Friday, January 31, 2014

Not Enough Hours in the Day

I made it to 3 meetings/events in Norristown this week. I SHOULD have gotten to 6. After weeks of relative calm, all of a sudden Norristown seems to be exploding with activities. I think we're all just sick of being stuck inside because of snow and cold, and we're anxious to make things happen in town again.

You need to clone yourself for Friday night alone.

Tonight at 7 pm THE WIZ opens at the Centre Theater (208 DeKalb St.). This is a student production, produced by the Centre in association with Norristown Clubs United. Perfomances continue all weekend, Saturday at 7 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, and next weekend, Feb. 7-9, at the same time. Tickets are cheap, theater-wise, only $15. Go to  Come out and see how creative and talented our kids are.

Same time, Jus' Java (1601 Dekalb) is hosting its usual Friday Acoustic Open Mic. Musicians, singers, listeners welcome. Details at the counter or call 610-277-5282. BYOB.

Also tonight at 8 pm, the Carver Community Center (249 East Jacoby Street) presents a "Bless the MIC" fundraiser with all proceeds benefitting the center. Artists include Christian Artist Paul Robinson, from Norristown, and Ricardo Crockett, Travis Ellis and AJ Harding. Asking a $10 donation. Free food and giveaways. Contact

Saturday morning at 10:30 am, the Montgomery County Norristown Public Library will hold a sensory-friendly storytime for children ages 3-6 with special needs. Call Tracee to register 610-278-5100 x 144. Registration is needed.

From noon to 2 pm Saturday, you can celebrate the Chinese New Year at Elmwood Park Zoo. Paper lantern and dragon crafts, animal programs, food, games, etc. For more info, contact Guest Services at 610-277-3825 ext 222.

Saturday afternoon at 1 pm, the Islamic Society of Norristown cordially invites you to a "Meet your Neighbor Social-Open House" at 518 Green Street. Free coffee, tea, donuts and bagels will be served. For more info, please email

This Saturday night, and Feb 15th, at 7 pm, come to "Day of the Poet" at Jus' Java (1601 Dekalb St.), featuring Saturday Nites and Uptown, Youth Spoken-Word Slam Summit. To participate, come at 6:30 pm to sign up. More info email or check Jus' Java's facebook page.

Also from 7 to 9 pm, Coffee Talk on West Marshall will be Celebrating Aquarius with a musical jam session. Donations welcome.

Sunday at noon, Elmwood Park Zoo's Nora the Groundhog will make an appearance and weather prediction on the Eagle's Deck. (Please, Nora, say we'll have an early spring). For the last 2 years, Nora's predictions have been right and Puxetawney Phil's have been wrong. From noon until 2 pm, the zoo will have special crafts and activities for children.

Beginning on Feb 7th, and running every Tuesday until April 8th, free AARP Tax-aide/ Preparation will be available at the Norristown Public Library from 10 am to 3 pm, Free to all taxpayers with low and moderate income, special attention to those 60 and older. For more info call 610-278-5100 ext 0.

Also on Tuesday from 5 to 6:30 pm, the  Montgomery County Planning commission will be presenting its MONTCO 2040 Plan vision for Norristown at The Centre Theater (208 Dekalb St). Norristown, you asked and we listened--now attend a public workshop and let us know what you think about traffic and transit, parks and trails, housing and economic development.

Tuesday night, 7:30 pm, Municipal Council Meeting. Info on agenda on next week's Diary (I hope).

Wednesday at 8 pm, "Open Conversation- Spoken Word" at Jus' Java. $5 admission, hosted by Mydera SpeakMeFree and Christopher K.P. Brown. Sign up at 7 pm. 610-277-JAVA for info.

A special note: Theatre Horizon will offer free tickets to Norristown residents through their "Free Tickets & Tuition" Program sponsored by PNC Arts Alive. FREE TICKETS FOR NORRISTOWN RESIDENTS ONLY. Tickets can be reserved by calling the box office at 610-283-2230 or emailing Available for all shows, subject to availability. Excludes March 14 & 15 and June 6 & 7. Also free tuition for some children's classes. This is a fantastic opportunity to give Norristown residents and their children exposure to the theater. Check their website for shows.

For other activities (yes, there are even more), go to the Norristown Community Calendar .

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Help Choose N-Town's Athletic Director

Tonight, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, a public meeting will be held at the Norristown Area High School cafeteria, to enable members of the community to share their suggestions for the selection of an Athletic Director for all school sports.

We like sports in Norristown and we encourage our kids to participate. Sports teach kids teamwork, decision making, leadership and self-worth. The majority of our parks have baseball fields, basketball courts, or both. Google Image "Norristown High School" and you get photos of basketball games. And at Riverfront Park, you'll start seeing youth dragon boat teams this year. Sports offer kids something positive to do, so they don't get involved in drugs and crime.

So it makes sense that we take the selection of a School Athletic Director seriously and come together as a community to choose one.

According to Nan Odenthal, Public Relations Manager of the School District, the Athletic Director "will have a tremendous impact on the Norristown Area School District. The goal of the meeting is to hear the voices of our community members who have a vested interested in ensuring the most qualified person is selected for the job. We value their feedback."

If you have school-aged students involved in sports, or who will be in a few years, please come to this meeting and spread the word about it.

~ ~ ~

You'll notice at the right of this blog is a photo of Montgomery Hospital. If you click on it, the link takes you to a petition that will go to Einstein, Altman group (the developer for the site), and Council members, asking them to please save the building from demolition. Read the petition and please sign it and pass it on to your neighbors. We need more signatures from Norristown.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Demolition of Hospital Official

I went to 2 meetings in Norristown yesterday, one positive and optimistic, one thoroughly depressing. One of those meetings was at Municipal Hall. Guess which?

I'll start with the depressing news and cheer you up with the good stuff at the end.

