|166 West Main|
They'll claim it wasn't an official meeting--probably not all council members attended--but those that did go were there on municipal business, once again being courted by a company trying to influence decisions before even going before the Zoning Board. How did citizens find out about the meeting? Not from Council.
One of our volunteer organizations posted this to Facebook last Wednesday: "Members of Norristown council will tour the Guadenzia facility at 106 W. Main St. at 6 p.m., Wednesday, and hold an informational workshop meeting after the tour." Since it was the same night as the Sip and Dine, some of us were on West Main, going to Almaz Cafe and Banh Mi Bistro. Council members were seen, so it wasn't a rumor.
Gaudenzia is a nonprofit corporation that provides drug and alcohol addiction treatment and recovery services. 106 W. Main is their corporate headquarters. I think it's terrific when any company chooses to put their HQ in Norristown. They provide jobs. Gaudenzia occupies one of our beautiful historic buildings and they keep it looking great. They also run a treatment center at Marshall and Dekalb. We need the services in this town, so I'm not complaining about them.
Skip to the agenda for tomorrow night's (Tuesday) Zoning meeting, where a lawyer named Vern Anastasio from Philadelphia is seeking a variance from prohibited uses at 166 W. Main "to allow for the corporate headquarters of a social service agency, for administrative and counseling uses only in the TC-Town Center Zoning District." The headquarters, as far as I was able to determine, is Gaudenzia. If there's nothing fishy about this, why keep the agency's name off the variance?
All that aside, do we want a drug counseling center right at Main and Barbados--the western beginning of our downtown--in a building that looks perfect for a retail store? The problem is that where you find drug treatment centers, whether only for counseling or otherwise, you find drug users hanging out on the street in front of them, sometimes doing drug deals and using drugs right there. Not something we want discouraging potential shoppers/restaurant goers on West Main.
The Gaudenzia facility at Marshall and Dekalb is well away from our downtown. Why not place this new treatment facility also well away. We've got a big empty building at Montgomery Hospital. Across from that is a medical building with lots of empty space, now that most doctors followed Einstein out of town. There's loads of parking. The Human Resources Building at Fornance and Dekalb also has empty space. This is all in an area zoned for medical offices and facilities. There are buses, so you can't say there isn't public transportation. Put the drug counseling center there. I don't say this lightly. I live in the north end of town. But I'd much rather have the center near my neighborhood than in a vital part of our downtown. And I'd much rather have all those empty medical buildings occupied.
We need to be working at cleaning up the rest of Main Street, so people will come to enjoy the great restaurants we have there now, and so hopefully, more restaurants, retail, and offices will move in. Instead of allowing a corporation to woo them into supporting a bad decision, Council ought to be out courting retailers and offices to move into our downtown. Council ought to be the ones giving informational workshops about Norristown, not attending lobbying sessions to which the public isn't invited.
Please attend the Zoning meeting, Tuesday at 7 pm at Municipal Hall, and let Zoning know we don't want more drug users on West Main Street.