A VETO Response and a Four Million Dollar Gamble on Southgate – Your Chambersburg Borough Council Meeting Highlights

CHAMBERSBURG – At last nights Chambersburg borough council meeting the veto of a new non discrimination ordinance (NDO) by Mayor Walt Bietsch was first on the agenda. In his veto the Mayor denied the NDO actually gave protection for LGBTQ members and was recommended despite no evidence of civil rights violations in the borough. 

This was addressed by several members including Allen Coffman and Bill Everly who gave support to the mayor’s arguments, and Cathy Leedy who pushed back saying it wasn’t within the exploratory committee’s power, when investigating the ordinance proposal, to see if discrimination was provable, and she focused instead on a what she called a gap in state law. Leedy admitted however that to enforce real action, any complaint would have to be filed with the state as is already the process. 

Councilman John Huber inquired about the possibility of rescinding or changing the NDO at a later time, which is possible he was told. 

A number of community members expressed both support and opposition for the measure with those in opposition continuing to point out that questions and alternate concerns of the community were not answered by the council leaving much of the law vague, while supporters kept saying the NDO would make people feel better. A voice vote was taken with exactly the same 7 to 3 vote as two weeks ago.

In the other major agenda item of the evening, Chambersburg Borough council voted last night to pass the proposed use of the nearly 8M in covid relief money in the way proposed in a recent meeting, including 120K in fee relief to some businesses in some reduced food inspection and realty fees, over 300K to the municipal pool, 2M to the Chesapeake Bay Pollutant Reduction and 4M to the purchase of Southgate plaza for a redevelopment program. 

Most discussion centered around the pool and whether the borough should be spending on an entity for which they already have funds earmarked, and the Southgate property and the many unanswered questions surrounding that deal.

On the Southgate purchase, council discussion and public comments primarily questioned the risk the borough would be taking on the purchase and development.  Some new numbers were released for the initial agreement with Paran Management Company, the current owner,  including 3.25M for the main part of the property with another 1.25M for the property west of CVS to the creek, for a total of 4.5M. It was mentioned that an appraisal was done as a part of this but there is still a question of how much of a premium is being paid for this property, as no more details were given.

The plan is to purchase the property, technically through the Chambersburg Area Municipal Authority (CAMA), which will lease it back to the borough for a dollar, effectively making the borough the new landlord.

Ideally they will quickly sell the property to a developer who will move forward with the project. The largest risk  as agree to by all sides, is that a developer will not be found quickly and the borough will be stuck as the landlords with all the costs associated with maintaining and repairing most of this property and finding ways to move forward with developing it.

Stonehill revealed that the current property owner would not share the details of the current business leases on the property and that in the initial 90 days of the agreement the borough will have an option to back out of the deal, depending on what comes to light about the property. After that there will be a 35K dollar deposit which will be nonrefundable. Both acceptance of the whole plan for spending the covid relief money and the resolution to move into the initial 90 days to purchase Southgate were passed 8 to 2 with Allen Coffman and Bill Everly voting against the measures

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