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Suit against Chambersburg dismissed

June 08, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Franklin County judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to block a land swap for the Village on the Falling Spring, a $10 million commercial project that has drawn fire from local historians.

The lawsuit was filed in January by Chambersburg businessman Frederick A. Fox and his wife, Kaye A. Fox, against the borough of Chambersburg and the Chambersburg Area Development Corporation, a non-profit organization.

The Foxes claimed an exchange of properties between the borough and corporation violated state law because the borough's properties were not advertised for sale or bids.

But Judge Richard J. Walsh agreed with the defendants' claim that the law doesn't apply to an exchange.

"When borough property is exchanged or traded for new property, the advertising and bidding requirements are not applicable," Walsh wrote in his June 1 ruling.

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Walsh also rejected arguments that the exchange had to be "simple and straightforward" and of equal value to qualify as an exchange. "Transactions like this are, by their very nature, usually complex and elaborate," the judge wrote.

The deal was approved by the borough council on Dec. 9. Under its terms, the borough gave the development corporation two tracts along the Conococheague Creek and Falling Spring in exchange for three tracts owned by the corporation.

The borough is also giving the corporation $30,000 to cover the demolition of the Madden Hotel on North Main Street, one of the properties the corporation conveyed to the borough.

Frederick Fox said Tuesday that he hasn't decided whether to appeal the judge's decision or pursue more litigation. He had no comment on the decision.

The Village on the Falling Spring project has drawn criticism from some local historians and veterans groups who say the site is where borough founder Benjamin Chambers built his fort in the 18th century.

David Sciamanna, executive director of the development corporation, said one tract will be sold to Noelker and Hull, an architectural firm, as the site for an office building. Construction could begin this fall, he said.

The corporation is negotiating with a prospective tenant for the other parcel along the Conococheague, he said.

That tenant has to have a building under construction in early 2000 to accommodate expansion plans, Sciamanna said. He said there are other hurdles to be cleared, including environmental and historical issues.

The borough will build a park between the two sites and make other improvements to surrounding public lands. The borough has been approved for $2 million in federal funding to help pay for the improvements.

The corporation has to develop the two tracts within five years, or they will revert to the borough, according to the agreement.

"This project's impact will be larger that any project in a generation in downtown Chambersburg," Sciamanna said. In addition to high-paying jobs, he said it could help revitalize the downtown by encouraging more business activity.

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