Harrisburg Happening

Friday, September 22, 2006

Courthouse decision delayed

September 22, 2006

Dear Community Member,

In an ongoing effort to communicate major developments regarding the new U.S. Courthouse in Harrisburg project, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has some information to share with you. We expected to announce the selection of a final site by the end of the summer, but must now inform you that the decision has been delayed.

As you know, the Regional Administrator has received the Site Selection Board's recommendation that the 6th & Verbeke site is the preferred alternative. The Regional Administrator is in the process of reviewing the comments received during the 6th & Verbeke site community meeting and the recent calls and letters received from those on the site. In addition, the Regional Administrator is in the process of reviewing a number of project studies, evaluations, reports and other related documents. These documents contain information on all three sites and must be fully examined before a final decision is made. A careful and informed decision will be made once all of the information has been thoroughly reviewed.

We will continue to provide you with updates on the project. Thank you for your interest and support. Please feel free to share this information with others who may be interested in this project.


Abigail Low
Project Manager
GSA Public Buildings ServiceMid-Atlantic Region


Anonymous Josh said...

Good for them! The people kept asking for more review of the project, and it looks like they will get it.

September 24, 2006  
Blogger GastonStreet said...

Ditto, I'm glad they are reviewing their decision. I have always thought that the Jackson Lick Elderly housing would be a more suitable location for the court house. If they need an alternate elderly housing, check into the apartment complex on the north end of 3rd, around the Zembo area. That complex is HUGH, two story buildings with lots of open ground athat would make an ideal rental housing for "over 55" and rent controlled. The current owners are always filing chapter 11 or 7 or something. The government could get it cheap, fix them up and have a beautiful campus environment for the elderly. Who wants to live in a high rise and have to go out side and sit on a park bench to get fresh air. This move would be an IMPROVEMENT for them!! And Jackson Lick is already half empty already!

September 28, 2006  
Blogger Aries708 said...

I have been pondering this latest move by GSA for a bit now.

I think this has more to do with playing it safe. They are letting the residents of Cumberland Court air their complaints and opposition--even though they should have done more prior to the other shoe (the recommendation report) dropping.

It will take a good deal of clout or cause to override that recommendation report. Unless they find Indian artifacts or the "Ark of the Covenant" buried at the Cumberland Court location (or possibly nuclear waste) then I think this is a done deal.

The postponement may be due to a problem of perception. GSA is a heavy handed and classicly bureacratic organization. To their credit, they are trying to act like they care.

Let's face it. The Cumberland Court folks were woefully lacking in screaming NIMBY like the other sites' residents were. This is my humble opining here, but they had the cards stacked against them from the get-go. Cumberland Court is by far the easiest property to pick up, it has one owner I believe. It is also the smallest headache from GSA's point of view--no seniors with health problems to move. Serious litigation would have been forthcoming from the DINK neighborhood (sorry Anniken for the dig, could not resist!!!:), as well as from the Jackson Lick site.

It is a shame, now that the Cumberland Court folks have been selected, they are collectively upset "after the fact."

I feel for them. As I have always said, all three sites sucked. More could have been done by GSA.

Gastonstreet is on to something though. The Jackson Lick plan, if done with a heart, could have been a win-win. Older folks HATE change though. God bless her, my grandma is still living like the Depression is in full swing.

September 29, 2006  
Blogger Anniken Davenport, Esquire said...

I have my own theory, which I won't post here because GSA reads this blog pretty regularly. I'll let you all know if I'm right when the final decision is out.

As for alternative sites, how about Verbeke and Front? Take the two blocks, which consist of an empty lot, a gas station, several not so historic homes between the empty lot and the gas station, a law office and another house or two built in the 1940s by the looks of them. Seems big enough, pretty secure from the river side, and not in the flood plain, if my memory is correct. Plus, our civil servants will have a great view.

September 29, 2006  
Blogger TattooJim said...

With 52% of us shouldering the tax burden for the rest city (with all the tax exemp buildings) I say NO NEW TAX EXEMPT structures. Period (dammit)

October 04, 2006  
Blogger Aries708 said...

Well, here is the latest...

I just got an email stating: "[B]arbara Sheldon will be announcing the all 3 of the proposed sites for the new Harrisburg Federal Courthouse have been deemed unacceptable!"

