Parkesburg Borough Council is exploring an idea from the Chester County Department of Community Development to turn the historic Parkesburg Arms Hotel at 415 W. First Ave. into a short-term rehabilitation shelter to assist up to 40 homeless county citizens.
Council President Sharon Wolf and Borough Manager Joe Reali said they recently met with Pat Bokovitz, director of the development department, and representatives from the agency Resources for Human Development, who are interested in renting the vacant historic hotel from owner Fred Gunther.
“I’m not opposed to it, but I have lots of questions,” council member Todd Brade said during the remote meeting.
Mayor John Hagan II said the upside would be that homeless people —including some who are visible in Parkesburg — would be assisted and a historic downtown property would be repaired and maintained. However, he questioned whether the property would still provide tax revenue to the borough if it is used for a nonprofit organization. He also wondered if shelter residents could become a nuisance and impact the safety and quality of life of other residents.
Police Chief Brian Sheller said when the Parkesburg Arms was rented by the Veterans Affairs hospital, police answered calls involving drugs and prostitution and the property “had a very negative impact on the neighborhood.”
Resources for Human Development said it would staff the facility 24 hours a day as it houses residents for 60 to 90 days while offering assistance, counseling and transition to permanent housing, Reali said.
Council members asked solicitor John Carnes to look into whether the property, located near both residential and commercial properties, is properly zoned for such a use. They also asked Sheller to talk with police chiefs in municipalities where other Resources for Human Development shelters are located to gauge their success.
Wolf said the parties involved will be invited to present their plans during a January council meeting.
Council members also struggled with the problem of stray dogs and cats, which has fallen on the shoulders of the police department and citizen volunteers while the borough’s contract with the Brandywine Valley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is in question.
Brade said last year council learned the SPCA was mistakenly double-billing the borough to handle stray cats. The problem was corrected, but recently began anew. When the borough asked them to again correct the problem, the SPCA canceled the borough’s contract.
Brade said an aggressive stray dog has been chasing cars and people on Main Street, but the SPCA won’t respond. Currently, the police department is handling stray dog calls, and volunteers have been spending their own funds to have stray cats vaccinated and neutered.
“They are not fulfilling their nonprofit mission in providing services to the public,” said Peter Barsz, borough treasurer.
Council directed Carnes to write a letter to the SPCA asking them to honor the borough’s contract and to contact the state attorney general if there isn’t a timely successful response.
In other business, council:
- Approved a $700,000 tax anticipation note to handle bills early in 2021 until real estate tax revenue is collected.
- Heard council member Mark Agen say the finance committee is working to restructure the borough’s mortgage at a lower interest rate, which could save Parkesburg about $100,000 annually.
- Heard Sheller warn COVID-19 cases are rising, with 11 new cases reported within two days.
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