Lycoming College will review and may proceed with court action against City Council after it on Thursday denied the educational institution permission to raze three houses it owns on Union Avenue.
Dr. Susan Gaylor, representing the college, said she will take council's decision back to the college board of trustees for it to review.
City Solicitor Norm Lubin said it will be up to the college, but the next step could be an appeal of the decision in Lycoming County Court before a judge.
The split vote was three yes, three no and an abstention by Jonathan Williamson, an employee of the college.
The houses are at 91, 97 and 81 Union Ave.
The college can't create a parking lot there, based on its inability to be granted a variance from the zoning hearing board, which is a separate issue. So, it wanted to level the houses, create a "green space," retain the trees that are on the properties and weigh its options.
Councilman Randall J. Allison was fixed on a clause in the demolition ordinance that he believes would be a reason for not permitting demolition.
An abstract but documented portion of the ordinance states that any building that has "potential impact on surrounding structures." Allison viewed it as something that should not be pushed aside and buried.
"I'm concerned about the integrity of this particular neighborhood," he said before his vote. "And, I'm willing to fight for that."
Allison dwelled heavily on the proposed razings, saying they are a different situation than prior ones.
"I value both colleges and the hospitals, but having sat on the other side and watched these things happen, I've felt troubled by the amount of houses taken down," he said.
Despite efforts by the administration to bring in additional revenue from new businesses, he said, the city hasn't had many options to make up the loss caused by the number of buildings leveled.
Allison said he wasn't stigmatizing the college.
"They have been good partners with the city for many years, but what's bothered me is they came up with a plan, the zoning hearing board disallowed it, and we need to find what other possibilities there are to preserve these homes.
"We need at some point to address this where we can say, 'No,' " he said. "To me, this is it."
Councilwoman Liz Miele said she doesn't believe the existing demolition ordinance has been tested in court.
"We can do better," she said of allowing buildings to be razed, in this case, to become a green space.
She and others on the council repeatedly refused to detract from the prior efforts by the college to create beautiful properties, including dormitories it built after buying property and razing it in the past, but she was not going to vote in favor of the demolition requests.
Council President Bill Hall said he believes he has an oath to uphold the law, while providing a mechanism for changing the law that is in place.
That's being done today, with an ad hoc committee reviewing the city's demolition ordinance.
Hall also pointed out the difference between the public interest in City Hall in years past, citing when Dr. Herbert Ecker's former property on West Fourth Street, which burned in a fire, was the subject of debate on whether it could be demolished or not.
"I've not seen one iota from anybody in that neighborhood," he said, referring to people upset with the proposed demolition.
Councilman N. Clifford "Skip" Smith was adamant about the city not spending taxpayer money on a "test case" in courts.
Councilwoman Bonnie Katz expressed her concern about restoring pride in neighborhoods and feared that the demolition would "take the neighborhood apart."
She noted much of the current building trend has been more apartments and condominiums and fewer single-family dwellings.
"I'm having a difficult time refusing," said Councilman Don Noviello, who believed his responsibility is to uphold the law and prevent unnecessary court action and related expenses.
The yes votes came from Hall, Smith, and Noviello. The no votes came from Miele, Katz, and Allison.