Opinion

Great Falls mill dilemma

Chester County appears to be in a legal pickle regarding the sale of the old Republic Mill No. 2 in Great Falls. We hope the county can find a way to take advantage of what appears to be the better of two options.

The empty mill building was something of a pink elephant in 2000 when county officials turned the mill over to the Forfeited Land Commission, a group of four elected officials who oversee land and buildings no one typically wants. The commission acquires property when the taxes aren't paid and the lots aren't bought during tax sales.

In 2006, commission members signed an agreement authorizing the commission's attorney to transfer the deed of the mill property to Virginia businessman Don Saulsgiver for the cost of back taxes totaling nearly $58,000. Saulsgiver said he planned to build a plastics recycling business in the old mill.

No money exchanged hands. Jack Kindle, county treasurer and chairman of the FLC, said payment was delayed until required environmental tests could be completed at the property.

Meanwhile, the county received another offer. A development group wants to spend nearly $20 million to convert the mill into a destination that includes more than 100 senior living units, 38 hotel suites, a fitness center, day spa, outdoor amphitheater and rooftop pool.

Bob and Nancy Harllee, who head up the group, are in the process of moving from Georgia to Camden. They say they have been in the development and real estate management business for more than 25 years.

Local residents have come out in support of the hotel plan. Many have bad memories of a massive fire at the local J.P. Stevens Mill No. 3 in 2006 that resulted in the evacuation of half the town.

The business operating in the building at the time? A plastics recycling operation.

FLC officials say they are bound by the contract they signed with Saulsgiver in 2006. But the Chester County Council unanimously opposes transferring the property to Saulsgiver, saying the contract hasn't been consummated because no money has been exchanged.

We are not in a position to evaluate the legal questions involved in this issue. Clearly, however, the prospect of a multi-million-dollar complex at the mill would be preferable to another plastics operation.

It would be advantageous for the county to pursue every legal avenue to dissolve the agreement with Saulsgiver or persuade him to opt out. That would leave the county free to make a deal with the Harllees.

If the hotel and senior center gets built, it would not only be a destination for visitors but also a source of jobs. The hotel plan is a better option for the community, and we hope county officials can find a way to make it happen.

IN SUMMARY

Proposal to turn mill into senior center and hotel clearly is the better of the two options.

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