Monday, July 27, 2009

Holy Ghost Church - conditional use application hearing Tuesday

A conditional use hearing on the application by St. Peter's Housing Development Corporation regarding the property owned by the Phoenixville St. Nicholas Brotherhood and leased to Holy Ghost Church is scheduled for Tuesday evening at 7 p.m., Phoenixville Borough Hall.

Anyone who wishes to present information or become party or a witness to the hearing will have the opportunity to register at the Council meeting. The participant will then qualify to receive any relevant information generated by the hearing. The participant may also have other privilges, i.e., the ability to examine other witnessess.

Please make plans to attend this meeting.

Phoenixville Council to take up controversial housing debate
Monday, July 27, 2009

By Evan Brandt,

PHOENIXVILLE — A conditional-use hearing before Borough Council Tuesday night could well decide whether a controversial proposal to build an 81-unit senior housing complex at the gateway to the borough can move forward.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in borough hall, 140 Church St..

There is no shortage of issues surrounding the proposal by St. Peter's Housing Development Corp., not the least of which is who owns the property at the corner of Starr and Bridge streets on which the project is proposed.

Now the subject of litigation, again, the proposal won the faintest of approvals from the borough's planning commission at a June 11 meeting at which only four members voted to recommend the project to council.

And that recommendation, they said, was primarily so that conditions could be put on the recommendation to "send a message" to council that the planners were unhappy with the location of the project, which is to be funded by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency.

"We love the project, we hate the location," planning commission Chairwoman Debra Johnston said at the meeting.

Of course, the absence of one of the votes was expected as planning commissioner the Rev. James Evans has regularly recused himself from voting, seeing as he is the point man for the development.

Last October, Borough Council overrode the opposition of the planning commission in making a zoning change without which the entire project would not be possible. The conditional-use hearing scheduled for Tuesday night is required under the new zoning as the use proposed for the site is not an "as of right," use, but specifically requires the affirmative vote of Borough Council. Public comment is often allowed at such hearings.

As for the litigation, it revolves around the efforts by the Holy Ghost Church, an Orthodox Christian church, to sell a 1.9-acre parcel to the project developers. The problem is, it is not clear that the church owns the property.

The property appears to be owned by something called the St. Nicholas Brotherhood, founded in 1938 to hold title to the property, which was donated to the church by the Reeves family, majority holders of the former Phoenix Steel Company. The brotherhood leased the property to Holy Ghost Church for 99 years in 1941.

Over the years, according to a lawsuit filed July 13 in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, the St. Nicholas Brotherhood became inactive, largely because its purpose required little activity. But when the church began the process of selling the land, some members objected, saying the land belonged to the Brotherhood and was not the church's to sell.

One of those who objected is a man named Joseph A. Orosz, who the suit identified as the last living founding member of the St. Nicholas Brotherhood and its last living board of directors member.

In the suit, Orosz, and others opposing the sale, claimed they have been threatened, some with excommunication from the church, if they do not cease their objections.

Orosz, who is elderly and has expressed concern about receiving burial rites from his church, then elected three people to form the new board of the old Brotherhood, according to the suit. They are MaryAnne Bradford, Helen Langner and Amy Carney, all of whom are related to some or all of the following original (now deceased) Brotherhood board members: John Rudick, Andrew Getzey, Michael Pufko, Andrew Pufko Jr., Michael Kuchma and John Kuchma, according to the suit.

The suit, which targets the church's current leadership, asserts that after losing a legal attempt to declare the brotherhood's title defunct, the church leaders then established a new Brotherhood of St. Nicholas, complete with by-laws and a board of directors, whose first action was to enter into an agreement of sale for the property in question.

As if this were not controversy enough, there is also the matter of the Underground Railroad.

It seems that in addition to being kindly inclined towards the founders of Holy Ghost church, the Reeves family, earlier in their history, was also kind to runaway slaves.

The property is said to be home to a series of tunnels in which the slaves hid during their bid for freedom.

During the June 11 planning commission meeting the developers produced a letter from the Pennsylvania Museum and Historic Commission which declared the agency had no reason to believe there is anything of historic significance on the property.

However at that same meeting, resident Karen Johns produced a letter she said was from Nilgun Anadolu Okur, a professor with Temple University's African American Studies department, which had been sent to the state agency.

Okur's letter reported the old Reeves mansion property, of which the project site is a part, was a "station" on the Underground Railroad, the unofficial name given to the network of safe-houses used by abolitionists to help runaway slaves escape in the time preceding the Civil War.

Okur further reported that the property is home to some 2,000 feet of tunnels in which the runaway slaves hid.

In an e-mail to The Mercury, Langner recently wrote that work being done on the site has revealed concrete and brick which may well be portions of the tunnels.

Although it is unclear how much, if any, of these controversial aspects of the project will be taken up by borough council, at least one, the question of ownership, is one of the conditions the planning commission attached to the approval it sent to council for consideration.


Anonymous said...

Please be sure to request the wisdom and understanding of this situation by the esteemed
Very Reverand Father Fedornick at the hearing.

Anonymous said...

