Development at Artworks Retirement community planned for former town cultural center

By on October 10, 2012

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

The former Artworks at Doneckers may soon become home to a number of older residents if plans to redevelop the property go through.

Glenn Ebersole, representing the owner and the firm looking to develop the property, were on hand for Monday night’s Ephrata Borough Council meeting to update members on the project and answer questions.

To date, the project has garnered the support of local zoning officials with limited concern, though it has yet to clear the first official hurdles toward starting construction.

Keystone Villa describes itself as a distinctive retirement community with locations in Douglasville and Fleetwood. Plans call for many of the existing buildings to be renovated, a few parts would be razed and other new parts would be added.

One area of debate at Monday night’s meeting was the location of the rail trail on the property. As part of their negotiations with the borough, the developer has agreed to develop an extension of the rail trail through their private property. In sketches provided, a portion of the rail trail would be relocated to run parallel with the current sidewalks along State Street. The developer is asking that the area of the rail trail be considered in lieu of actual buffer grown to the property.

Ebersole explained it this way.

"We propose relocating the rail trail along State Street to also serve as a buffer yard," said Ebersole. "And we would propose using a different type of landscaping so as to not obscure the buildings."

Council member Anthony Kilkuskie questioned Ebersole on what a different type of landscaping might be.

"You want to replace the trees with ‘something,’ but what?" asked Kilkuskie.

Ebersole explained that the buffer zone requirements would be met with the space covered by the rail trail, along with solid wood border guards similar to what is already in place on the existing rail trail and then with lower growing plants and shrubs that would not cover the whole building. He explained that by allowing the area covered by the rail trail to be in considered buffer zone, they would be in a sense developing their private property into rail trail in lieu of this waiver.

The debate came down to making sure the wording of any request for waiver was such that it dealt more with the materials used to make up the buffer zone and less with using the trail in lieu of space.

"What they are looking for is an 8′ wide trail to be recognized as a buffer just along state street," noted borough manager Bob Thompson. "How can we recognize that as buffering anything when it’s only 8′ wide? You are meeting the set back piece. What are you looking to replace?"

"The trail would be in lieu of buffer zone with asphalt etc.," answered Ebersole.

"Then maybe he should be asking for a material variance; not a distance buffer," commented Thompson. "You are meeting the set back requirements, but instead of trees or whatever you are using the trail etc. You are asking for a materials variance and the green space be allowed. Council needs to be clear what is being asked for because this was not discussed in committee. "

Ebersole countered that it was discussed in committee the possibility of placing the trail on private property in lieu of the buffer zone materials.

The discussion of Keystone Villa was more information than for pending action, until Monday night’s voting session.

At that meeting, Storm Dog properties received council support of their application as the equitable owner of the former Artworks at Doneckers property located at 100 North State Street for relief under various sections of the code of the Borough of Ephrata. The group plans to develop the property into a new Keystone Villa retirement community. As such, plans are for the four-story portion of the building to be renovated and repurposed with the other portions of the property to be demolished. Some new construction is also planned. The majority of council action was to support special exceptions for congregate and personal care facilities within the rail-trail district. It also allows for future development of the rails trail through the property even though it will be on private property, since the existing rail bed would run through a portion of new construction. In exchange, the borough has granted the developer a waiver allowing the area of the relocated trail to serve as require buffer zone.

In other borough council news, Tom Natarian, director of operations, explained two resolutions regarding power supply contracts and implementation of a power cost adjustment.

Natarian presented council with charts and graphs showing exactly how power is purchased currently and how over the near and short term purchasing the electrical needs of the borough should take place with the clear goal being to stabilize costs and prices over the long haul. If successful, what Natarian mapped out may have the net effect of preventing another crises such as came about several years ago when Ephrata municipal power costs to consumers jumped approximately 40 percent, much to the dismay of those reliant on the energy.

Currently the borough uses between 140,000 and 150,000 megawatt hours per year. Over the past several years the borough has subscribed to a number of different electric programs which have diversified the source of power so that some comes from wind, some comes from coal fired plants, some from nuclear and even solar. This strategy of diversification coupled with a strategy by which the borough actually becomes part owner of these various energy projects is expected to yield stable costs and perhaps even cost savings over time.

And while stabilizing the net cost of energy, one variable the borough may never have a complete hold on is the cost of getting the power from the source to the borough’s end users.

Natarian outlined a plan which utilizes a block procurement strategy as guidelines for purchasing benchmarks. According to the strategy presented, it would "create short term and long term stability and by breaking Ephrata’s total energy requirement into three benchmark sections."

In the first benchmark, long term needs would make up 40 percent of total energy requirements. These would be purchases more than four years prior to delivery year, which would allow Ephrata to take advantage of new resource, while also allowing long term purchases during times of low market prices and to take advantage of other opportunities that may arise.

In the second benchmark, mid-term needs would make up 45 percent of total energy requirements. These would be purchases 204 years prior to delivery year and would consist of annual and seasonal block purchases of power.

In the final benchmark, 15 percent of total energy requirements would comprise power purchases one to two years prior to delivery year. This would account for monthly block purchases, remaining seasonal block purchases and replacement power purchases.

"This resolution begins to get us where we need to be for longer term procurement," explained Natarian, "by purchasing multiple blocks at different prices so nothing comes on and off and disrupts the system. This would give us stable purchasing power through a diversified purchasing strategy."

The borough passed an ordinance via a rider in 2010 allowing the power cost adjustment to take affect, but later delayed it indefinitely. (See related story for current information on the adjustment.)

By implementing the power cost adjustment, it allows the borough to continue working with AMP Ohio to broker and acquire the borough’s electrical power through various power projects.

"We will not be able to participate with AMP unless we pass the PCA," explained Thompson. "Our intention for the next two years is to review that base power supply cost so as to have minimal impact on the overall bill."

"This would allow us to be partial owners of the factors (of electric generation), thus should lead to lower cost," Kilkuskie added.

For additional information on Ephrata Borough, visit ephrataboro.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes comments, questions or suggestions via e-mail at klingerglobal@gmail.com. More ARTWORKS, page A7

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