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Housing group feels singled out by council

November 12, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Claiming harassment by the Waynesboro Borough Council, the chairman of the Valley Housing Development Corp. says his group may seek "ethics filings" against against Council President Doug Tengler and Councilman Clinton Barkdoll.

In a statement released Tuesday through the public relations firm Hershey Philbin Associates, Chairman Ben Newcomer stated the corporation may request the documents through Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law "to provide insight into possible motives behind repeated and baseless allegations made against the organization.

"We simply can't figure out why Borough Councilmen have singled out an organization that provides safe, affordable housing to residents of our community," Newcomer stated. The release speculated that borough officials may prefer "high-end" development, or that officials do not believe residents "merit affordable housing under state and federal law."

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"Is it because Mr. Tengler and Mr. Barkdoll are privately involved in the real estate business?" Newcomer asked in the statement.

"We don't understand what's driving this, so we're beginning to wonder what those issues might be," said Bonnie Zehler, the executive director of both the Valley Housing Development Corp. and the Franklin County Housing Authority.

"I hope they do. They'll be embarrassed to see how little I'm worth," Barkdoll said. "I own no real estate."

"I'm not in the real estate business. I own some rental properties in Waynesboro," Tengler said Tuesday. Tengler said council members are required to submit financial disclosure statements and those are available for the public to inspect, or to make copies.

"Right now, we think there's enough affordable housing in Waynesboro," Tengler said of his reason for opposing the proposed Valley Terrace Townhomes project, a 22-unit, $2.6 million subsidized housing project that would be built on about 31/2 acres owned by the Franklin County Housing Authority in the borough.

Barkdoll also questioned the need for the housing complex, saying no constituents have told him they support the project. He also questioned the market study Valley Housing contracted to document the need for additional housing.

Tengler said the council last week unanimously authorized further legal action to block the project after meeting in executive session. He would not discuss what form that may take because "we don't want to give away our legal strategy."

Zehler said the project is scheduled for review by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency on Thursday and "we anticipate the funding will be committed."

Earlier this year, Tengler said the council filed a lawsuit in county court against Valley Housing and the authority after plans were announced for the development. The suit requested minutes, correspondence and other documentation related to the decision, but was withdrawn after the documentation was provided, Tengler said.

On Sept. 25, the borough filed complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, accusing it of violating federal regulations requiring that one-third of a community housing development organization's membership be made up of low-income representatives, according to Newcomer. The complaint also charged Valley Housing violated its own bylaws by not holding monthly meetings.

"That is what the bylaws say," Tengler said of the meeting requirement.

"How can we have a resident council when we don't have an apartment complex?" Zehler asked. She said the Department of Community and Economic Development has informed the borough that Valley Housing has met the department's requirements.

Tengler said the borough has not received an answer from HUD about its complaint. He said the issue there involves tax credits that Valley Housing is seeking for the project.

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