You know, I originally thought the comment to request the "wisdom of Father Fedornock" was being unproductive, but I changed my mind. The parish priest is THE leader of a parish community, ESPECIALLY in the Orthodox church. Ask Father Fedornock, he will tell you this himself. As the parish leader, he should address this matter. He should present on why this is important to the parish and the community. He should comment on exactly why the parish council did what they did in trying to take over the land from the Saint Nicholas Brotherhood.

How could the borough council possibly consider this matter wihtout hearign directly from THE leader of Holy Ghost church. Someone needs to explain this to council and ask them to present the relevant questions to Father Fedornock.

Anonymous said...

Who, pray tell, is "The Very Reverand [sic] Father Fedornick"?
Did I also detect a hint of sarcasm in your post, Anonymous?

Anonymous said...

The Most Esteemed Very Reverand Father Fedornick is the father inlaw to the son of church treasurer AKA co-defendant Alex Breno SR.

Both honorable esteemed men of the dioceses pension fund, assessment committees and youth organizations have decades of historical knowledge as to the plans and implementation of this project.

The members and town folk will only learn the truth from these fine men who are working so hard to presereve and honor the forfathers of this Holy Temple.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
>The Most Esteemed Very Reverand >Father Fedornick is the father >inlaw to the son of >church "treasurer AKA co->defendant "Alex Breno SR.

That description still does not tell who that person is and why his wisdom is important.
If family ties are of such value, why are the descendants of the Church Founders not deemed just as wise and important?

>Both honorable esteemed men of >the dioceses pension fund, >assessment committees and youth >organizations have decades of >historical knowledge as to the >plans and implementation of this >project.

The current priest has been there for less than one decade. Anyone that has been a parishioner for longer than that knows that this plan is weak and fraudulent.

>The members and town folk will >only learn the truth from these >fine men who are working so hard >to presereve and honor the >forfathers of this Holy Temple.

If by "working so hard to presereve and honor the forfathers of this Holy Temple " [sic] you mean "take property that is not yours and sell it for your own gain", yes, members and town folk will indeed learn the truth.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Back to basics;Fr. Fedornock orchestrated the idea to sell St. Nicholas Brotherhood land for $500,000 for income to build a bigger better pirogi factory of which he is CEO and his wife is Pres. The few workers are all volunteers whose only compensation is free lunch and the inner circle gossip of the day.

Anonymous said...

conditional use hearing decision postponed until Aug 11 7PM at borough hall.

Motion made by Kirkner - 2nd by Seneley to allow time for the council to review the 13 exhibits presented by the applicant Jim Evans. Included in the exhibits were

1. another agreement with the lessor, HGC and Applicant
2. sub-lease to allow applicant to lease land from HGC
3. additional changes to plan for project.
4. historical info and study
5. traffic info and study.

not sure what else however the council seemed to feel 7-0 that this magnitude of information should be reviewed prior to voting on at this time.

no public comment was made however many objections by attorney Mark Clemm who now represents the applicant. Mr. Clemm represented the HG church initially but now is the applicants attorney of record for the project.

Mr. Scot Withers of Lamb Windle and Macerlene represented the owners of record, the Saint Nicholas Brotherhood. Mr. Withers was able to question the applicant on the HUD funding, Historical Study and other conflicting issues. The applicant testified that HUD funding and involvement was not an issue as they are not involved. The applicant also hesitated on the ongoing questions by Mayor Scoda regarding the need for a traffic light at the new intersection of the Church and Starr street entrance into the project site. Clemm felt the traffice would be of no concern or impact to the people using the entrance for the daycare, Trustarr, HOLY Ghost Church members, or residents of the apartment complex. Mr. Clemm felt that the cars of the 80 residents would be minimal and collect dust as they rarely drive.

Concern expressed by Planning Commission member Jim Evans, regarding the deadlines for HUD all last year are now irrevelant as HUD is not involved. Many ponder when this change took place as the initial motion made for the project March 2008 outlined"

A) Father Evans Approached Father John for this win-win housing funded by HUD but HUD had to appove.
B)Planning Commission had to 100% approve the inital site and layout before proceeding with borough.
C) Any changes to site plan or size of building would have to go back to the church congregation.

None of the above are the case at this stage based upon the testimony by the applicant.

Not sure if the parish revoted or ignored the motion however at the end of the day. . . the courts have to decide again, on the ownership that has already been determined in the Chester Cty Court of Common Pleas Oct 08 and Feb 09.

What a huge waste of taxpayer and church funds!

Anonymous said...

All I can say is the attorney for the owners of record is HOT!
Even though he was casual in style and dress, he was prepared, quite knowledgeable on the facts and impressive.

Money well spent it seems! Good job as he did his homework and did it well!

Anonymous said...

Mayer Scoda made excellent points.

Something he missed however is the very narrow road extending Church St into the Housing Complex will also be in need of width to accomidate two busses going both directions.

Along with normal church traffice this road will be used for :

Company with over 25 cars
Daycare with 50 + cars (parents and staff)

Renter and vistors in cottage
Cooks, delivery people and cleaners for baking activities.

They need a light for sure!

Anonymous said...

If there is no light what will be the alternative? Stop signs? Oh I can already see the 80 some dusty cars randomly driving out of there and getting smacked!