that the buildings fit into our neighborhood, we're not happy with the current big white building that they put up. So we want something that fits in environmentally."

Geisinger hosted public meetings and has set up a phone line and e-mail address to open communication. The proposal includes a community garden and a pocket park.

"I would absolutely want to be involved in both the architectural land development, and also the green space development," Nolan added.

Council will make changes and vote on the ordinance as early as May 9th.

Updated: May 9, 2023 at 9:51 PM EDT
City Council unanimously approved of the new zoning ordinance on May 9th. The amendments change the zoning designations for the 200 block of Colfax Ave. to limit the height of the new structures. The odd side of the 200 block of Colfax Avenue was changed from Civic zoning to Town-City Institutional zoning, and even side was changed from a Town-City Institutional to a Town-City Single Family Residence zoning designation.
Residents cheered and expressed gratitude. David Rinaldi, who bought a house on Colfax Avenue in the 1970s, was one of them.
"I give Council here in Scranton tremendous credit, for listening to the residents up there, listening to the neighborhood association, and crafting a compromise I think that will work for that section of the city."
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