Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Montco's 2040 Plan: Overcrowd Norristown

Before I get to the main rant, Linda Christian is holding a 3rd District Town Hall on Tuesday, Feb 11 from 6 to 7 pm at the Human Resources Center (old Sacred Heart, Dekalb and Fornance). A representative of Einstein will be there to present their plans for the Montgomery Hospital site (ie, that they want to demolish the building). The Montgomery Hospital building has be determined to be eligible for the National Register, so we don't want to lose it. If you signed the petition, please come to the meeting and voice your opinion, and bring your neighbors so they can voice theirs. If you haven't signed, click on the photo of the hospital in the right column and please sign.

Speaking of outsiders trying to plan our future for us as if we were 5 year-olds, I went to the Montco Planning Commission "workshop" last night at Centre Theater. I was the ONLY Norristown resident who attended.

Before I tell you about the meeting, you should know that you can still register your opinion online by taking Montco's survey. They said they have 2400 surveys so far, and you can bet none are from Norristown, so please do it. You can read about the 2040 Plan here (not that it's all that informative) and take the survey here (if this link doesn't work, use the link on the Montco website).

The workshop was actually very short. They started late and it was still done within an hour. I got the impression everyone but me had heard it before and wanted to rush out of there to go home to dinner.

First there was an overview that was essentially an almost word-for-word quote from their website, that is: "Montgomery County is in the process of preparing a comprehensive plan for the entire county. This plan will provide an overall framework for local municipal plans and will provide guidance on issues that transcend local boundaries, such as highways, public transportation, flooding, trails, growth trends, redevelopment trends, shopping needs, impact of large developments, overall housing needs, natural systems, and economic growth."

It was stressed, however, that the county anticipated a growth of 94,000 more residents by the year 2040. They said they needed to plan where to put those people. They also said their solution to improving neighborhoods was sidewalks. In fact, "sidewalks" seems to be Montco's mantra. And though I believe sidewalks are a good thing, I can't see how they'll solve all the issues listed in the last paragraph.

After that, they were apparently supposed to do a "Money Allocation Scenario." I think this would have been good, so I could see where they normally spend funding and what the county priorities were. But then we were told, no, they were skipping this step. I don't know why. I know they did in in the other workshops around the county. Maybe they thought Norristonians unable to do math. And like I said, they were rushing through the presentation. Whatever, they SHOULD have included it and didn't.

After that, they held a "Land Use Discussion," which started with the difference between high and low density development. Low density is what you see in the suburbs--single houses on big lots. High, to the presenters last night, seemed to consist only of high-rise apartment buildings. We were told that high rise apartments would be ideal "infill development" for Norristown. This is basically where I said "no."

I pointed out that, unless Montco is going to come in and give us loads of money to solve parking, trash, water runoff and snow removal and other problems caused by people living too close together, that they shouldn't expect a poorer community like Norristown to solve their population problems, simply because the people in the richer communities don't want to give up their low density lifestyles. We don't want more apartments in Norristown, we want more homeowners.

They asked what I'd do with the vacant lots across and up the street (Dekalb and Main). I said this was the downtown and the Arts Hill district (from talking with attendees before the meeting, I found none who knew we HAD an Arts Hill district). Development should either be retail stores, restaurants, or arts venues, like galleries, theaters, etc. They could have apartments upstairs, but the buildings should blend in with the existing Victorian/Art Deco/1940s look of the downtown. They shouldn't be over 4 or 5 stories in that area. They shouldn't make canyons out of Main Street.

They pointed out that Conshohocken had highrises. I pointed out that Conshohocken also had flooding problems because of poorly planned development (not to mention that a lot of Conshy's highrises are still empty).

I also could have pointed out, if they hadn't been so busy rushing us out of there, that we just spent a lot of time redoing our zoning codes, with the guidance of the Montco Planning Commission, and those zoning codes specify where and how high apartment buildings can be in Norristown.

They said Norristonians should also be encouraged to attend an Open House at the Montco Planning Commission offices (Montgomery Plaze, suite 201), on Wednesday, Feb 12, from 3:30 to 6:30 pm. I said that we were a working community and that an evening open house would be better. No one cared.

I'm really getting tired of outsiders thinking they know what's best for Norristown. I'm tired of people like the Montco Planning Commission making a show of accessibility, then scheduling workshops like this for times when working people simply can't get there, then rushing through the presentation. That tells me they don't value us or our community at all.

So go online and fill out the survey. Let's fill up their inbox with our opinions.


  1. The Planning Commission is well aware of Norristown Arts Hill as an Arts District. In fact, Norristown Arts Council was contacted by one of it's representatives a month ago to gain permission and instructions about including a major art contest of theirs in the 5th Annual Norristown Arts Hill Festival. They have been working on the project with a Norristown Arts Hill Founder/former Norristown Arts Council Board member via Create Montco planing meetings. The contest is a great one that challenges artists in the greater area to reuse/repurpose newspaper honor boxes.

    1. The Planning Commission might know about Arts Hill, but none of the attendees who were there before the meeting started (maybe 8 people) knew about it, or perhaps they'd heard but didn't know they were in it. That said, the people from the Planning Commission running the show had obviously never considered that those vacant lots might be filled with arts-related venues or businesses, even though it was Arts Hill. They seem to view Arts Hill as a vague concept instead of a place.

      I did hear about the contest and it sounds interesting. I understand ACPPA might enter it.

  2. Well said regarding the timing of most of these meetings/workshops. As a 2 working parents 1 car household we are rarely home before 7:00 pm. I'm seriously considering bringing our 2 preschoolers with me just so I can voice my opinions/concerns/hopes. My husband will be happy to take the train home!