It is not for Judge Jeffery Deller of the Western Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Court to decide whether the Conneaut Lake Park purchase contract may have been breached.
“I have no jurisdiction over this matter,” Deller said Tuesday in a US bankruptcy court hearing held via Zoom. The Meadville Tribune was the only outlet to attend Tuesday’s hearing.
“Nothing is within my jurisdiction where I could make an order that would affect the (bankruptcy) estate,” the judge said.
Instead, Deller suggested all parties work together to improve communication and create less friction between residents and owners with Conneaut Lake Park and Keldon Holdings LLC, the park’s new owner.
On March 2, Keldon purchased the amusement park – including the grounds, rides, water park and other assets – from the trustees of Conneaut Lake Park for $ 1.2 million in a public proceeding before the US bankruptcy court before Deller.
However, in September, residents and owners of the park wrote to Deller alleging that Keldon Holdings LLC had violated the contract to purchase the park. They claimed that access to their properties was restricted by Keldon erecting fences across the rights-of-way. Residents and landlords have also reported problems with water services and streets owned by Keldon.
Keldon bought the park from the trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, the nonprofit company that oversaw the park’s operations. With the sale of the park in March, the Chapter 11 trustees bankruptcy case was then formally closed in court on July 7.
The trustees had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2014 to reorganize his debts and needed the approval of the US bankruptcy court for any sale.
When the United States Bankruptcy Court approved the Trustees’ Chapter 11 plan in September 2016, the plan provided for Pennsylvania’s ability, through the Attorney General’s office, to enforce a “restriction on use of preexisting ‘charitable purpose’ that applied to specific parcels of property, and to file with legal action to ensure that charitable property was not improperly diverted from its charitable purpose.
The US bankruptcy court’s approval of the sale of the park to Keldon in March this year still required public access to park ownership to continue. Some parts of the property have deed restrictions requiring it to be open to the general public.
âKeldon Holdings has some discretion in terms of what it bought within the charitable use restriction,â Deller said Tuesday before declaring he lacked jurisdiction.
However, if individual owners believe their rights are being violated, they should take the case to the relevant Crawford County Court of Common Pleas, not the United States Bankruptcy Court, the judge said.
“If there is a breached public interest in relation to the restriction of charitable use (on the park), such complaints should be directed to the Commonwealth Attorney General who will decide whether the application should be enforced,” Deller said.
But the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office must also report, he added.
“If the Attorney General refuses to take action (on alleged violations of charitable use) because it is not justified because there has been no violation or the violations are irrelevant or if he’s still investigating, how do you communicate so people know what’s going on? Deller said.
Keldon Holdings LLC and its owner, Todd Joseph, also have a role to play in communicating with residents and the attorney general’s office, according to the judge.
“Keldon – if you want to do development there, how about organized planned use development and communicate exactly what’s going on?” ” he said.
âI think it will relieve some heartburn – you just need to put the information out so people know what’s going on,â Deller said. “I encourage everyone to contact the attorney general’s office.”
âIf you work together, Lake Conneaut Park will be a beautiful place that people want to go to, but as long as everyone is fighting it makes things a little harder,â he said. “I think there are a lot more common interests here than people realize.”
In ruling that the bankruptcy court has no jurisdiction if the purchase contract has been breached, Deller also concluded that the trustees’ bankruptcy case “should remain closed as there is no basis to reopen it” in under the US Bankruptcy Code.
Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at [email protected]