Sherman Hills and land sale discussed at Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting

WILKES-BARRE — City Council learned Thursday what to do with vacant lots on Carey Avenue and the struggling Sherman Hills housing complex where gunfire littered the property with more than 80 shells used last month.

The board approved the sale of 38-46 Carey Ave. for $54,000 to Gaurang Patel, Twinkle Desai and Vishal Patel who planned to build a strip mall on the property.

But some residents weren’t sold on the idea.

“It’s not 1980. Come on guys, how we gotta get on the schedule,” said Brian Ferry, a design professional.

“It is certainly an investment in the city, but what is the real added value? Ferry asked. He argued for a multi-storey mixed-use development with commercial spaces on the ground floor and residential units on the upper floors. Businesses thrive when there are more people living in the area, he said.

Council Vice Chairman Mike Belusko voted for the sale, saying the property is in his district and he knows the buyers, describing them as great guys who will do it well.

“Because it’s been vacant for so long, I’ll take anything there,” Belusko said.

Ferry encouraged city officials to talk with potential owners about what would be mutually beneficial for the city, the developer and the community.

Ferry and other residents had the opportunity to address Council in person for the first time since December, when the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise due to the omicron variant. As a result, the Board has been meeting virtually for the past two months, livestreaming their meetings. The number of cases has since declined.

The Sherman Hills situation worried Councilman Tony Brooks, even with Mayor George Brown’s presentation on safety upgrades planned by the new owner of the apartment complex based on the federally funded Section 8 project.

Brooks said he toured the property, saw bullet holes in the nearby Keystone Mission and met tenants. He read an email he received from Anne Cicon, a tenant whose apartment was recently damaged by fire and who was staying at a motel. Cicon described life in Sherman Hills as a “nightmare”.

“In fact, I found it a blessing to be able to leave this hellhole. Temporarily. Although the owners paid for a few days, I paid out of pocket to stay in a motel because of the infestation. plaguing the building,” Cicon wrote.

Brooks called for a 24-hour guard post at the entrance instead of a door accessible with a key fob. He added that he hoped he could be included in the March 17 meeting between Brown and the owners.

Separately, the board had a busy agenda, including the city’s approval of applications for Local Share Account Program grants, funded by gaming revenue from the Mohegan Sun Pocono Casino in Plains Township, for internal and external projects:

• $1 million for a city-wide street paving project.

• $500,000 to repair the walls on Hazle and Madison streets.

• $400,000 for the purchase of two dump trucks and snow plows for the Department of Public Works.

• $310,000 for capital improvements to the Wyoming Valley Art League building at the rear of 130 S. Franklin St.

• $130,000 for a family washroom at the Osterhout Free Library at 71 S. Franklin St.

The Board also approved:

• The purchase of 70 self-contained breathing apparatus face pieces, mask fit tests and eleven self-contained breathing apparatus reservoirs at a cost of $35,087 from the Witmer Public Safety Group of Coatesville for the fire department of the City of Wilkes-Barre through the state’s cooperative COSTARS program.

• Awarding of a contract for the construction of a new bulk road salt storage facility to Hadley Construction Co. Inc. of Pittston for $265,000. The project will be financed from the Liquid Fuels Account.

The Council introduced amendments to two ordinances and approved the first of the two readings necessary for the changes.

Council proposed to change the composition of the nine-member Planning Commission to include two professionals — an architect and a practicing planner. The other proposal would require that all appointments to boards, authorities and commissions be either city residents or city employees.

Brown’s bid of Mark Shaffer to serve on the Planning Commission did not receive a motion to put it to a vote.

Contact Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Laura J. Boyer