Proposed apartments draws fire in Montrose

BY STACI WILSON

The proposed conversion of a vacate Montrose gym to apartments fired debate at the Nov. 21 borough council meeting. The building is located on the corner of Mill and High streets in the borough.

The proposed project, still in the conceptual design phase, calls for six apartments and also had four single room occupancy units, with two shared baths and kitchens.

Following the Nov. 7 council meeting, where the project drew only a passing discussion and no action, Councilman Tom Lamont acted alone to have the project’s change-of-use zoning permit pulled. The permit had been issued Sept. 8 by the borough zoning officer, James Smith.

Council president Todd Chamberlain said, at the meeting last week, he only learned the permit had been pulled after contractor Jack Taylor of Broadline Construction approached him.

Lamont said attorneys for the borough and property owner Alice Davis are now involved in the matter.

He said that Davis and her attorney, Kevin Dempsey, will be asked to attend the Dec. 5 council meeting to address contentions council has with the proposed project.

After discussing and debating the issue for nearly one and one-half hours, council moved to place the permit on hold until the issues were resolved.

Taylor said that in the time between the two meetings, accusations had been leveled against him saying he influenced the zoning officer’s decision to issue the permit.

Smith denied Taylor had influenced him when the permit was issued.

“People accused me of things and I want clarity,” Taylor said. “My lifeblood is in this community – my honesty, my integrity.”

The discussion grew heated as Janice Lobdell, of Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, spoke to the council members regarding an email she had been forwarded that had been sent out by Councilman Sean Granahan.

Lobdell said to Granahan, “You referred to this building as a flophouse for gas workers.”

Lobdell also said the email stated that Montrose had seen a 40 percent increase in crime.

“I assure you that number is anecdotal. The gas industry is not a problem anymore than the local residents,” Lobdell said.

Granahan stood by his numbers on increase crime attributed to the gas industry.

Lobdell continued, “This industry brings prosperity to Pennsylvania but it is a double-edged sword. People are in need of housing. It’s foolish to deny that when it is so badly needed.”

She also said the councilman needed “better facts than anecdotal evidence that impugned an industry.”

After some back and forth, Granahan said, “I’m not going to waste my time. The building is on a residential street with people living in a dormitory.”

Lamont cut in on the discussion said, “If we were to allow this we would have hundred of houses cut into one bedroom units. This issue is not about who rents the rooms.”

Taylor countered, “But it is – it has been made so by (Granahan’s email).”

Granahan said, “Do they pay the local EIT (earned income tax)?”

Taylor asked, “Is this now a tax issue?”

“It is to us,” Granahan said.

Lamont circled the discussion back to his original concerns, questioning whether the appropriate fee scheduled was used for the permit and saying he felt the plans were incomplete.

Taylor said the borough’s handling of the matter had caused uproar in the community and inflammatory words had been used.

“I was told the permit was being revoked,”Taylor said. He went on to state the borough secretary had called to tell him that but the council president had not been made aware of the situation and no motion regarding the proposed project or the permit had been brought before council.

Taylor asked, “Is this how the borough operates? Driven by members acting without authorization? Is this how the borough is run?”

Lamont said, “The borough wants to settle this.”

Most of the issues with the proposed project centered on the four, proposed single occupancy rooms.

Taylor said, “That is not a design the owner requested.”

It was building designer John Puzo’s attempt to make the best and most cost-effective and efficient use of the existing space.

“To say the goal was to create a gas flophouse is very destructive,”Taylor said.

High Street resident Jean Pierce said, “A small, one person apartment is a flophouse. It can change occupancy overnight.”

Councilman-elect Tony Pickett asked who the apartments would be rented to.

Lamont said it was indicated that it would be affordable housing. “I think it’s going to be rented for what top dollar will bring.”

Taylor reiterated to council that he had not applied for a building permit but simply a change-of-use zoning permit.

“We need the zoning permit to move forward,”Taylor said.

Taylor said he had brought everything to the borough but he had never heard communication in any official capacity on issues with the proposed project.

Taylor also explained the permitting process, including the borough’s role, the project needed to conform to before receiving final construction approval from Labor & Industry.

Puzo added, “We get a state approved plan based on what (the borough) said we can do.”

Council is expected to address the matter at its next meeting, Monday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m.in the borough building on Cherry St., Montrose.