Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Will Council Support US?

The agenda for tonight's council meeting (7:30 pm, Municipal Hall) is on the town website. The gist of it is:

- Final approval for the new apartment building at the Curren Terrace Apartment Complex,
- Public hearing and approval for 1 apartment on the 2nd and 3rd floor of 219 E. Main,
- The appointment of a municipal auditor,
- Ratification of a letter of support to Penrose Properties (they spelled it wrong (should be Pennrose),
- Donation of a piece of equipment to Plymouth EMS,
- Approval for the hiring of a new police officer, consolidating handicapped parking, and reducing the speed limit on Dekalb,
- Approval to advertise code ordinance changes regarding nuisance vegetation, and snow and ice removal.

To me, most of that list seems pretty straightforward. The 1st 2 items have been before Planning. Things like hiring an auditor and new police personnel have been mentioned before. And as ironic as code changes about snow and ice removal sound, considering how poorly the municipality handled their end of the bargain in January and February of this year, this is only approval for advertisement--we can still yell about the changes if they seem unreasonable. Nothing is necessarily permanent about code ordinance, unlike the item below.

One item caught my eye because it's so vague: "Motion to ratify a letter of support to Penrose Properties." What IS that? Pennrose owns Rittenhouse School Apartments. Is it something to do with that property? Pennrose also nearly was allowed to put up a horrendous apartment building at Dekalb and Airy last year. You remember, first they said all market-rate apartments with retail on the first floor, then a small percentage of low-income subsidized apartments that kept growing until it became the majority--60%, then we heard some of the retail would be sacrificed to 1st floor apartments. The planned building was ugly, went against all HARB guidelines for the district, and would have been placed right on the corner, blocking views of the Prison and St. John's Church. The parking lot would be entirely for the apartment residents, eliminating the future parking needs of Arts Hill, the courthouse, the churches, and future uses of the Prison. It was a plan that seemed to purposefully go against anything Norristown residents could possibly want for their downtown. 1800 people signed a petition against that development and still, Council ignored the taxpayers they were elected to represent and sided with Pennrose.

The only thing that stopped it was when Pennrose's funding was denied by the state.

So now, tonight, Council will vote on a letter of support for Pennrose. What are they supporting exactly? Is that nightmarish development being proposed again?

The thing is, this scenario repeats over and over with Council, if not with Pennrose, then Sarah Peck, or Einstein/Elon, or any carpetbagger who shows up at our door with a development plan. I don't want to imply that all developers are bad for Norristown, they aren't. Hallman Retirement, who's developing the Kennedy-Kenrick property into a senior housing complex, seems to want to work within the needs of the community, with as few zoning variances as possible. They aren't trying to build too dense or destroy landmark buildings. They aren't considering their profit more important than our visions for Norristown. They aren't taking advantage of public funding at our expense.

But Council doesn't seem to differentiate good development from bad. A red flag should go up anytime a developer asks that zoning and other ordinances (like our laws regarding the demolition of historic buildings) be ignored just for them. Another red flag, when the developer asks for money to revise their plans to accommodate zoning and protests--that's nothing but an extortion scheme. Yet often they get their way AND they get taxpayer money. But Council, over and over, sides with bad developers, no matter how many taxpayers protest.

So, what's in this letter of support? Why not put some description about it on the agenda? Whatever it is, instead of supporting Pennrose, I think we need to tell them to fulfill one of their old abandoned promises about Rittenhouse: to renovate the auditorium for public use. And from what I've heard from apartment dwellers at Rittenhouse since January, the roof is in serious need of repair. I say that Pennrose needs to prove they're worthy of our support before Council ratifies a letter none of the taxpayers have read. But of course, none of us can protest because the Public Comment section of tonight's meeting is long before the agenda item regarding the letter.

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