This announcement is expected this weekend and will exclude all three sites from consideration in the next attempt to find a new location.

Here is the text of the "Official Letter."
October 6, 2006

I am writing to let you know of my decision for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Mid-Atlantic Region to continue its search to locate a suitable site for a U.S. Federal Courthouse in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I have determined that none of the three sites identified on the short-list will meet the equally important needs of the citizens, the immediate community, and the Federal Courts.

This difficult decision comes after spending two and one-half months reviewing the work products that are a result of the efforts of GSA and its consultants to find a suitable site in Harrisburg. The documents include, but are not limited to, the draft Environmental Assessment, the final Environmental Assessment, internal documentation, the record of comments made at the many community meetings held by GSA, the petitions, media coverage, and the letters, phone calls, and emails received from our citizens and their representatives.

I base my decision on the following factors:

1) The GSA Project Team was committed, from the beginning, to finding the best possible courthouse site within or close to the Central Business District (CBD) that was affordable and outside of Harrisburg’s 100- and 500-year floodplains. Site selection had to occur as soon as possible, because the need for a more secure facility was the primary reason for granting the federal funding for a new courthouse in Harrisburg.

2) The Site Selection Board (Board) faced the almost impossible task of trying to locate a courthouse in a city once described by GSA’s former Chief Architect as “vibrant”. The many historical structures still in full use, along with the floodplains, caused a number of sites to be out of our reach.

3) After months of searching, the Board decided to look beyond the boundaries of the CBD. The Board identified three sites for the "short list": North 6th and Verbeke, North 6th and Basin, and North 3rd and Forster.

U. S. General Services Administration
20 North Eighth Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3191

4) GSA opened numerous avenues for communication. GSA employed community meetings, a toll-free telephone line, surveys, and email to allow those impacted by our selection of the short-listed sites an opportunity to voice their concerns. It is primarily because of GSA’s recognition of the importance of hearing directly from our citizens that I was able to get a strong sense of the overall impact to the affected communities.

5) The Site Selection Board came to its decision for a preferred site with difficulty. I found that the Board reviewed all of the feedback received, and selected Cumberland Court as the preferred site because it was the one that was believed to meet all of the needs of the Federal Court, and it was within budget. Another very important consideration was that the Board believed that GSA relocation assistance would take care of all of the residents of Cumberland Court. GSA would assist with finding comparable housing, provide improved vouchers through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), give cash payments to help cover moving expenses, and assist those apartment renters who want to pursue home ownership with a cash payment and counseling. The Board also believed that GSA would find suitable facilities for the Friends Meeting House, also referred to as the Quaker Church, and the childcare center.

6) At the meeting GSA held on August 17, 2006 with the people directly impacted by the selection of Cumberland Court, the residents made a number of points that I believe GSA and our consultants had not heard. The most resonating was the sense of community that would be lost. Many of the amenities recognized by the Site Selection Board as making Cumberland Court a good site for the Federal courthouse were the same as those that the residents saw as being important to them.

7) GSA is very good at achieving our mission for providing federal agencies with superior workspace. However, I do not believe that we will be able to relocate over 100 low-income families to comparable housing successfully. I have spent time reviewing the documents provided by our consultants and the Harrisburg Housing Authority (HHA), which show the demographics of the families in Cumberland Court and available Section 8 housing in Harrisburg. The demographics show that the vast majority of the residents of Cumberland Court are young, head-of-household mothers with small children. The available Section 8 housing report from HHA listed properties that did not appear to be comparable to our understanding of the important qualities of Cumberland Court. GSA’s Mid-Atlantic Region is inexperienced in the relocation of this number of families within this demographic.

I believe the time and money spent on this project has been of value. We know a great deal more about the City of Harrisburg, which will be advantageous to us as we continue our search to find a suitable courthouse site. I appreciate all of the good, hard work done by the Site Selection Board. My review of the documents clearly showed a commitment to exemplary performance in spite of a very challenging objective.

The truly great outcome of this situation is that we were all a part of an excellent example of how our democratic form of government works for and with its citizens. It speaks well of everyone who is involved in making the United States Federal Courthouse in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania a reality and a success.


Barbara L. Shelton

October 06, 2006  
Blogger Aries708 said...

Hmmmm...I love GSA letters, they say so much by what they do not say.

So what is their next move????

October 06, 2006  

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