Building ban leaving mark in Chambersburg, Pa.

October 10, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Despite a ban on new connections to the sewer system since Aug. 16, there are still plenty of houses and town houses under construction in Chambersburg's South End.

But for some developers, the work is about to run out.

"We're like everybody else. We're treed," said Greg Schellhase, a partner in Enclave Holdings Limited. "We're finishing the last two houses we have permits for."

Schellhase's partnership built the first phase of The Enclave development, which has 80 houses, and streets for half of the second phase are in place, he said. They had three permits for houses before the moratorium went into effect and only two remain unfinished.

That leaves 72 lots in the second phase that Schellhase said cannot be built upon until the ban imposed nearly two months ago by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is lifted.


The ban, which affects the sewer system serving Chambersburg and Greene, Guilford and Hamilton townships, was imposed because of sporadic overflows of the sewage treatment plant, according to DEP.

"With no estimate on when they're going to lift the ban, it's tough to plan," said Schellhase.

Looking over his records, Chambersburg Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Carl Rundquist said Monday there were more than 120 construction projects under way, almost all of them houses, that were approved before the ban. No new building permits for anything that would require a sewer connection have been granted since the ban, with a couple of exceptions, Borough Manager Eric Oyer said.

Those are "facilities of public need," such as schools and hospitals, Rundquist said. In the case of Chambersburg, the $73.8 million renovation and expansion of Chambersburg Area Senior High School falls under that exemption, along with a planned adult day-care center, he said.

Oyer said construction projects valued at approximately $40 million had received permits prior to the moratorium. Despite a nationwide slump in the housing market, August was shaping up as a good month with $4.2 million worth of housing construction permits issued before the ban, compared to just $640,000 in August 2006, according to Franklin County Planning Department data.

September 2006, however, was even better, with permits for $5.75 million in new homes issued, according to county data. Last month, no housing permits could be issued in the borough.

"Anything that was issued a permit prior to that date (Aug. 16) is still progressing," Greene Township Zoning Officer Travis Brookens said. Since the ban, no project requiring a sewer hookup has received a permit and the township is not acting on any subdivision plans for projects requiring sewer connections, he said.

"We're still getting permits in, but it's limited to additions," outbuildings and work that does not require sewer connections, he said.

Oyer said the borough has had a face-to-face meeting with DEP officials and has twice submitted information to the department.

"At this point we are still anticipating a resolution that will permit construction to resume," Oyer said, although he made no prediction when that might occur.

Schellhase said the borough and townships had 90 days to come up with a corrective action plan and the DEP has 45 days to review the plan. If all that time passes, that means it could be January before new permits can be issued, he said.

By then, the ground will likely be too frozen to begin foundation work on new homes, he said.

The trickle-down effect of the ban, Schellhase said, will hurt developers, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and even the businesses that supply furniture and window treatments to new homeowners.

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