Developer Meets with Neighbors on Plans for Old School Complex

SCRANTON, Pa. -- A California-based developer with big plans for a historic property in Lackawanna County came to town Wednesday to meet with the project's new neighbors.

That developer plans to renovate a former school into apartments, a restaurant, and maybe a bed and breakfast. Not everyone who lives in this area of Scranton and Dunmore loved the idea. The city of Scranton received so much negative feedback that the zoning board delayed its approval of the project.

The developer came to Scranton in hopes of clearing the air.

People in Lackawanna County know the sweeping campus of nine historic buildings as the former site of the Scranton School for the Deaf.

When Lance Robbins of Urban Smart Growth first saw it in pictures online, he had a vision for an intergenerational living community.

"Generations have gotten incredibly separated, and a big part of this process is to have them under the same roof -- interconnected with common facilities and building a community. That's always been the goal. That's what we've done in other states and what we want to do here," Robbins said.

Robbins says the concept is different, so he's used to some skepticism, but he wasn't prepared for the backlash that met him when he went to Scranton for a zoning variance for the only building on the campus that's actually in the city. The rest are in Dunmore.

Neighbors convinced the Scranton Zoning Board to hold off on granting the variance.

Robbins and his company, Urban Smart Growth, are using that extra time to meet with concerned neighbors. He says the project can't be delayed any longer.

"Because of the complexities, I wouldn't make a commitment to buying it until we can check it out. We've spent now seven or eight months doing that, and our option was getting to the point where we had to make a decision that was rather substantial, therefore, that was the time pressure," said Robbins.

Robbins addressed problems in his past including zoning violations in the 1990s from properties in California. He says that's ancient history and his company has had success renovating old buildings in other cities in recent years.

After meeting with neighbors, he's confident Scranton is next.

"It was a pretty productive meeting," he said. "I think everybody walked away feeling they were taken care of."

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