Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Einstein, Round 2

Here's a reminder about the Town Hall Meeting tonight regarding Montgomery Hospital, at 6 pm in the Community Room of the Human Services Center on Dekalb and Fornance. Yes, it'll probably be raining and you won't feel like going out. It's been more than a month since the last Town Hall, so it's hard even to remember what the controversy was about. And isn't the demolition of Montgomery Hospital a done deal anyway? At least, that's what everyone's saying.

That's what Einstein hopes you'll be thinking.

Let me refresh your memories. At last month's meeting, Einstein (the owner of the property) and Elon (the developer) came in like steamrollers. They said that the hospital buildings weren't historic, and implied that they were structurally unsafe and that the neighborhood was in imminent danger. Besides fear tactics, they sought to disempower opposing opinions by speaking as if the hospital were already leveled and there was no turning back. They kept saying if we don't go along with their plan, we'll be left with a vacant building forever. They also glossed over the real danger to the community--the demolition process--and failed to mention that the new buildings would be made of wood, not masonry.

You all DO understand that these strategies weren't spur of the moment, right? They're pros at this sort of crowd control.

In the month since, the Preservation Society has found documented proof that the buildings are not only on the Pennsylvania Register of Historic Places, but have been declared by the National Park Service as eligible for the National Register. Einstein very likely knew about these documents 2 years ago. Demolishing a historic property like this means the developer can't access federal funding at all, and possibly couldn't get state funding either.

Architects and contractors have looked at the outside walls of the buildings and have found no cracks or other structural defects. A wall did fall down early this year, but it was a cosmetic wall used as a fence behind the Horsey Pavilion. It fell because it had been mostly free standing and not tied into a building the way regular walls are. Also, the Horsey Pavilion was built in 1975, and the construction was not up to the same quality as the older buildings. It's not considered a historical part of the property, therefore it can, and probably should be demolished, leaving more room for on-site parking.

Einstein kept saying the buildings were too many square feet and too wide to be developed. Only the Horsey Pavilion is too wide, and without it, the square footage is comparable to Elon's plans.

But beyond all that, Einstein's and Elon's plans violate Norristown's Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code. There's nothing in what they have planned that could be considered in Norristown's best interest, which isn't surprising since nothing Einstein has done since buying Montgomery Hospital has been good for our town. They've taken easy access to healthcare out of the heart of our community, along with one of our largest sources of jobs. Now they want to destroy one of our most historic buildings. Does that sound like someone who cares about us?

So put on your raincoat tonight and come out to hear both sides of the issue, and to voice your opinion.

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