Garman moves closer to demolition with review board vote

mmorgan@centredaily.comOctober 22, 2013 

— The Garman Theatre is one step closer to demolition.

The Bellefonte Historical Architecture Review Board recommended Tuesday morning that the Borough Council approve a demolition request from Progress Development Group, which includes demolition of the next-door Hotel Do De.

The vote was 3-2 in favor of the demolition, with member Alan Uhler absent and member Megan Tooker abstaining because of a conflict of interest. Tooker said she previously donated to the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association’s cause to save the building.

The issue will go before the council for final approval at its next meeting in two weeks. HARB, a recommending body, has no power to issue permits or make final decisions.

HARB members Russell Shuey and Patricia Long voted in favor of the motion, and members Robert Lingenfelter and Tamara Schuster voted against. Chairman Samuel McGinley Jr. had to cast the tiebreaking vote.

Shuey, who also serves as the borough’s codes officer, cited a structural engineering report that stated that the entire building would have to be stripped to determine if it is structurally sound and salvageable. BHCA reports have said that it is structurally sound.

Ultimately, Shuey said, they need to take into account the Do De and the Cadillac Building. Ara Kervandjian, managing member of PDG, has proposed a plan to raze the Garman and the Do De to create one new workforce housing building. When combined with the Cadillac Building, it would create 32 apartments.

Kervandjian, who is calling the project Bellefonte Mews, owns all three buildings, and he’s said he can’t move forward unless all three buildings are included in the project.

Shuey said the overall scope must be considered.

“If we don’t allow that, then we lose parking for the Bellefonte Mews project, which means that we now have three holes instead of one,” he said.

Historic preservation consultant Robert Keal said he still would like to find some way to save the facade of the Garman building. Cost estimates have put that preservation in the price range of more than $500,000, but with a combined effort between BHCA, PDG, the borough or other outside groups, he said he hoped it could be done.

The BHCA is continuing its efforts to save the entire building, not just the facade, and several members have said the money is earmarked specifically for that task. The association filed a notice of appeal to the Commonwealth Court earlier this month, after President Judge Thomas King Kistler denied an injunction request to prevent Kervandjian from demolishing the building.

Gary Hoover, who attended the meeting, said he wants to see the town work hard to preserve its history after buildings such as the Bellefonte Academy, the Bush House and the Cadillac Building have been lost to fire in recent years.

Hoover, executive director of the Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce, said that HARB should lean toward the side of preservation.

“At some point, we have to draw a line on the loss of our historic structures,” he said.

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.

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