As I said yesterday, Cingular is seeking a variance to put an 84-foot-high cell tower on the corner of Fornance and Powell--on the grass, right at the corner, for up to 9 months (though once it's up, they could ask for extentions on the time limit). If you've been in Council chambers, the ceiling there is about 30 feet, so imagine a tower nearly 3 times that height. We found out the reason for Cingular's request last night. Einstein told them to remove their antenna from the roof of Montgomery Hospital by 3/15/14, so the power in the building could be turned off prior to demolition. I'd heard rumors, but this was the 1st time the plan was entered onto the official record.

I asked both our director of planning and our council president last night what the authorization procedure is for demolition of the hospital. They said there is none. Einstein doesn't have to go before Zoning or Planning or Council. They apparently don't even have to warn the neighborhood. Imagine yourself living in one of the 14 small houses directly across Locust from the hospital when the wrecking ball starts. Potential damage to the houses, yards and vehicles. Dust for who knows how long for all the surrounding blocks, and that means health problems. Brick and mortar dust is bad enough, but we don't know what else is in the walls that could be mixed in. Business is bound to be disrupted at LeCons Pharmacy and at the offices across Powell, Wood and Fornance Streets. And having an 84-foot cell tower that close to a demolition site doesn't seem like a brilliant idea.

And no one seems to be able to answer the question, "Why does the hospital have to be demolished?" The only answer i get: "For senior housing." So why not put the senior housing INSIDE the hospital buidling? Why endanger the entire neighborhood and destroy a great piece of architecture? Because the developer could care less about the neighborhood and our town.

If you want to register your opinion, email your council people: Linda Christian (, Bill Caldwell (, Olivia Brady (, Derrick Perry (, Gary Simpson (, Marlon Millner (, Sonya Sanders (

The other meeting was about the Schuylkill River Trail, especially in relation to Riverfront Park. The purpose of the Schuylkill River Towns group, and of the Norristown Action Team Committee is to get more people to use the river and get more people who do use the river and trail to come up into town to patronize our businesses.

Our Dragon Boat Club is active in the planning, and this year, besides Riverfest and Winter Wonderland, they're planning water classes for kids, not only about rowing, but teaching about things like the animals in and around the river and the chemistry of river water. The committee also talked about getting a permanent restroom for along the trail at Riverfront, and building a floating dock not only for the boat club, but for the whole community to use. They'll be hosting a clean-up day for the park and trail, probably in April. Stay tuned.

So, see? Good news in Norristown. Overshadowed, as usual, by the plans of developers and out-of-town corporations, and by the Council's typical lack of concern for the residents and historical architecture.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's Secret Meeting Week

622 Swede St. 
I spent much of yesterday trying to find out what would be happening in meetings scheduled around town this week, especially the zoning board meeting slated for tonight. I don't think anyone really meant to keep their agenda secret, but everyone seemed to forget that, to get people out in the snow and cold, you have to give them more information than meeting place and time. Here are the meetings for the next few days, followed by the zoning agenda.

Today at 3 pm: Norristown Action Team Meeting at 700 E. Main (BartonPartners Architects) -- the best I could discover is that it's about promoting and improving the Schuylkill River Trail.
Tonight at 7 pm: Zoning Meeting, Municipal Hall.
Wednesday at 7:30 pm: The Council meeting that was cancelled last week. Same agenda. See last week's blog.
Thursday, 6:30-7:30 pm at Norristown Area High School cafeteria, a Voices of the Community Meeting, for input into the selection of a new Athletic Director. I'll blog more about this tomorrow or Thursday.
Thursday, 5-7 at ACPPA, a Business Mixer, in the rear of Grace Lutheran Church.

Now, the zoning meeting. As I said, the agenda was only posted very late yesterday.

622 Swede Street -- The owner, Mr. Jamie Markizon is seeking a variance from the required parking spaces, and a special exception from use regulations, to allow for professional office space on the ground floor and a licensed residential apartment on the 2nd floor. As I said last time this property came up, the building already houses law offices, and has 3 floors, so I'm not sure what the exception is, unless the 2nd floor is currently office space.

105 Haws Avenue 
610 West Lafayette Street - Owner Rudolph V. Ciarletta is seeking a special exception/variance to allow for a 2-unit apartment dwelling with garage.

105 Haws Avenue -- Syed Nishats Haque (Singharas Properties in Eagleville) is seeking a special exception/variance to allow for a 2-unit apartment dwelling with garage, and a variance from required parking facilities. This is a TINY row house.

573 E. Main Street -- Owner Harry Mirable, Jr. is seeking a special exception, to change the 1st floor of a former dry cleaners into a barber school.

Montgomery Hospital Property -- Cingular Wireless is seeking variances in order to install a temporary telecommunications facility cell on wheels that is 84 feet high with 3 antennas, in the hospital parking lot located at the corner of Powell and E. Fornance Street, along with a temporary fence.

To give you some scale, the Cingular tower would be, I think, nearly as tall as the hospital. More than twice as tall as the surrounding houses, at least. How long is temporary? In the last year, Verizon has placed antenna on the roof of the hospital. Why can't Cingular do the same thing, instead of plunking down a truly ugly tower and temporary fence (which never look good) in the middle of a nice residential neighborhood?

Of all the schemes above, I approve most of all the barber school at the corner of E Main and High St. We used to have a barber school on East Main (between Dekalb and Green?). It would be nice to bring one back--especially since it's a business that provides job training.

The others seem to be, unfortunately, business-as-usual for Norristown:  more apartments, probably run by out-of-town landlords who could care less, meaning more overcrowding, trash and parking problems--and all the landlords want to make the latter problem worse by not providing off street parking for their tenants.

So come to the meeting tonight if you can. And don't be afraid to get up and give testimony if you're against any of these plans. It's the only way we can have a voice in what ends up in our neighborhoods.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Don't Let The Snow and Cold Stop You

I apologize for no Diary yesterday. I had an early appointment that lasted longer than I expected, but I had a chance to drive around the north end a bit. Oddly enough, small streets like Locust were clearer than main routes like Fornance. Harding Boulevard was good, I suppose because it's the detour for Markley. Coolidge looked as if it had never been plowed or salted at all (I'd think streets that have a school on them would be a priority).

