The 13.9-acre campus of the former Lebanon Catholic School has officially changed hands.
Put up for sale at $2.45 million in 2020 following an unexpected closure decision by the Diocese of Harrisburg, the property had an apparent buyer by February 2021.
Although a realtor had said at the time that the sale might be finalized later that summer, pending due diligence, it ended up taking much longer. As LebTown has previously reported, the developers of the site – Destiny Builders & Management, a hotel and multifamily developer/general contractor/management firm owned and operated by Shakher Patel – faced zoning hurdles in realizing their 326-unit plan.
Although those zoning hurdles have not yet been cleared, Patel said that there was a contractual obligation to close by a certain date, and that he was comfortable with where they’re at in the development process to finalize the purchase. The property was purchased for $2.2 million in a transaction dated May 23 and recorded with the county on June 1.
Patel said that a zoning decision by the City of Lebanon Zoning Hearing Board is currently being legally challenged. As previously reported, the primary point of contention is whether the access roads through the property from Chestnut and Walnut streets should be considered city streets or driveways. Patel said the courts are better suited to make the decision on the appropriate label.
“They’re just driveways for parking,” said Patel. “They’re not meant to convey outside traffic.”
The designation of streets vs. driveways has bearing on site plans around aspects like parking space orientation and building setbacks. Additionally, if the roads are designated as streets, the City of Lebanon could become liable for maintenance and improvements such as sewer lines and stormwater management systems.
Patel said that in his view the roads should be privately maintained. “No one has to pay anything besides us,” he said of that scenario.
Lebanon Zoning Officer Tom Neff confirmed that the determinations previously made by the Zoning Department were contested in front of the Zoning Hearing Board, which upheld the determinations.
Neff said the situation is unusual mostly due to the scope of the project. The sale of the property does not have any bearing on the zoning approval process.
Patel touted the overall benefits of the development plans.
“There’s not really much better smart growth than what we’re proposing,” he said, adding that with good density and walkability, the project would help to reduce car traffic and also help add needed rental inventory to the city.
Patel also said that he’s met with Laura Kise, who wrote a letter to LebTown recently arguing that the historic Donaghmore Mansion on the Lebanon Catholic property should be somehow preserved.
“Right now, I’m just trying to figure out a way to keep it,” said Patel, noting that part of this equation will be what uses the city would be open to allowing for the building. Patel said that the mansion is structurally in good condition, while the inside would need a significant amount of work to realize any reuse plans.
Lastly, Patel said that he has heard the complaints about overgrown grass on the Lebanon Catholic property. Patel said that he heard from a city official the day before closing that he needed to cut the grass, although at that time it still would have been the diocese’s responsibility.
However, now that the sale has closed, Patel said he’s working to address the grass situation as fast as possible. Patel said that it was difficult to find a brush mower capable of handling the really long grass on the property, but he was able to locate one at Umberger’s and expects the lawn to receive a much needed haircut later this week.
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