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Reactions mixed toward subsidized apartments

Published October 15. 2010 05:00PM

Lansford Borough Council expects to sign off on land development plans for a $3 million, 17-unit subsidized apartments housed in the former St. Ann's School in November.

Mark Mason of Catholic Senior Housing and Health Care Services and Kevin J. Wolf of Andersen Engineering Associates spoke with council at a public meeting Wednesday about the project.

They received mixed reactions from council members, some of whom questioned the project's tax-exempt status, marketing of the housing to those outside the area and Catholic Senior Housing's cooperation with the borough.

Further, some council members are skeptical of developer's claims that the project won't turn a profit.

Mason told council that the project $2.5 million of whose cost is being paid for through the federally-funded Housing and Urban Development program is a charity, and that Catholic Housing is a nonprofit organization.

The tenants will be very low-income and over age 62, Mason said.

The Carbon County Board of assessment Appeals on Aug. 19 determined the project qualified for exemption from local, school district and county property taxes because it is a charity.

In September, council joined the Panther Valley School Board in appealing that status. The appeal has yet to be heard in county court.

Council President Robert Gaughan called the apartments "revenue generators," and figured they would bring in $102,000 in annual income.

"There has been no hint of discussion" about the developers offering to make payments in lieu of taxes to the borough, he said.

Mayor Ron Hood pointed out that the borough would be providing fire protection and ambulance services to the tenants, and that taxpayers would "bear the brunt" of those costs.

Mason said the tenants would each pay 30 percent of their monthly incomes, and that the money would be used to pay for the apartment manager, maintenance, utilities and other expenses.

"This is not a situation where we end up making a profit," he said.

Councilman Tommy Vadyak said those costs could be taken as tax deductions.

"You can turn a profit," he said.

Mason said that he "believes that, as a nonprofit," the organization would not be able to do that.

Vadyak also said Catholic Senior Housing did not cooperate with the borough.

Through the construction process, there have been problems with unpaid dumpster fees, materials being placed in the street and lack of required permits. In addition, a special fund meant to pay for borough engineers Cowan & Associates and the work of borough solicitor Robert T. Yurchak has been emptied, and those bills are not being paid.

The work done by Cowan is a matter of dispute; developers say the firm's engineer went far beyond the scope of his duties and charged far more than planned for.

Councilwoman Mary Kruczek said she disagreed that the organization was not cooperative.

Vadyak also questioned Mason as to why advertisements seeking tenants were placed in a Pottsville newspaper and not in the TIMES NEWS.

Mason said that HUD requires they advertise throughout the area.

Mason said that 75 percent of those applying for the apartments are from the Lansford area. Some, he said, are currently living in the borough's mid-rise.

Occupation remains months and several permits away.

Vadyak said he was grateful the housing is coming to the borough, but that the rules must be followed.

The project began about a year ago with the demolition of a former convent at the site of the school, at 30 E. Bertsch St.

The razing of the Queen Ann style Victorian home last November drew sharp criticism from many, including the Lansford Historical Society and those who attended the school.

Developers said the convent had to come down to make way for a parking lot for the apartment's residents.

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