2017-07-15 / Front Page

Arboretum rally planned Sunday

Even as the Coudersport Arboretum Committee was meeting this week to discuss the organization’s upcoming event to celebrate the community park, many of those in attendance couldn’t help but be distracted by the ongoing battle to save the .35-acre southern section of property.

“We’re trying to raise awareness so everyone knows what’s at stake,” said committee member Chris Herzig. “Our hope is that the citizens of Coudersport will let their voices be heard and let borough officials know how feel about saving the park.”

Local citizens calling themselves “Friends of the Coudersport Arboretum” are rallying the troops in an effort to save the arboretum with their inaugural event on Sunday, July 16, at 2 pm, at the park.

It’s billed as a community get-together titled Gala in the Garden. There will be live music as well as free frankfurters and lemonade.

They hope to carry that momentum into the Coudersport Borough Council meeting, scheduled for 6:30 pm Wednesday, July 19, at the borough maintenance building on Damascus Street.

Sheetz Corporation and land developer Tom Majot are poised on one side. They are reportedly willing to offer a financial incentive of as much as $350,000 for the border area fronting Route 6, now occupied by the C&PA Railroad caboose, park entrance and landscaping.

On the other side is the Arboretum Committee, as well as a loose coalition of hundreds of petitioners, and now the Friends of the Arboretum. They are all urging Borough Council to leave the park as it is.

Two months ago, supporters of the arboretum thought the issue had been settled after Borough Council voted 4-2 to maintain the status quo. But Council members reversed course during their June meeting and voted 3-2 to entertain offers over a 90- day period.

Supporting the motion were Todd Husson, council president George Hults and Andy Bristol, who had previously voted against the measure. Dissenting votes were cast by Gene Neefe and Bryan Welsh. Councilman Rich Neefe, a supporter of keeping the Arboretum in place, was not present for the vote.

“I wasn’t shocked by the move to have another vote,” said committee chairman Wayne Wentzel. “The sale isn’t definite. It could change at the next council meeting.”

Sheetz/Majot might not be a shoo-in, but there’s little chance there would be a higher bid. Majot owns the current Sheetz lot. That company is eager to extend its store to the Arboretum entrance so it can expand its prepared food offerings and sell discount-priced beer and wine.

If the .35-acre lot sold, the borough would retain ownership of the remaining property, where the American Legion Post 192 Military Wall of Honor is located.

Potter County Redevelopment Authority (PCRA) joined the dialogue in May. Members are David Buckler, Terry Goodenough, Jeff Wilcox, Shawn Wolfinger and Phil Vaughn.

PCRA has three alternative sites where the park could be moved, with the committee’s only expense coming from the relocation of the landscaping and other features.

Herzig doesn’t see the PCRA offer as viable.

“There’s been more than $87,000 in donations put towards development and maintenance of the Arboretum over the years, and many of those trees and other plants wouldn’t survive a move,” she said.

Supporters of the Sheetz expansion plan cite increased employment opportunities and an expansion of the tax base as reasons to move forward with the sale.

Herzig also contests that suggestion.

“We’re all for promoting local businesses and increasing the tax base in the borough, but the impact of Sheetz on our economy has been questionable,” said Herzig. “Many small businesses, grocery stores and gas stations have either closed or moved since that business opened, and it’s very likely our beer distributors will feel a negative impact once Sheetz expands and is able to sell alcohol.”

Wentzel called for those who have opinions attend the July 19 Borough Council meeting and be heard.

Coudersport Area Lions Club, the Chamber of Commerce, American Legion Post 192 and Sons of the American Legion, and the Arboretum Committee, as well as many volunteers, have worked together over the years to establish the park as an aesthetically pleasing venue that’s also a heritage area recalling the Coudersport & Port Allegany Railroad.

Among the historical elements are the C&PA Railroad Depot, now the Coudersport Borough Office; the restored C&PA caboose; and a Pullman rail car similar to those that carried passengers on the local railway.

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