But, if you can get around in the next week, there's plenty to do.

From now until Thursday the 30th, NAHS Cheerleaders  are selling Pretzel Trays for Super Bowl Sunday. A tray of nuggets and mustard dip is only $25 (regular price $30). Trays can be picked up Feb 2 from 11 am to 3 pm at The Pretzel Factory, 132 W. Main St. Call to order, 610-278-6049. Help out the cheerleaders AND an N-town business.

Today from 1 to 2 pm, Theatre Horizon will present their 2nd "Mommy and Me," an interactive book club for preschoolers and their moms. Read the stories along with out storyteller and use boxes of costumes and props to bring the story to life. Each class focuses on a different book. $15 per class, or you can register for the remaining 7 classes.
Friday is Jus' Java's Acoustic Open Mic night, 7 to 10 pm, for musicians and vocalists of all skill levels. BYOB event. Jus' Java is located at Dekalb and Brown Sts. Please check in at the front counter for details.

 On Saturday morning, 10 am to noon, New Life Internet Cafe (25 E Marshall) will host a Photo ID Clinic. If you need help obtaining a photo ID and other identity documents for job applications, housing, bank accounts, medical services, etc., you should come. New Life can also help with 2011-2013 tax returns and applications for SNAP, LiHEAP, PACE, PACENET and FAFSA through The Benefit Bank (free). Email for more info.

Saturday from 1:30 to 2:30 pm, ACPPA Community Art Center (506 Haws Ave) is hosting "Keeping it Klassy." (As a former middle school teacher and girl scout leader, I LOVE this idea.)  4th and 5th grade GIRLS are invited to attend this FREE event focusing on learning to love themselves and become community leaders through art. Each girl attending is asked to bring a snack to share and their favorite pillow or blanket to hang out on.  RSVP by Friday the 24th at, or call 610-277-2270.

Saturday from 9 pm to midnight (correct time--error on the TNP calendar), Zachary BBQ at 1709 Markley St. presents another ChefSoul Saturday, an Atlanta-inspired “uptown down south feel” where guests enjoy small plates, barbecue, small-batch bourbon and more. This is an MLK-inspired event. The admission price is $25 (call 610-272-1800 for a reservation). If you haven't tried Zachary's food yet, you're in for a treat. For further information visit: .

Sunday, 2pm – 4pm, Montgomery County OIC (1101 Arch St) will hold an information session for their annual Spring Break College Tour.  $25 deposit required to hold space. Limited scholarships available. The tentative price is $350, all inclusive. For information, call 610-279-9700

Tuesday, Jan 28th at 3 pm, a Norristown Action Team Meeting will be held by Schuykill River Towns at BartonPartners Architects Planners at 700 E. Main St. I have to admit, I'm intrigued by this. "Schuylkill River Towns" is a Facebook page whose contact website is a Eastwick Marketing. According to Robin Parker of the Dragon Boat Club, Eastwick received a grant from the Penn Foundation to help several community's revitalize the banks along the river and Schuylkill river trail. In Norristown, the short term goals is signage and bathrooms. The meeting is open to all residents and businesses (though 3 pm seems an odd time to expect many residents or businesses to attend).

Also, Tuesday night at 7 pm is the monthly Zoning Hearing Board Meeting. No agenda posted yet.

Thursday, January 30, 5 to 7 pm, ACPPA Community Art Center invites business professionals from the greater Norristown community to a Business Mixer. Tell them what you want to see happen in your community in the coming year and learn how the art center can help grow your business. Members of our Business Partnership Program will be automatically entered to win a Visa Gift Card. Stop by for a quick drink and some munchies. Plenty of off-street parking. ACPPA is located on the lower level of Grace Lutheran Church. Please RSVP by Wednesday, January 29th at, or call 610-277-2270.

For more events, check out the Norristown Community Calendar, a collaboration between The Norristown Project and the Norristown CTC.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When Did We Get Wussy?

I asked the same question last snowstorm, but it bears repeating this time around. We only got about 6 to 8 inches of snow yesterday, and it was the light fluffy kind that's easy to shovel. I did my front walk in under 15 minutes this morning without getting all that tired, and I'm no youngster.

Norristown declared a "snow emergency" at noon yesterday. What that usually means is that people should stay off the roads so the plows can go to work. But did the plows go to work?

As I said before, I live on a main route, but the first I heard a plow on my street was last night around 8:30. He was gone by the time I looked out (he was going that fast). The street didn't look plowed at all, so I'm guessing he was just passing through. Possibly it was a salt truck, but what's the point of salting an unplowed street with the temperature below 20 F and not expected to rise above for days? I heard a plow again, maybe an hour later, and this time the street looked, well, sort of plowed. This morning, there was still several inches of packed snow on the street. What was the point of plowing off only the top 3 or 4 inches?

In Norristown, for the last 50+ years, we've always taken snowfalls under about 8 inches in stride, especially if it's powdery, light snow. It should be no big deal to remove it. 8 to 12 inches is also fairly normal for us. Takes a bit more effort and time, but it's part of winter and no cause to panic. 12 to 20 inches, okay, more unusual for us, but not unheard of. I only remember a handful of snowstorms in my lifetime where it took more than a day for the main routes to be plowed.

I have friends who live in the South--Atlanta through D.C.--and they've told me what their snow removal is like. I've also worked for a company that did downtown snow removal in New England, Denver, Atlantic City and Southern towns like Greenville, SC, and Georgetown, MD. I know not all municipal snow removal is alike--every town has different equipment and strategies based on their usual annual snowfall and climate. This year, Norristown seems to be acting like a town south of the Potomac.

My best friend lives on a cul-de-sac in King of Prussia about as far away from 202 as you can get without ending up in the Schuylkill. Her street was completely cleared down to the macadam early this morning.

