Board takes no action on blight certification: Carlisle PA Sentinel, 8/10/07

By Dale Heberlig

Shippensburg [PA] Borough’s planning commission took no action Wednesday night on a county request to “certify” three Walnut Bottom Road properties as blighted — an action that would open the door to potential federal funding to spur redevelopment of two dilapidated buildings and a vacant lot.

The blight certification is the first step in creating a “redevelopment area” targeted for revitalization. It is also a necessary first step in any possible eminent domain action in which the county could take the property for public or private use.

Decision deferred
Citing the absence of two key planning commission members and a reluctance to trample on individual property owner rights, Art Berman — acting chairman of the commission — urged caution and pressed the other board members to defer a decision on the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority request to designate the properties as “blighted.”

Board member Elizabeth Mauer-Minnich said she was convinced the properties were blighted but said she was willing to table the matter “if you two want to wait.”

Mai Baltimore said she considered the two fire-damaged buildings — the former University Lodge and a one-story concrete block building owner by Harold, Alan and Bradley Swidler — blighted, but she said she was less convinced about the vacant lot owned by Kenneth Bender.

The three properties make up a seven-acre parcel at the eastern approach to the borough. The buildings have been vacant and crumbling for five years or more.

The commission will readdress the issue Sept. 12, when chairman Scott Madey and member Mike Pimental may be in attendance.

On Sept. 20 agenda
Because of the delay, the county’s planning commission will not review the “blight” request until its Sept. 20 meeting. County planners were scheduled to consider the request Aug. 16.

Cumberland County commissioners will have the final say after the planning commissions speak.

Chris Houston, the redevelopment authority’s real estate director, said the “blight” designation sounds more negative than it is and that eminent domain is not the only possible result.

He said the current owners have the luxury of selling the property on their own or taking steps to improve or replace the existing buildings.

However, Houston said, eminent domain “will likely be used on the University Lodge property” if it becomes part of a redevelopment area.

The Vigilant Hose Co. made a purchase offer for the vacant motel property but was rebuffed by the owners. Vigilant Hose President Danny Byers confirms the overture, but declines to identify the amount of offer. He says company officials continue to consider several options for a new headquarters.

The University Lodge situation is muddied by a dual ownership arrangement — shared by Ed Rosenberry of the Leeann Corp. and Jaydip Inc., of which Umesh Patel is a principal. Patel spoke privately with Byers following Wednesday’s meeting.

Eric Swidler — real estate broker for the Swidler property — said there is no interest in selling the property. In the past, Swidler has said they want a build-to-lease agreement with a tenant. He said that effort remains active.

No notification
Bender, who owns the vacant property, was agitated because he had no official notification of the county’s intent to designate his property as blighted.

“If I were setting the wheels in motion to take someone’s property, I would certainly notify them,” he said.

After hearing the details, Bender acknowledged that his property is virtually “unsaleable” because it has just 45 feet of road frontage. He said the redevelopment action could “help me financially.”

The University has been vacant since Aug. 12, 2002, when a two-alarm fire started in the restaurant area. The Swidler property has been empty much longer. It is also fire-damaged, according to the county’s assessment of the property.

Carlisle PA Sentinel: http://www.cumberlink.com