Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Council Agenda: Zoning, Consultants, Police, etc.

There's a Council Meeting tonight at 7:30 pm in Municipal Hall, with a few interesting items on the agenda.

First, and to my mind, the most interesting, is the discussion about the new zoning ordinance. Remember the workshops last fall? If you don't, click here, scroll down to the bottom, to the August 12, 2013 blog, which was my first Diary entry on the workshops. You can scroll up from there to find the others.

Several residents and I attended these workshops. We were told that our input was important, but were also frequently given the impression that they'd rather have us sit there and listen politely instead. But I think, after several months of these workshops, we let Norristown and County Planning know which zoning changes we liked and which we hated. The plans for the residential areas, with a block-by-block zoning that wouldn't allow housing that's unlike anything else on the block, seemed to be the best plan--assuming it's followed and variances aren't given out to developers like Halloween candy. We told them we didn't mind tall buildings at the riverfront downtown (as long as they were sensibly designed so as not to restrict the riverbank and cause flooding), but that we didn't want anything taller than about 4-6 stories on Main, so views of the river and our historic buildings wouldn't be compromised. We had to remind them constantly where the Central Historic District borders were (you'd think planners would know). I think we came away with a much better zoning ordinance than we started with, and MUCH better than what we've got now. The new ordinance would give our zoning board and planning departments teeth. Projects like the ultra-dense development at 1202 Dekalb wouldn't be allowed.

But here it is, the 4th month in the new year and the zoning ordinance is FINALLY coming up in front of council, which makes me wonder where it's been. The agenda item says: "To discuss the latest draft of the proposed zoning ordinance and map and to move forward with the public hearing and adoption process." I find myself wondering how much the ordinance has been changed since the last workshop, and whether any changes reflect what was discussed in the workshops. Still, that's what the public hearing process is for.

Another interesting item on tonight's agenda is the Small Business Development update. We've had a few new places, like Mina Mart, open recently, and I'd love to hear if more new businesses are in the offing.

Two items have to do with hiring consulting firms to administer the Housing Rehabilitation Program and the Historic Facade Improvement Program. I'm always a bit skeptical about the borough hiring consultants because we so rarely hear about them again. We hear that so-and-so was awarded $35,000 then we don't hear any kind of result. Possibly this is just a communications failure. But if we start hearing about houses being rehabbed and facades being improved, I'll be the first to congratulate these firms.

Other agenda items cover a Joint Task Force on Policing (between Norristown's force, the County Sheriff, the D.A., and SEPTA police), and a proposed requirement that absentee landlords must use local property managers.

The agenda has other items as well. You can view it here. If something strikes your fancy, come to the Council Meeting tonight and weigh in.

1 comment:

  1. Great comments Elena. All consultants must provide regular reports to the Municipality and the progress is reported out at Council meetings periodically. That information is public info just for the asking. On average people receiving assistance from the NSBAC are mainly micro-enterprises, those with 1 to 6 employees and needing less than $50,000 in start-up capital. Most of the work of the NSBAC impacted micro-enterprise and home based businesses. During the past 18+ months with the utilization of the Enterprise Center Capital Corporation/Norristown Micro-Loan Program business development has been able to impact Main Street via Banh Mi, the E. Airy neighborhood with Mina Mart and others. Technical assistance is provided to an enormous amount of entrepreneurs regarding financing, zoning and the like. Too numerous to list here, but several Main Street merchants have benefited from the NSBAC's counseling. I'm hopeful with the newly proposed small business development that more funding will be included for micro-enterprises and small business to provide start-up financing and greater and more coordinated assistance. It takes an average from two to three years or more to officially get a business started. Two factors here are experience (education) and capital. Education is learning the process of how to start the business, Municipal, County, State, Federal regulations etc. And then the perseverance in carrying it out. The key to any of the proposed programs is communications and implementation, I am just as eager as you to see in the months to come how these decisions will develop. I'm an optimist so I do believe that great things are about to happen for Norristown. The new Zoning ordinance is a win-win for Montgomery County and Norristown in particular.