Shapiro defends Park­house sale

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By BREN­DAN WILLS

NOR­RIS­TOWN — Mont­gomery County com­mis­sion­ers’ Chair­man Josh Shapiro met with The Times Her­ald ed­i­tors Tues­day to dis­cuss de­vel­op­ments in the sale of the Park­house in Up­per Prov­i­dence.

Shapiro clar­i­fied his po­si­tion re­gard­ing com­mu­nity op­po­si­tion to the sale and re­peated that Mid-At­lantic Health Care LLC, the compa- ny that signed the pur­chas­ing agree­ment with the county, has no plans to de­velop the land sur­round­ing the geri­atric care fa­cil­ity.

Tax­pay­ers’ con­cerns with the use of the pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble land are at the heart of the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the Park­house sale.

Shapiro said the op­po­si­tion’s use of the term “open space” to de­scribe the 210acre par­cel of land is wrong. The land is sim­ply un­de­vel­oped, he said. “When you use the term open space, it is a le­gal ter­mi­nol­ogy where the county and county tax­pay­ers have deemed the land open space,” Shapiro said.

Given that the land is un­de­vel­oped and not legally des­ig­nated open space, ac­cord­ing to Shapiro, the power to in­sure the land is not de­vel­oped in the fu­ture lies in Up­per Prov­i­dence Town­ship.

“All the in­gre­di­ents are there to con­tinue to pro­tect the land,” Shapiro said. “Any­one in Up­per Prov­i­dence who wants to pro­tect the land has the abil­ity to par­tic­i­pate in that di­a­logue.”

Shapiro listed three ways Up­per Prov­i­dence Town­ship could help to pro­tect all of its un­de­vel­oped land, in­clud­ing cur­rent park­land like the parcels across the street from Park­house.

The town­ship could use zon­ing cur­rently in place, which, he said, could re­strict de­vel­opable Park­house land to 10 per­cent. It could also sub­di­vide the park­land across the street in or­der to deem it open space, or work with Mid-At­lantic CEO Scott Rifkin to con­tinue pub­lic ac­cess to the land, he said.

“Mid-At­lantic has no plans to de­velop that land and wants to con­tinue to al­low it to be used for pub­lic pur­poses,” Shapiro said.

The sale still lacks a firm date. The ini­tially pro­posed sale date was Jan. 31, but clos­ing has been post­poned so that en­vi­ron­men­tal and build­ing stud­ies can be com­pleted.

Ac­cord­ing to Shapiro, such fa­cil­i­ties in­spec­tions are re­quired dur­ing any type of prop­erty sale.

“When you buy a house both the buyer and the seller do in­spec­tions and then ne­go­ti­ate a con­tract,” he said.

If Mid-At­lantic does an in­spec­tion and finds an is­sue with the prop­erty, it is the com­mis­sion­ers’ job to have engi­neers re­view the cost of the find­ings so they can ne­go­ti­ate the best deal for the com­mu­nity, he added.

Shapiro said he did not have any knowl­edge of why an em­ployee of Park­house was re­cently sub­poe­naed in con­nec­tion with the fa­cil­ity. The fa­cil­i­ties in­spec­tions and not the sub­poena were re­spon­si­ble for the de­lay, he said.

“I don’t think it will take very much longer, but we want to make sure we cross our T’s and dot our I’s,” Shapiro said.

The fa­cil­i­ties in­spec­tions are the tail-end of the ne­go­ti­at­ing process that be­gan in De­cem­ber, when the county signed the pur­chase agree­ment with Mid- At­lantic, Shapiro said. The county went ahead with the deal af­ter is­su­ing a re­quest for in­for­ma­tion that al­lowed con­sul­ta­tion with out­side com­pa­nies about the op­tions for the gov­ern­ment owned land, he said.

The con­sul­tants con­cluded the out­right sale of Park­house was prefer­able to both al­ter­na­tive op­tions, ei­ther keep­ing the en­tire par­cel un­der county own­er­ship or sell­ing the facil- ity to a pri­vate com­pany but keep­ing own­er­ship of the sur­round­ing land, he said.

Asked if there was a pos­si­bil­ity the com­mis­sion­ers could put the land back onto the ta­ble for the county to con­tinue own­er­ship if the tax­pay­ers de­manded it, Shapiro in­di­cated this would not hap­pen be­cause the fa­cil­ity is on the land and that was the deal agreed upon.

“It’s the best deal for the com­mu­nity, the em­ploy­ees and the tax­pay­ers,” he said.

Gene Walsh Times Her­ald Staff

Mont­gomery County com­mis­sion­ers’ Chair­man

Josh Shapiro speaks about the Park­house sale Tues­day at The Times Her­ald offic

es in Nor­ris­town.

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