Borough council may take legal action to reopen Delta Street and recoup related costs after promises from a potential business owner to build a car wash there fell through, said borough Solicitor Dennis Govachini.

More than two years ago, Robert Matthews of Reade Township asked council to close Delta Street, which runs perpendicular to U.S. Route 219 on the north side of the former Barnesboro Borough.

Matthews initially told council that vacating the street would allow him to build a car wash, coin-operated laundry or gas station on the site.

Despite heavy objection from residents living in the area, council agreed to close Delta Street in favor of supporting commercial development.

“We acted in good faith,” Govachini told council. “But we incurred expenses, and we should attempt to be reimbursed.”

Councilman Willie Kelly made a motion to outline the expenses to the borough, and if any costs remained unpaid, to turn the amount over to Govachini for further action. The measure passed unanimously.

Fred Nastasi, the borough’s secretary, said that council agreed to vacate Delta Street with a condition: Matthews would be responsible for paying the fees associated with the action, such as legal fees and costs to advertise and hold required public hearings.

Matthews has paid the fees for which he has been billed, Nastasi said.

“They amounted to a few thousand dollars,” Nastasi said. “Whatever council billed him for, he paid it.”

Govachini said council is researching to make sure all associated costs have been paid.

The solicitor said he also will approach council about reopening Delta Street.

Fred Kuzma, who lives near Delta Street, was one of about a dozen neighbors who opposed sealing off the street in the first place.

“I sent a letter to council, with a petition, and we had a public hearing,” Kuzma said. “We had people here that wanted to keep the street open.”

Although Delta Street is very steep, Kuzma said, it was a “straight shot” to Route 219.

“We have to make a right-hand turn down another block,” Kuzma said. “The promise was that (Matthews) would put a business there.”

Bill Sauserman, one of the borough’s engineers at Stiffler McGraw Associates in Hollidaysburg, said he assessed problems at the property on the borough’s behalf.

“I wrote a letter to the borough, basically giving our opinion on the retaining wall (Matthews) has constructed there,” Sauserman said. “It has collapsed, or part of it has fallen down, several times.”

Sauserman said Matthews is using gabion baskets – wire baskets that look much like chicken wire filled with stones – to stabilize the embankment along Chestnut Avenue.

“It is our recommendation that the wall be torn down and rebuilt correctly, and to stabilize the slope to keep (Chestnut Avenue) from coming down,” Sauserman said.

He said a sidewalk that once ran along the top of the property has fallen in, and there is concern about Chestnut Avenue someday doing the same.

“Our determination was that the wall was not constructed in accordance with standard practice for these types of walls,” Sauserman added.

He said Matthews has hired his own engineer, who has been in contact with Sauserman to discuss the situation.

“To date, I have seen no plans,” Sauserman said. “(Matthews) needs to submit a plan to the borough so we can review it and make sure it is safe.”

Steve Mulhollen, an engineer at H.F. Lenz Co., 1407 Scalp Ave., said Matthews has hired the Johnstown engineering firm to examine the situation.

“Our civil engineers are evaluating a course of action for Mr. Matthews to be able to take,” Mulhollen said. “He understands the letter from Stiffler McGraw, and he has asked us for recommendations on how to rectify the situation.”

Matthews did not immediately return messages seeking comment that were left at his residence.

Kuzma said he is in favor of reopening Delta Street.

“Absolutely, I want it reopened,” Kuzma said. “If (Matthews) reneged on his promise, it’s between him and council.”

Govachini said council has the right to reopen the street, but the measure would be subject to public hearings and associated costs.



Julie Benamati can be reached at532-5050 or jbenamati@tribdem.com.

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