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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.