What's the deal? Does Norristown only have one plow driver? Do we not want to pay overtime? Does our borough manager not yet understand that we can't use the same snow strategy as Georgia?

Norristonians need to get to work. Norristown businesses need customers to be able to get to them. "Snow emergency" doesn't mean shutting down the whole town until spring.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Meeting with Chief Talbot - Too Short Notice

Tomorrow night, January 22nd, from 6:30 to 8 pm, the Norristown Police Department will host a town meeting to give the public an opportunity to meet Norristown’s new police chief, Mark Talbot, Sr. and members of the department’s command staff. The meeting will be held at Theatre Horizon, located at 401 Dekalb Street.

Of course, if we get the amount of snow predicted, and the streets are cleared at the same rate as the last smaller storm, no one will be able to get to the meeting.

But let's imagine that a major blizzard isn't in the forecast. The Norristown Patch article that announced this meeting was dated Friday afternoon. If you're on Facebook, you know the chances of missing a post are good. If your friends see it and share or tag your name, you have a much better chance. However, most people who are active in Norristown were in some way participating in the MLK events this weekend, and not on Facebook every minute sharing things. I didn't see it until this morning and only because Derrick Perry posted it last night.

If you're not on Facebook, and not in the habit of checking the Patch website, or even if you are, if you don't know where to look, chances are you haven't seen this announcement at all.

Why wasn't this posted in other places? Especially, why not on the town calendar? Was it in the Times Herald? Besides these sources, I get a lot of my info through Linda Christian, Shae Ashe and The Norristown Project Community Calendar, Viviann Schorle of the Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative, and the Norristown Facebook pages, like the Business/Events page. It wasn't even on the Theatre Horizon page. The Norristown Nudge page did post something on Saturday, but like I said, Facebook is iffy--people have to share the post, and no one did, probably because Norristown was busy volunteering this weekend.

But the bigger question is, why was this announced at the last minute? This is the kind of thing that ought to be planned at least a month in advance, to give word time to spread. Instead, the first announcement came out, as far as I could tell, with the Patch announcement on Friday. 5 days. And no regard to the fact that it conflicts with the Strengthening Families Program at Eisenhower the same night.

So, given the fact that the snow will likely cancel the meeting with Chief Talbot, or at least, make it poorly attended, I suggest another meeting be scheduled immediately, for at least a month from now, and this time, put it on the town calendar, and send it to the other reliable outlets mentioned above. Let ME know and I'll give it plenty of public notice here on the Diary. But please Council, or whoever set this meeting up, quit keeping these events a secret until the last minute.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Council Gets Down To Business

105 Haws Ave. 
Wonder of wonders, the agenda for tomorrow night's Council meeting is up on already! I love this new trend toward giving us advanced notice and I hope it continues.

The agenda includes a zoning appeal for 105 Haws Avenue. I have no idea what this is about. Although we have an archives page of meeting agendas, all of the zoning and planning agendas from last year seem to have been removed, so I couldn't look it up. Public Comment is still up first in the meeting, before the topics are actually discussed, so residents can't even listen to the issue and then comment on it. If anyone knows the story on this appeal, let me know and I'll update this item.

Also listed are two motions to approve agreements with CGI Communications and Lois Hagerty. CGI is a marketing company in Rochester, NY that specializes in "Come To Our Community" videos and other tools to promote towns. Take a look at the sample videos on their website.

Lois Hagerty is a Harrisburg lobbyist. Apparently Norristown has had an ongoing relationship with her. I'd be interested to see a list of her past accomplishments on Norristown's behalf.

The next motion I thought was oddly worded: " award the bid for repair of the storm sewer improvements on East Roberts/Willow Streets...." Is that right? We're repairing "improvements?" Who did the improvements, how long ago and how much did we pay for the original work? Or should it just say " repair the storm sewer..."? Anyway, the bid was from N. Abbonizio Contracting Inc. in Conshohocken, in the amount of $146,104 "as per our Interim Engineer’s letter and contingent upon final funding approval from the PA. Dept. of Community & Economic Dev."

So that's the gist of what will be going on at the meeting.

In other news, I'd just like to thank Shae Ashe, The Norristown Project, and the volunteers who came out Saturday for the service day projects at the OIC, Selma Mansion and Centre Theatre. I was at Selma, and can report that, along with all the dust we kicked up, there was a massive amount of positive attitude toward Norristown in the air. Very exhilarating. Just remember, we don't have to wait another full year to schedule more service days around town. Our volunteers are our best asset.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sunday and Beyond

Yesterday's Diary listed Norristown events through Saturday the 18th. Here are the activities for the rest of the weekend and beyond.

For the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Day of Service on January 20th, GNPAL will coordinate Community Service Projects on Monday at their place at 340 Harding Blvd, and at Elmwood Park Zoo, from 9 am-3 pm. Volunteers are needed for painting, storing, organizing, gardening, and moving things. Event sponsored by StateFarm. To sign up, call Ken Fennel at 610-278-8040, ext. 18.

Starting Monday, the OIC'S Pre-Apprenticeship Program classes begin. Job placement included. Free classes meet Monday-Friday, 10 am to 2 pm. Participants must be residents of Montgomery County, 18 years or older, posses a high school diploma or GED, and be able to pass a entrance test with minimum of 6th grade level. Call 610-279-9700 to enroll and confirm times.

Also, Elmwood Park Zoo will celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King by offering guests FREE Zoo admission! Between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, all guests may enter the Zoo free of charge. There will also be a special animal show entitled "I Have a Dream" at 2:30 pm. Donations to the Zoo are suggested in lieu of admission. For more information, contact Guest Services at 610-277-3825, ext. 222.

Tuesday night at 7:30 pm at Municipal Hall -- Council Meeting. No agenda posted yet.

On Wednesday, January 22nd, the Strengthening Families Program will start at Eisenhower Middle School. Free program, dinner, childcare, raffles and prizes. 7 week program that creates strong, loving families working and having fun together! To enroll, call Julia Shemeley at 610-630-2111, ext. 228.

