Bellefonte Borough Council OKs Garman project

Out with the old, in with the new. But not without controversy.

Borough Council approved land development plans for the Garman House and the Historical Architecture Review Board’s certificate of appropriateness related to the project Monday, each by 6-2 votes. Council members Paul DeCusati and Gay Dunne were the dissenting votes. Councilwoman Renee Brown was excused from the meeting.

The votes happened before HARB’s public hearing next week on the project’s plans, to which Bellefonte resident Joanne Tosti-Vasey objected. She said council would violate sunshine laws if it voted on the resolutions before the public hearing.

Garman House developer Ara Kervandjian said his group followed all of the proper procedures for a vote to occur, but Dunne and DeCusati said they wanted the public to have an opportunity to see plans in the public hearing before a vote took place.

Council President Frank Halderman disagreed with Tosti-Vasey’s objection and held a vote.

The approvals were made 13 months after the historic Garman Theatre was demolished. The decision to raze the Garman, approved 5-4 in November 2013, was more contentious, because more than 100 community members attended that meeting, mostly in support of the theater’s preservation.

The theater was damaged in a 2012 fire that destroyed the next door Hotel Do De, which prompted Kervandjian to spearhead the Garman House project.

“Everything is critical to move the project forward as far as timing for approvals in order for us to meet our obligations with construction,” Kervandjian said. “We want to see this building built, so we’re trying to stay on schedule to hopefully have an early spring commencement to get the buildings constructed.”

Garman House project designs call for a multipurpose building. The first story will have commercial spaces and the next three stories will have residential units.

Kervandjian said after he left the meeting that he hoped to begin construction on the Garman House in the spring, the same time that he wants to restore the Cadillac Building, a three story structure with community space on the first floor and residential space on the second and third floors.

He said each project would take about 12 months to complete.

HARB’s next meeting is 8:30 a.m. Feb. 10.

Council also approved 8-0 to be a part of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s bidding process for its repaving of Route 144. The vote means that council could improve curb ramps along Route 144 for about $155,000.