“Come on down,” was how West Reading Borough Manager Dean Murray greeted residents as they filed into Tuesday night’s council meeting. “Welcome to another episode of the borough’s right.”
Tuesday’s meeting took on the raucous atmosphere of a game show when council discussed a controversial proposal to lift the condemnation of the Franklin Manor Apartments at 400 Franklin St.
The apartment building, which had rooms filled with mold and raw sewage in the basement, was condemned in February 2021 and has since undergone major repairs. More than 80 people were evicted a year ago.
Multiple community members criticized the proposal to lift the condemnation.
“And you trust them?” Tina Shenk, owner of Tina’s Salon and Day Spa on Penn Avenue, asked council. “Once a slum landlord, always a slum landlord.”
The borough ultimately decided to table discussion of the condemnation for a week.
“This is a landlord that has taken advantage of us previously,” Mayor Samantha Kaag said. “I personally don’t feel comfortable giving them leeway, but I also feel comfortable tabling it and waiting until next week.”
“(Franklin Manor) has made significant strides to carry out all of the safety list items,” said Murray.
Murray said he inspected the building with a fire inspector and with code enforcement officer Matt Davenport.
Council was told the owners of Franklin Manor say that they need to lease the building again so they have revenue to pay for the rest of the repairs, which council said are relatively minor.
“Matt Davenport thought it was OK to recommend to the borough council to open it up again to lease,” Murray said.
“My concern is that once they open, it’s hard to shut back down,” said solicitor Daniel P. Becker. “I suspect that there are going to be smaller health and safety issues.”
Council Vice President Philip Wert said the owners of Franklin Manor have been disingenuous in dealing with council in the past. He added that council regretted having to force people out of their homes in the middle of winter during the COVID pandemic.
“It was so dire,” Wert said. “I worry that once some units have opened up, we’re going to get feet dragging regarding these last few repairs. Do they have a plan? Now that things have been, to a large degree, improved upon, is it going to be right back to the type of rental situation that they had, that these problems build up again? What guarantee do we have, other than their word?”
The owners, PF Franklin Manor LP, were not at the meeting and could not be immediately reached for comment.
The borough padlocked the three-story apartment building on Feb. 16, 2021, after giving the owners numerous chances to bring the building up to code requirements. All the tenants were evicted.
The primary problems were a broken sewer pipe in the basement, a sinkhole in the front of the building and several structural deficiencies.
Built in 1922 as the West Reading High School, Franklin Manor was renovated and converted into an apartment building in the 1980s. The building has 39 apartments.
Source: Berkshire mont