On Thursday the 24th, from 6:30 to 8 pm, at Centre Theater, 208 Dekalb, Norristown Arts Council will hold its Annual Meeting and annual election for membership to the Board of Directors. Interested candidates should be prepared to give a brief (1 to 2 minute) introduction and statement of candidacy for the voting membership, stakeholders and meeting attendees. Committee positions are also open. For more information, go to

Lots of activities to choose from. Get involved.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

So Much To Do

I apologize for no blog yesterday, due to a bit of a sinus infection along with connectivity problems care of FIOS and planning for the Selma event this Saturday. But there's so much going on in the next week, I'll need two days to cover all the activities here on the Diary. Volunteers will be needed on Saturday and Monday in town. Details below.

First of all, tomorrow night (Friday) at Stewart Middle School at 7 pm, a Gospel Concert to benefit Ebenezer Methodist Church. The proceeds will allow the church to make their entrance accessible. The concerts features Ebenzer Concert Choir, Mt Zion AME Church Male Chorus, SOG Mime aka Martin Alexis and more. Tickets are $12 at the door, but you can reserve them now for $10 by calling Roslyn Smith at 610-278-0624 or email .

Also Friday, 7 to 10 pm, Jus' Java Lounge (1601 Dekalb St.-at corner of Brown St) presents "Acoustic Open Mic." BYOB. Musicians and vocalists who want to perform should contact 610-277-JAVA.

On Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm, the NAACP Norristown Youth Committee will present Free Arts and Crafts for all children starting at age 1 and up at GNPAL 340 Harding Blvd. PARENTS MUST ATTEND. Kids should wear old clothes. Contact Ericka V. Wharton at .

Saturday is Norristown's town-wide Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King, coordinated by The Norristown Project. Start your day at the OIC building, 1101 Arch St, at 9 am. Work there will include removing old furniture from basement and a deep cleaning. A special project will be announced at the event.

From there at noon, volunteers will move west to Selma Mansion, 1301 W. Airy, where they'll remove debris from the cellar and clean the upper floors. Possibly some paint scraping. The Selma Event Committee is planning a big lunch for all volunteers. Dress warmly in layers, as the mansion isn't heated, but there will be space heaters. Park on the surrounding streets.

And finally at 3 pm, the volunteers will head downtown to Centre Theater, 208 Dekalb Street. Park on street nearby. Volunteers needed to assist with moving items to a new storage unit and cleaning of the theater. Day ends at 6 pm.

You can volunteer at 1, 2 or all events. Even if you can only come for an hour or two. Just show up early at any location. Email for more information.

Come out and help make Norristown a better place. More volunteer events Monday. Details tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Keep Baseball in Norristown

I have to admit, I'm not big into sports, unless you count bocce or Wii tennis. But one sport I've loved since I was a kid is baseball. Even that comes with reservations--as far as major league goes, if the Phillies aren't playing, I could care less about the game.

Still, when I was growing up, we played baseball in our alley every nice summer day. Back then, girls weren't allowed on the Little League teams. Their loss. I was a great pitcher and shortstop. Our side of the alley (all public school kids) always beat the Catholic school kids on the other side.

The Times Herald reported today that new Little League rules give parents the option the option of signing their kids up to play either on the teams where they live OR the teams where their kids go to school. This means Norristown students who'd normally play on Norristown teams have the option of moving to East or West Norriton teams if they go to a school located in those townships. Or if they go to a parochial or private school, they could also leave Norristown teams.

Last season Norristown Little League had about 200 kids participating. We've got really nice playing fields at Elmwood Park. We've got REALLY great, dedicated coaches, organizers and volunteers. We're Norristown--I guarantee you we've got more town pride than those other townships. And I KNOW we've got great student athletes in town.

So if you know school-aged kids who like sports, encourage them to join Norristown Little League this year. Let's make sure Norristown doesn't lose its teams.

Norristown Little League will be holding its annual open registrations for baseball and softball at Eisenhower Middle School from 6 to 7:30 pm every Monday through February 24th. Registration will also be held at the Elmwood Park Bandshell on the February 22nd from 10 am to 2 pm.

They have teams for every kid, ages 4 to 14 for baseball, 6 to 14 for softball, and even a Big League division for anyone ages 15-89.

Online Registration now open at . For more information on divisions, fees, and discounts, visit the website or contact Bill Plichta at 610-270-0467 ( or Carmen Ronca at 484-358-6650 (

One month to spring training! Go Phils. And go Norristown Little League.

Monday, January 13, 2014

50+ Years of Going One Way

SOMETIME BACK in the middle of the last century, the powers that be in Norristown decided to jump on the national trends bandwagon and make all the main thoroughfares downtown one-way streets. Traffic would flow counterclockwise around the courthouse, with Airy going west, Swede going south, Main going east and Dekalb going north. And, for some reason, these roads would remain one way at least several blocks after they left downtown, if not the rest of their length within town borders. Today Main has reverted to 2-way, Swede is only one-way for the last 2 blocks, but Airy and Dekalb remain one-way from downtown through the rest of their lengths.

All this began in the 1950s, with President Eisenhower's plan to connect the coasts with an interstate highway system. All cities began adopting the use of one-way streets, with the thought that they'd keep traffic moving as more and more cars took to the roads. Car commercials from that era pictured vehicles zipping around on modern highway-like streets. Everyone in America was led to believe that a moving car was the epitome of prosperity and a stopped one was bad. We were led to believe that the only shopping places worth our time were ones catering to the Automobile, with huge parking lots. No one in town would have put up with parking on Marshall St. to shop downtown, but everyone started going to the King of Prussia Plaza, where they'd park the same distance away just to get inside the first store.

If I want to go to Centre Theater, I have to negotiate a fish hook manuever, going at lest 2 blocks out of my way. If I can't find parking, I have to drive around several blocks to get back near the theater. If I see a spot on the other side of the street, I can't get across the next lane to get to it. It helps that Main St. is 2-way now, but really, why not simply make Dekalb 2-way as well? People from the North End, or from East Norriton and beyond would be able to get downtown so much easier.

