Concerned Residents Pack Zoning Board Hearing over Proposed Plans for Former School

SCRANTON, Pa. -- Controversial plans to renovate the former Scranton School for the Deaf are being put on hold for at least a month.

Representatives of a Rhode Island-based developer went before the city's zoning board for a variance request, but after hearing the proposal, the board voted to table its decision for 30 days.

Scranton and Dunmore residents packed into Scranton City Hall Wednesday evening to show their concern over the proposed plan to renovate the former school.

Urban Smart Growth Corporation wants to develop the property into residential and retail units and right now, has an option to purchase the school from Marywood University.

Representatives for the company came before the city's zoning board for a variance request.

“So based on the square footage of the restaurant, which we approximate 40 seated capacity there, so 4,000 for the event space,” explained one of the representatives.

But those living around the school say this would cause a host of problems, including more pressure on traffic.

“A couple years ago, we had a child hit on the intersection of Electric Street and North Washington Avenue. You have to remember kids walking to St. Clair School every day,” said Mary Walsh Dempsey of Scranton.

Residents say the developer pitching the remodel, Lance Robbins, has a dicey record with properties, citing a 2001 Los Angeles Times article that called him an “oft-convicted slum lord.”

“Evidence of the developer's untrustworthiness, specifically the developer has had 105 health violations, seven criminal charges for building code violations,” said Samantha Maloney, before she was interrupted by the developer’s attorney who objected.

The zoning board agreed with the developer’s attorney and upheld the objection but voted unanimously to table the vote on the zoning variance for 30 days so more could be learned about the project.

“I do believe it's going to be harmful with this particular developer that is the applicant tonight,” said Abigail Dempsey.

The zoning board specifically wanted the developer to come up with a traffic pattern that would be put in place if the project went through.