Monday, October 21, 2013

What SHOULDN'T be on Main Street

166 West Main 
Residents of Norristown could save a lot of time, money and angst if they simply hired a full-time babysitter to keep Council out of trouble. Last week at their meeting, they again showed a cavalier attitude toward the Arts Hill district on Dekalb (I'll blog on that tomorrow). The next night, they had another of their secret meetings, this time at Gaudenzia, Inc. on West Main St.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article Elena!! Clustering social and drug re-hab services in one building, as you suggest, is how cities and towns throughout the West set them up. For one, it's most convenient for their clientele and second, it allows the agencies to pool resources to install extra security and hire security people to keep order - less stress and strain on muncipal police services and downtown retail districts.

    Norristown and Pottstowns struggles parallel one another and you have to wonder what is the powerful sway for local officials that they are incapable of political advocacy for the taxpayers that live, own businesses or work in their own communities and have a vision to revive their boroughs?

    There are larger political forces at work in both our muncipalities starts with the Dept. of Housing and Urban Developement under the influence of the powerful real estate lobby. It trickles down to the State, the County and the real estate income investors who are making out like theives, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers. Housing and services for the disabled and poor has become lucritive business and the beneficiaries of that windfall do not want the sources of their wealth in their own pristine backyards. They know that the nature of their businesses is not comforting and tidy like the communities in which they afford themselves nice homes, shopping amenities, friendly neighborhoods, good schools, low crime and peace of mind.

    The question becomes, how are wealthier communities in Montgomery County spared from doing their part to provide for these people. The question becomes: what is the benefit to local officials in Norristown and Pottstown for accomodating unspoken segregation?