If I need to go to Municipal Hall or, say, to the lawyer who handled my dad's estate, at Airy and Church, I have to go even farther out of my way. And while we're on the subject of Airy--it's a drag strip for people trying to hurry through town. Why? Because the lights are timed in such a way that if you're going the speed limit, you have to stop for every one. If you're speeding, you can hit every green light. The lights actually encourage people to race through town. The lights on Dekalb aren't timed much better.

The shopping district on West Marshall is working. The street is 2-way. I realize that's not the only factor in the West-End's success, but imagine what a pain finding a parking spot would be if West Marshall only ran west?

Articles have been written since the turn of the millenium on how detrimental one-way streets are to small downtowns. Municipalities across America have finally begun to realize that a 1950s downtown traffic pattern that encourages cars to keep moving is a bad thing for local economies. One-way streets lead people away from the downtown instead of creating more direct access to stores and restaurants.

So think about it, Norristown. Let's get out of the 1950s. The only streets that need to be one-way are ones too narrow for 2-way traffic. The main thoroughfares ought to be 2-way. We ought to be bringing people INTO town, not encouraging them to leave.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Coming up in the Next Week

If you look at the town calendar on, you'd think nothing is going on in this burg all weekend or even most of this month. Not true. Check out the community calendar of The Norristown Project, in collaboration with Montgomery County OIC and Norristown Area CTC & Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative. You don't have to sign in to Facebook to view it.

Here's a little of what's happening the next week:

Every Tuesday at Friday afternoon from 4 to 7 pm is Teen Game Day at at the Library. Open to all county teens. Come play Super Smash Brothers Brawl on the Wii, or  Yu-Gi-Oh! XBOX 360 Halo, Madden, Marvel and Burnout.

The Independent Voices Festival is happening this month at the Centre Theater. That means a variety short-run plays between now and January 19th. UP FROM THE ASHES opened last night and runs through Sunday. This one-woman play examines the labor movement’s efforts before and after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory of 1911. Tickets $20. Also, Sunday night and next Friday at 8 pm: LOOKING FOR URANUS. Eric Single presents a one-man comedic show. Thursday at 8 pm, SUBDIVISION, a new play by Dave Ebersole. Tickets $10-20.

LEGO Club at the Library, Saturdays, 10:30 to noon, for ages 4-12. LEGOs provided. Come and build.

Next Tuesday, 6:30-7:30 pm at GNPAL, Law Enforcement Explorers Program. Open to 14-20 year-olds interested in a career in law enforcement. Questions? Please contactl Lt. Rich Clowser, 610-270-0496,

Tuesday, 7 pm - First Planning Commission meeting of the year. The only thing on the agenda is the consideration of a recommendation to approve proposed amendment to provisions of the Zoning Ordinance amending the standards for non-residential Real Estate Temporary banner signs, to allow for temporary signs that are proportional to the building size.

Next Saturday, January 18th, is the town-wide Day of Service, facilitated this year by The Norristown Project. Three buildings will be the focus of the day: The Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC-Old Hancock School on Arch St.) from 9 am to noon, Selma Mansion at 1301 W. Airy from noon to 3 pm, and Centre Theater on Dekalb from 3  to 7 pm. You can volunteer at 1, 2 or all 3. The OIC project will involve removing old furniture and unused items out of the basement and giving the walls a good scrub. The Selma project will also include clearing the basement, but if there are enough volunteers, they'll do some general cleaning and possibly paint scraping upstairs as well. I don't have details on the Centre Theater project yet. More info next week. The Norristown Project would like to get a count of interested volunteers, so if you intend to go to any or all, please email or sign up for them on TNP's facebook page.

Last thing today, you can help the 7 families displaced by last week's fire on Minor St. Both George Washington Carver Community Center, 249 East Jacoby St. (Monday- Friday from 6-8 pm) and GNPAL at 340 Harding Blvd, Norristown, 610-278-8040, are accepting food, monetary donations, clothes and other supplies.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What To Do With Montgomery Hospital?

As a building, I've taken Montgomery Hospital for granted most of my life. It's in my general neighborhood. Between that and Sacred Heart, I got used to the sounds of sirens going up and down my street at all hours of the day.

My first experience visiting a patient there was when my brother had both his tonsils and appendix removed in the same year. I was five. The first time I walked in on my own to visit someone was 7th grade when my best friend had part of a kidney removed. Starting in 1987, for 21 years, my parents took turns being admitted at least once a year. If you add up the hours spent with them in the emergency room, it would probably equal a full week. One time they were even admitted to the ER, then to the hospital, on the same day. Then there was the day Dad went into surgery for a spinal procedure while Mom was upstairs being committed to the hospice wing. My mom died there. Much of the tragedy in my life is associated with that hospital.

But good things happened there, too. My brothers and I, many of my cousins, and all my high school friends were born there, along with thousands of other babies. Most of the people I ever visited there got well and came home. The cafeteria had really good, cheap, soft-serve ice cream. And whenever one or the other of my parents was put into a west-facing room on the top floor, we saw some of the best sunsets from the window. Great view of the West End. You can see Limerick's cooling towers from up there. I even chose Montgomery's ER and surgical prep areas to use as settings in my novel FEAR ITSELF.

Montgomery Hospital opened in 1932, right at the height of the Depression, before FDR's WPA programs, when building project just weren't happening anywhere in the U.S. It's a miracle the hospital opened at all, but it helped put residents to work when work was desperately needed. It replaced Charity Hospital at the corner of Powell and Basin, which looked more like a Victorian mansion. The new building was designed in the Art Deco style, looking ultra modern and cutting-edge at the time. It's a beautiful example of the style, with its vertical lines of blond and dark blond bricks, with decorative brick patterns around the top floor. The original building was shaped like an H, though so many additions have been added over the years, it's hard to envision how it must have looked in 1932.

