Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Too Much Arrogance In One Place

At the Town Hall Meeting last night in the 3rd District, Einstein and Elon/Altman used the same tactics employed by some of our most notorious members of Congress: fear and disempowerment.

The accomplished the latter by speaking as if their whole demolish-the-hospital/build-new-housing plan were already finalized, funded, approved by Zoning, Planning and Council, and loved and applauded by the community. They said they're going to start internal demolition of the historic building March 1st, BEFORE any of the approvals have even been sought, and long before Elon knows if it can get funding. In fact, Elon won't even know if they can get funding before the whole block's been completely leveled. Einstein said they tried and tried to find an economic solution that would allow them to leave the 1934 structure standing, but that it wasn't financially feasible. And yet, they and Elon are spending 4 million on demolition.

They SAID they wanted community input last night, but in reality, they didn't want to hear criticism. They didn't want to compromise. They wouldn't bend at all. They don't want ANYONE in Norristown to feel they have any power to fight against them. They were arrogant and treated residents like children. "Don't worry, little ones. Papa Einstein and Papa Elon knows what's best for you."

And to make sure they got their way, they used fear tactics. They had half the residents in that room last night believing that the hospital building could fall down at any second. They painted themselves as the good guys, removing an imminent danger from the community. But they presented no proof of structural problems.

On the positive side, the only person who got any applause last night was Doug Seiler, a restoration architect who has his business in Norristown. He had in hand documents from the state showing that Montgomery Hospital is considered a historic building and is a candidate for the National Register of Historic Places. He pointed out that because of this, Elon would be eligible for up to 20% in Federal funding if they restored the 1934 building instead of demolishing it. Doug believes the 1934 structure to be sound and able to be repurposed.

When Einstein and Elon said the building was too big to be economically feasible, Doug pointed out that the 1934 structure by itself was about 120,000 square feet and that their plans for new housing was about the same. The rest of the buildings and additions on the property (the ones that really may be a danger, like McShea Hall) could be removed.

Let's look at Elon's plan. They propose 2 L-shaped, 4-story, apartment buildings of 50 units each (almost all one bedroom), with entrances in the bend of each L. A 3rd building on the corner of Fornance and Powell would be a "Community Life Center" which would hold adult day care, shuttles that could take residents to shopping centers, and "other amentities" that were never defined. The Life Center would have a parking lot for 32 cars, plus there'd be another lot for 19 cars where the McShea lot is now. Other parking would be available in the parking garage. Elon said seniors tended not to drive anyway. (My dad drove until he was 80 years old, then still refused to sell his car.)

Elon says these apartments are being built with seniors in mind, but really, they reminded me more of the dorm where I lived in college. Imagine being a single woman in her 70s, having to come home on a rainy night, parking in a lonely garage, taking the elevator down to street level (they're demolishing the bridge), crossing Powell in the middle of the block in the dark, then having to walk another half block just to get in the entrance of her apartment building. (Really Elon? You couldn't put entrances right off the sidewalk on Powell?)  Then after taking an elevator to her floor, perhaps having to walk the equivalent of another half block if her apartment is at the end of the hall. There are back entrances to the buildings, but no place a friend or relative could pick up a resident without blocking the drive or having the senior walk to the car under a roof like they can at Rittenhouse.

One woman in the audience last night asked why the community center wasn't between the two apartment buildings, where the residents could have easy access to it. The answer was, essentially, "We know what we're doing and you don't."

Elon said they designed "independent living" housing for seniors so they can stay in their homes longer (meaning, I suppose, in one of Elon's apartments instead of going into a nursing facility). They said that 62 year-olds are pretty active, so their design was good. They seemed to have no idea that 62 year-olds eventually age into their 70s and beyond and will use canes and walkers. They had no notion that nearly all 62 year-olds these days drive cars, yet many, woman especially, feel vulnerable enough because of their age that they don't want to walk long distances in the dark. They had no notion that many seniors won't leave a beloved home to move to an apartment unless they're having physical problems.

Moreover, Elon says they're building in phases, putting up an apartment building at Powell and Wood first (assuming they can get funding). There won't be a Life Center with a shuttle or "amenities" for those residents. If residents don't drive, the only retail nearby is LeCons Pharmacy. No sandwich shops, no groceries, nothing. This isn't independent living. Depending on funding, they may build the 2nd apartment building next, then the Life Center. Or if the first is a bust, the others may never be built at all. For that matter, they may not get funding for the first. It'll be Logan Square all over again, minus a historic building we could have saved.

But I suspect fear and disempowerment will win out, as they usually do. Residents will be too scared of an empty building, and feel too helpless to do urge their lawmakers to find a better solution. I only ask Council to, please, do what you can to stop Einstein/Elon from demolishing the 1934 structure until Elon's funding is assured.

I can tell you for sure, I won't be trusting Elon/Altman Group as landlords when and if I ever need a senior apartment. And if I ever pass out in your presence and you feel the need to call me an ambulance, tell them to take me to Mercy instead of Einstein.

1 comment:

  1. This is disgraceful....people of Norristown need to take against this craziness....not thought out except to fatten the wallets of Elon/Altman Group