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Elm Street program a go in Chambersburg

April 24, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Borough Council Monday approved an Elm Street Neighborhood plan that could provide a way to access state funds to help revitalize a 20-square block downtown residential area.

The public hearing that preceded the unanimous approval by the council raised both comments of support and concern about the program which, if approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, would allow Downtown Chambersburg Inc. to apply for grants for an Elm Street Manager and program implementation.

"It may not be everything we hoped for, but it will certainly be more than what we have," said the Rev. Rondo Na'el, pastor of St. James AME Church on South Main Street. Na'el spoke of "the blighted housing, the lack of opportunity, the enormous prices people are paying for cubbyhole apartments" in the area.

Elm Street is a state program aimed at improving deteriorating neighborhoods in Pennsylvania communities. Part of the plan for Chambersburg is to encourage people to become homeowners in an area where two-thirds of the residents are renters and two-thirds of the borough's poorest residents live.

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Resident Wade Burkholder asked how rent-to-own programs would work and said improving existing properties should be a priority over new housing.

Downtown Chambersburg Inc. President Paul Cullinane said development of new housing and rent-to-own programs would be in the hands of private investors, such as a proposal by PIRHL Developers for a 40-unit town house development on Buchanan Street.

Other redevelopment plans, such as sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and facade improvements could be tackled through implementation grants, he said. An Elm Street Advisory Council would help take the plan "and break it into bite-size pieces," he said.

A community organization, Building Our Pride in Chambersburg, or BOPIC, would be an integral part of that council, Cullinane said.

"We need to teach people to go back to the basics and take care of their neighborhood," BOPIC President Jack Jones said. Home ownership would help accomplish that, he said.

Residents raised questions about a proposal to build housing on a portion of the Southgate Mall property.

"I'll believe something will happen at Southgate when it happens," said Council President William McLaughlin, who said the company that owns the mostly empty mall has failed to deliver on promises in the past.

Na'el said redeveloping the surrounding neighborhood could help bring businesses back to Southgate.

Cullinane said state approval of the plan would allow the borough to apply for up to $250,000 a year over three years for program implementation and $50,000 a year for an Elm Street manager.

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