I've heard that Einstein (who still owns the property) and a developer have plans to level everything on the block and build low-rise "senior housing." I've been assured by an architect that the original hospital building is sound, so I have to wonder, why knock it down when it would be a PERFECT building for senior housing. Anything they could build couldn't possibly be better quality or better looking construction. Given Norristown's track record with developers lately, the construction would likely be cheap and look it.

But beyond that, what would their low-rise housing include? I've performed concerts and other programs at about a dozen different retirement homes and senior communities around the Delaware Valley. The successful ones have lots of community gathering areas, because being a senior living away from family can be extremely lonely. They have a large community room or auditorium or both. They have laundry rooms. Some have a computer room, a library, a games room, a gym, a snack room. They have access to the kinds of shops seniors need, usually within walking distance. Residents at Rittenhouse regularly walk to Rite-Aid, Plymouth Produce, Family Dollar, National Penn Bank, Dunkin' Donuts, etc. Le Cons Pharmacy is across the street from Montgomery Hospital on Powell, and the medical building, assuming the doctors who are there stay and more move back in. There's a parking garage for visitors and staff. But what else is there?

If Montgomery Hospital were retro-fitted for senior housing, the lobby could become a little mall for retail shops and a cafe, for the convenience of the seniors but also open to the public. The rest of the bottom floor could be used for the above kinds of amenities plus a large community room and dining hall.  And the residents on the top floors would get those great views of town.

I wouldn't object to knocking some of the additions to provide more park-like green space around the building where seniors or the public could walk or sit, and to showcase more of the original building from the outside. But level everything? We've had too much of our precious historical architecture destroyed already. Rittenhouse was retro-fitted for senior housing--the apartments are gorgeous and the building does the neighborhood proud. Montgomery could work the same way. Let's keep the 1932 Art Deco building and bring it back to its former glory.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Turning Blight Into Beautiful

I wanted to share a video today, but Blogger isn't letting me embed it, so go to and watch it there (if it asks, choose WHYY as your channel). You don't have to sign in to watch it.

If you skip the rest of this blog but watch the first 15 minutes of this video, I'd be content. If you make the connection with parts of Norristown, and you think "If they can do this in Flint, Michigan, why can't we do it here?"--I'd be happy.

This little half-hour documentary is part of PBS's series Local USA. I viewed it twice, then asked myself how Flint's demographics compare with Norristown. A quick look at the 2012 census shows that Flint is nearly 3 times our population and covers over 33 square miles (compared to Norristown's piddly 4). Flint has 4 times as many housing units, but their homes are worth on average a third the cost of ours, and their median household income is only around $27,000 compared to our $42,000. We've got about 20% of our population living below poverty level while they've got 40%. In other words, they're bigger and much worse off.

You may have noticed on the video that Flint's more spread out than us. We have about 9700 people per square mile. Flint has only 3000. Pictures of their urban blight include single houses with big lawns. So you might think, this is why urban gardening can work there--they have the extra land.

But many Norristown gardeners grow food and have nice flower gardens in their small yards. My vegetable/herb garden takes up only about 100 square feet (picture a 10 by 10 foot square), but I get enough peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and beans from it to supplement my diet pretty well for 4 months, to stock my freezer with tomato puree and frozen beans all winter, and to keep me and all my friends in dried herbs forever. Plus, eating what I grow means the freshest food with no pesticides, and for less than I pay retail.

The Norristown Project has made headway cleaning up our neighborhoods, but they'll tell you that sometimes only a week later, the trash comes back. That's what happens when people feel like they live in a place that's worthless. Having vacant lots and blighted properties in Norristown, their yards full of trash, simply feeds this feeling of worthlessness. But plant a few flowers or vegetables in summer, turn those ugly properties into garden green space, and we'd change attitudes towards Norristown inside and out.

Now, I'm sure some members of our government would have the same reaction as the Flint government had in the video--say no to everything, because somehow, gardens threaten development. But we don't have to be as short-sighted as that. (Actually, I read this morning that Flint's government has seen the light and done a one-eighty on their position). We could realize that green space doesn't have to be permanent, and that a vacant lot that looks good is apt to sell for a higher price than one that looks like a slum. We can start downtown with the vacant lots on Main. Turn them into gardens. I guarantee it'll make a difference in bringing business in.

Who's going to do the work? We've got plenty of gardeners in town who'd help out, but like in the first segment of the video,  we can also teach our kids the value of growing things--teach them where their food comes from. Greater Norristown PAL has a program like this, and a great community garden behind their building on Harding Blvd. We can expand on this. Let church groups, school classes, scout troops, or other youth organizations adopt a vacant lot. And best of all, gardening is an activity that families can do together.

Why am I talking about gardening in the middle of winter? That's what gardeners do. I'm going to be planting the first seeds for next season's vegetable garden indoors in 4 to 6 weeks, so it's not too soon to start planning.

Flint, MI is a much bigger mess than Norristown. If they can make it work there, we could make it work here. It's never too soon to start planning.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Letter to Norristown's Council Members

Dear Council,

Welcome to the start of a new year.

When I began writing this Diary last summer, my thought was to post an article maybe 2 or 3 times a week, as I got time. I learned quickly that Norristown is not a cause you adopt on a part-time basis. It's more of a lifestyle, a vocation. The truth is, there's so much going on in this town, some of it scary, but most of it wonderful and positive, that frequently I've found I can't always keep up.

As a councilperson, you COULD simply show up twice a month for meetings, with an occasional extra closed-door session, plus a handful of town-wide events where you stand behind the council president and look dutiful. You could do all that and consider your job done.

I invite you to do more. There's something going on nearly every week in this town, especially in the warmer months. If an event in town, no matter how small, is open to the public, please show up and support the group hosting it. Yes, I know there's a rule against all councilpersons being in one place at the same time unless it's an official meeting. Well, this might sound like a foreign concept for some of you, but you COULD coordinate your attendance and come at half-hour intervals. Often weekend events overlap--so 2 or 3 members of council could go to each.

