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Borough Council votes again on embattled project

November 14, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Saying he was concerned about possible litigation should the projected be rejected, Chambersburg Mayor Robert Morris Sunday night cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the King's Grant senior citizen housing project.

Noting the Borough Council had twice voted unanimously in support of the project, Morris said the borough "is leaving itself open to tremendous litigation, tremendous liability" if it voted to kill the $5 million, 52-unit apartment complex at the intersection of West Queen Street and Black Avenue. It is intended for low- to moderate-income senior citizens.

"It's tough for me to ask the taxpayers to foot the bill for legal fees," Morris said.

He said the borough made the decision several years ago to become self-insured because of the high cost of liability insurance. Morris said the borough could have been sued for damages including lost revenues, architectural fees and other costs by the developer, Leon Weiner & Associates of Wilmington, Del.

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Last week the council voted 5 to 1 to approve the 60-year lease on the project, but three council members had walked out in protest because councilman-elect Scott Thomas had not been sworn in before the King's Grant vote. The original agenda for the meeting called for Thomas to be sworn in to replace Third Ward Councilman W. Larry Johnson before the vote.

The special Sunday night meeting was prompted by a letter signed by Thomas and four other councilmen to reconsider Wednesday's vote. Three of those councilmen, Thomas Newcomer, Carl Helman and Harold Kennedy, had walked out of last week's meeting and another, James C. Goetz, voted against King's Grant.

Prior to Sunday's vote, the council went into executive session for about 10 minutes. After the three-hour meeting, Council President Bernard Washabaugh said borough attorney Thomas Finucane told them "if this project was overturned we could have conceivably faced litigation."

As in Wednesday's meeting, more than 100 people were in attendance. Unlike last week, a few spoke in favor of the project, although most were still in opposition.

"They can rent far cheaper than myself or any of the other local people can," downtown property owner Glen Dice said. The company is set to receive $378,000 in tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and another $150,000 in public funds had been pledged by the borough.

Other downtown residents and business people complained about the loss of public metered parking stalls.

The vote was held Sunday because the agency had given Leon Weiner & Associates until Monday to have a lease agreement with the borough. Executive Vice President David W. Curtis, declined to confirm whether a "no" vote would have resulted in litigation, but said his business had spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on the project based on previous approvals dating back to Dec. 9, 1998.

"The people oppose the project because of location only," said Thomas. "They would not ... be held hostage to a deadline for funding."

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