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Oral history interview with John Zaharchuk

  • 2014-Jan-22

John Zaharchuk grew up in Newburgh, New York. He attended Bucknell University and obtained a Master's in Business Administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife-to-be, who lived in Upper Dublin Township, used to meet at the Ambler train station, eventually marrying and moving to Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Zaharchuk thus became familiar with Ambler as he drove between home and work. He discusses the depressed and depressing state of Ambler at the time, saying he would never stop for food there. He first began to notice businesses returning in the mid-2000s, and he says that now there is such a resurgence of vitality in the town that parking is a challenge. When his children's school was looking for a new building, Zaharchuk suggested the old boiler house on the Keasbey & Mattison factory property; he had been thinking about the building for development. When the school rejected the idea, Zaharchuk gave up for a while. A successful project with a similar property in Wilmington, Delaware, and a friend who insisted that he must reconsider, finally convinced Zaharchuk. With Borough officials he gathered private and public investors and held informational meetings for local residents. Although they wanted the boiler house saved and were supportive of his ideas, the residents were leery of the asbestos, so Zaharchuk's project removed it all, even having to clean each brick by hand. The Ambler Boiler House is a successful Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building whose environment attracts tenants and where Zaharchuk plans to keep his own office; its green features include a geothermal system, windows, and building automation. Zaharchuk is currently building a series of apartments on another piece of the Keasbey & Mattison property. The major contaminant there is magnesia, which has determined the footprint of the building. Asbestos would have been easier to deal with, as it requires only capping to be safe and stable. Zaharchuk is also talking to other property owners in the area, especially the BoRit site, with a view to developing more of Ambler. He says that Ambler is only about half redeveloped, and that his experience with contaminated property is valuable. After the first remediation in Ambler when people first learned about the dangers of asbestos, investors kept away, contributing to Ambler's economic decline, but people no longer fear remediation, and they want more improvement. In fact, says Zaharchuk, a challenge these days is to find parking in the up-and-coming Ambler.

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