Norristown volunteers love it when a councilperson takes interest and comes to an event. And they notice who doesn't. For a lot of them, the most they'll need from you is encouragement, but that's a precious commodity in this borough. Much of what's wrong with this town boils down to attitude. Volunteers can get frustrated and discouraged if they feel they're alone and if everyone else is saying "It can't be done." We need council reps to be cheerleaders for these group efforts.

Besides supporting our organizations, getting out to events will give you a chance to get to know your constituents. To this end, I also invite you to regularly patronize Norristown's businesses, and to take walks around our neighborhoods. Talk to people. Get familiar with the problem areas, and with those parts of town that we ought to be boasting about. Especially make an effort to get out of your comfort zone and meet residents outside your usual circles.

The residents and business people in Norristown are ready for good things to happen this year. We want to be partners with Council in making those things happen, instead of feeling that you're fighting us all the way, or not keeping us informed, or not taking our side.

So, you can get bogged down in your resolutions and disbursements and motions, and spend your time in back-room deals with outside developers and corporations that don't have Norristown's best interests at heart. Or you can look at the bigger picture, join our vision for the borough, and become a part of, or even lead, this community's renaissance.

Best of luck.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Snow (non) Removal, and Council Returns

SO, it snowed last Thursday. The storm was over by 6 am Friday morning. And yet, no plow or salt truck came down my street for another 27 hours, and I live on a main thoroughfare. What was up with that?

I'd read on Facebook that our town government was closed Friday, but I assumed that meant non-essential personnel. The day after a blizzard, plow and salt truck drivers are NOT non-essential. I wondered if they simply forgot my street, but when a friend picked me up on Saturday night, I saw that the only completely cleared streets were PennDOT jurisdiction. Our main roads, like Fornance and Sterigere, were still slushy and icy, and our smaller streets--Astor and Logan, for instance-- were completely snowcovered. Surrounding communities, as far away as Malvern, were clear.

So who made the decision to wait a day? If you've lived in this climate more than a year or two, you learn that the longer you let snow lay, the harder it is to remove. Anything over about 4 inches, the bottom inch or so always turns to ice. Was this a matter of our new borough manager from Georgia not understanding that this wasn't even a deep snow by our standards? We don't shut down our town for 7 inches. Are we simply being stingy with the 2014 budget? Whatever the reason, I hope N-town does a better job next storm.

Okay, rant over. On the schedule for tonight is our first Council meeting of the year--Monday, instead of their usual Tuesday, and at 7 pm instead.of their usual 7:30 pm. TWO agendas were on the town website, and were posted over the weekend! I hope this new trend toward timeliness continues.

The first agenda is for Council's reorganization. New council members will be installed at 7 pm, then the council will vote for the posts of Council President and Vice President. According to our homerule charter, a new president and a new V.P. are to be installed at the beginning of each new year. The positions are supposed to rotate so no one person ends up in a position of power for more than a year. And, frankly, those positions are designed NOT to have that much power--besides running council meetings, the president really only has ceremonial duties equal to a mayor. But, like other democratic offices, the people in them have as much power as the rest of council and the taxpayers allow. We're the checks and balances of the system.

After the officers are installed, the agenda says that the Council President will name committee chairs and vice chairs (which to me implies that the old council members have already picked who is going to be president before the new members are installed--unless everyone comes prepared to appoint chairs, even new members?).

Next all the appointments are made for the coming year -- no big surprises. The only difference is the Finance Director. Apparently Mr. Zawisza is never coming back. No explanation. Rochelle Rawlins wil be installed as Interim Finance Director.

The 2nd agenda is for the 1st actual meeting of the new council, following the installations. The only things on it are a motion to approve disbursements, which are listed as "pending," and a motion to approve a resolution dealing with handicapped parking requests.

So another council year begins. Play ball.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Help Save Norristown

That sounds like a tall order for the New Year, but you can fairly easily help save parts of Norristown, namely the architecture and history.

On their Facebook page this morning, The Norristown Preservation Society announced a sale on 2014 membership dues. If you send in a check for $10 on or before January 18th, you become a member for the coming year.

Ten bucks is pretty cheap for membership in any organization these days, but the NPS says they want to get more residents of Norristown involved, plus encourage history buffs from the surrounding area to help us save what we've got.

For your dues, you get

-- a monthly email newsletter telling you about upcoming events and meetings, updating you on the status of the Selma Mansion restoration, N-town preservation news, and more.
-- discounted admission to all NPS events.
-- invitations to members-only events, like our annual picnic and year-end meeting.
-- bragging rights that you're a part of the preservation of Norristown's long and important history, and of the town's unique architecture.

To join,  send your check for $10 along with your name, address and email, before January 18th to

Norristown Preservation Society
P.O. Box 2097
Norristown, PA 19404-2097

The first issue of the newsletter will come out around January 8th. If you're sending a check for dues, to make sure you get the first newsletter, also send an email saying you joined to with "NPS" in the subject line. Some of you may recognize that as my business email address. That's right--I volunteered to write the newsletter.

There's also a discount on dues for anyone who volunteered at Selma events in 2013. If you were a volunteer, include with your check a list of the events you worked at, and deduct a dollar for each event from your payment. So if you were one of the lovely ladies who modeled 19th century fashions last May or one of the ghouls popping out the woodwork at the Ghost Tours last October, you get a break on your dues as a thank you.

Why is it important to get Norristown residents and businesses involved with historical and architectural preservation? As I've said before, our "look" is one of our best architectural assets. I'm getting tired of hearing people tell me how great the old buildings look in Phoenixville and Doylestown and Malvern, now that they've been cleaned up and brought business back to their downtowns. Malvern built a set of big ugly apartment buildings last year on their main drag. I drove through last night--the new buildings sit dark and empty, while the old section of King Street looks alive and inviting. We don't need tall ugly behemoths downtown. We need to promote the architecture we've got. And for that, we need citizens coming forward to protest all threats of demolition.

I want people saying how great Norristown looks this time next year.