Redeveloping Southgate Shopping Center is a good idea – it just needs TIME and real CONSIDERATION

October 7 – There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the Southgate redevelopment project in Chambersburg.

The Chambersburg Borough wants to redevelop the Southgate Shopping Center using $4 million of the federal stimulus money they received and they’re asking the Franklin County Commissioners for an extra $2 of the stimulus money the county received.

The Franklin County Commissioners met yesterday and New Talk 103.7FM’s Michele Jansen attended the meeting.

She discussed her comments with attorney Clint Barkdoll and Pat Ryan during the Big Talk this morning on First News.

Jansen explained, “I got up at the public comment to ask for some help in researching what’s going on with that Southgate property. What happened in the 1960s? I asked them how long they were going to take to consider it and how much were they going to do their due diligence. I think Carrie Gray (county administrator) mentioned at the end of the month they were going to have a meeting about it. They’re going to take maybe three to four weeks to make that decision. Of course a lot of other people have tapped into them and sent them requests for the money. Of course. They have $38 million. The borough’s asking for 2. There’s many, many people asking for the money. I really hope that this isn’t done just on an emotional basis and they really look into it and see if it’s practically worthwhile to spend the taxpayer money for that. The project’s worthy. That’s not the issue. Is this the right way to do it? And that is the issue. Nobody seems to know what happened in 1962. The borough doesn’t seem to know. The county doesn’t seem to know. We need to understand this because if you’re going to start putting ideology of reparations or restitution into this well then we really need to understand exactly what happened in 1962. We hear something was taken by eminent domain. Legally who can take by eminent domain? The county commissioners were speculating well maybe they asked the county about this. We know someone looked into the records of the borough and couldn’t find information. I’ve asked to get some help in looking at the county records from that time period so we can try to understand who were the players, who asked for it, who did, if it was eminent domain? Someone else pointed out if it was eminent domain, why in the world are we paying $4 million for something that if it was taken that way, it just seems like an odd way to address it.”

Barkdoll said, “I should say, I have seen that letter. It’s a September 13 letter that President Elia sent to the commissioners and according to her letter, she’s saying in 1960, the Franklin County Redevelopment Authority is the one that exercised the eminent domain. That might be why it’s not showing up in the official records because it was technically the redevelopment authority which is one of the designated agencies that have the authority to do eminent domain and she outlines all this in her letter. She talks about what the idea was in 1960, what the redevelopment authority did, the streets and the neighborhoods that were affected. And then of course, she does go into the ask. We need $2 million. What’s interesting, though, when you look at her request to the county there is a big focus about as part of the redevelopment, the expansion of green space and the expansion of open space. If people are thinking what’s the relevance of that? I think the relevance of that is they are eligible for more liberal approval of projects and maybe even certain access to funding if there is an expansion of green space or what are deemed to be open spaces in the context of a mixed-use redevelopment like this. The county of course has not taken action on this. It remains to be seen what the county’s going to do with this. If the county says no, I think the question becomes is the borough prepared to move forward regardless. Do they have access to another $2 million from some other source? Might they borrow it? Are they maybe going to float a bond to do this? There just are a lot of open questions I think about this.”

Jansen said, “I want to clarify something just so I correct the record here. I was talking to Bob (Ziobrowski) and John (Flannery) about this. I think Dave Keller is the only one who saw that letter of the three and he had left the room. Remember John told us he didn’t know. So Dave Keller for some reason is the only one of the three commissioners who saw this because the other two would have said something about what you just said had they seen it. I want to clarify. What is the Franklin County Redevelopment Authority?”

Ryan said, “And by the way…The Franklin County Area Development Corporation, the guy that can develop properties doesn’t want anything to do with this thing.”

Jansen said, “He said it’s not worth what they’re saying. Franklin County Redevelopment Authority. What is that? Do they still exist? Because I can’t find them on a search.”

Barkdoll said, “Well, they do. This is one of those things that it exists on the books. They in theory have their own board. Most local towns have their own redevelopment authority, although they lay dormant for years. They’re not active entities. Frankly, they’re used often if there needs to be a condemnation or an eminent domain proceeding because they authority can do that, but the borough itself cannot. But occasionally they are used for purposes of creating some kind of a funding vehicle if there’s a piece of land or some project that needs to be redeveloped. The Franklin County Redevelopment Authority, it exists on paper anyway. I don’t know how active they still are, but there is such a group. The other point I would just make on this letter and I take the commissioners at their word in what they represented to you, but the letter clearly is addressed to all three of them. So if they’re claiming, if two of them are saying they never saw it, well then for some reason maybe the gatekeepers that get this kind of correspondence never forwarded it to them.”

Jansen said, “John said to me it must not have been officially whatever yet. I don’t know why they’re waiting. Why wouldn’t you just forward it right away?”

Ryan said, “Since September?”

Jansen said, “That is kind of a curious question.”

Ryan added, “Are we tucking it away? Because we probably know, if you think about Dave Keller, Dave is an easy vote here. And Bob will be an easy vote here. So John hasn’t seen it? Kind of an interesting play here if you look between the lines.”

Barkdoll said, “I think it’s a question and there’s clearly a stamp on the version I have that shows the date the county accepted it as well. So if those two have not seen it, they maybe want to ask the staff why didn’t this get forwarded to us? This is an important, major project. Something you would think would have immediately been put in front of them.”

Ryan said, “Carrie. That’s a good questions for Carrie. Because I think when you send a letter to commissioners, all of them get it at one shot here.”

Jansen pointed out, “And John clearly hadn’t seen it.”