Friday, May 30, 2014

Theater, Music, Career Oppotunities, Hazardous Waste and More

Barrymore Award recommended!
The usual weekly events can be found on the Town and Norristown Project Calendars (links to these to these in the righthand column). Below are the special events for the week.

Tonight from 6:30 to 8 pm, Beagle Tavern (1003 East Main) is hosting a Montco Marriage Equality Toast. Come celebrate. (21+ only).

You can still get tickets for tonight's 8 pm performance of "Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" at Theatre Horizon (DeKalb and Penn Sts.). That's saying a lot because Saturday's 8 pm and Sunday's 2 pm shows are SOLD OUT. They've added a 7 pm show Sunday (June 1). After that there are only 5 more chances to see the play (which has earned a recommendation for the 2014 Barrymore Awards): Monday at 7:30, a Wednesday matinee at 1:30 pm, next Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and next Sunday (June 8) at 2 pm. Tickets range: $20-31. See the Theatre Horizon website for information or call 610-283-2230.

Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm, Montgomery County will be collecting household hazardous waste at Norristown Area High School. Items you should bring: gasoline, oil, kerosene, turpentine, paint thinner, oil paint, stains, varnish, pool chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, antifreeze, caustic cleaners and solvents, mercury, thermometers, flares, fire extinguishers, lead acid batteries, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent tube light bulbs, and CFL bulbs. For complete information, go to the Montco website for the event. An Electronics Collection event is scheduled for next Saturday, June 7, same location. Info about that next week.

Sunday morning from 10:30 am to 1 pm, Coffee Talk (507 W Marshall) will host an Open Mic. This will continue the first Sunday of each month. Donation $5.

Sunday at 6 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo is hosting "Say I Do at the Zoo" wedding showcase, a bridal expo  with dozens of local vendors. Admission is a suggestion donation of $5 and includes hor d'oeuvres and 2 drinks per person (21+ only). Go to http://elmwoodparkzoo.org/event/115 to RSVP and for a list of vendors.

Sunday night at 7 pm: Summer Concert Series presents Dean Garofolo (Elvis), at Elmwood Park bandshell. Sponsored by The Arcadia Foundation. Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions call 610-270-0467.

The Community Meeting scheduled at Jus Java for Monday evening has been cancelled.
Tuesday from 9 am to 1 pm, there will be a MEGA Manufacturing Youth Summit for high school juniors and seniors at the Montgomery County Community College Science Center Auditorium. This seminar will encouraged teens to consider a career in manufacturing by letting them know what the industry has to offer. Registration is a must. Contact Carol Kelly NOW at ckelly@meainfo.org .

Tuesday at 7:30 in Municipal Hall, Municipal Council meeting. No agenda yet.

Thursday from 11 am to 4 pm, the Norristown Farmer's Market starts up again on East Main, in front of Montgomery County Courthouse. Hosted by CADCOMM. A few people last year told me they were turned away because they were told this was only for those with very low income. I was recently told this was not supposed to be the case. If anyone goes, please let me know what the deal is.

"The Fantasticks" opens next Friday, June 6th, at the Centre Theater (208 DeKalb) with an 8 pm performance. I'll have more info next week, but in the meantime, you can go to http://thecentretheater.ticketleap.com/ for ticket information.



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Collecting Norristown's Art

I think I mentioned that I've been helping the Norristown Preservation Society compile an inventory of the borough's historic architecture. For the background information, we've been using old NPS walking tours that were researched in the 1980s by former board members. So far we've got 63 photos in the collection and it's growing weekly. You can view them on the NPS Facebook page (you don't have to be signed into Facebook to see them). Just click on the individual photos to see their descriptions.

You'll notice we have a good number of public buildings in the collection--churches, schools, commercial structures--but that the majority of Norristown's fabulous architecture can be found in our houses. I thought I'd use today's Diary to share some of my favorites from West Main with you.

If you ask residents to name one historic house in Norristown, I've found that the majority will cite the Gresh Mansion (pictured above) on the 600 block of West Main. Few will mention or even know about its "twin" 6 blocks away at 1240 W. Main--the Adam Scheidt Mansion. Scheidt came from Bavaria in 1875 and built the Scheidt Brewery at Marshall and Barbadoes. He lived next door to the Gresh Mansion at first, and when he decided to build his own home in 1915, he used his old neighbor for inspiration. The house is built of Valley Forge Marble, even the porch brackets and columns which were carved to look like timbers.

But not all of the town's great architecture is mansion-sized. At 1007 and 1009 W. Main, you'll find a unique set of twin houses, built around 1880. 1009 on the left is your basic traditional twin style fairly common to Norristown. 1007 is what I think of as the evil twin--a total mash-up of styles, with a Flemish gable out front and a Tudor gable set back. There's a Roman arch facing the street and an Eastlake style dormer on the side.

922 West Main looks like something out of a Grimm fairy tale. It was likely built between 1880 and 1900, when non-symmetrical houses were in vogue. I love the curved roof with the little spires over the dormer and tower, and the long pointed corner eave. There's a slight arch over the windows echoed in the bricks showing through the stucco, and both Gothic and Roman arches on the porch. The bumped out bays keep the side of the house from being boring.


 
Here's another mansion--824 W. Main. There isn't a ho-hum square foot on its facade. The Valley Forge marble stones were laid in random courses, not straight lines, and was even used in the dormers (in most stone houses in Norristown, the dormers are wood or stucco).  The brackets around the roof line were place much closer together than any other house in town. The porch is all original. The shingles on the center tower vary in design, and fancy wood ornamentation caps the tower's top windows. My favorite part is the tower's onion-shaped roof.

My hope is that this inventory of Norristown's fine architecture can once more be used for walking tours, to encourage people to come to our community and see what great art we have in our buildings (and stick around to have dinner in our restaurants or to see a show). West Main is easily reached from the Schuylkill River Trail--we could put together self-guided cycling tours.

I'm going to be researching the East and North ends of town soon, collecting photos and information about more houses and buildings. If you have a favorite in your neighborhood (your own home?), or one that you see as you drive or walk around, let me know the address and I'll check it out. If you know any of the history, tell me that, too. Leave a comment below, or on Facebook, or email me.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When Ignorance of "Noxious" is Obnoxious

Summer is that time of year in Norristown when a code enforcer's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of overgrown lawns and gardens.

Warm weather, as it so often does, came fairly suddenly this year. A month ago, the morning temperatures were still cold. Only the bulb plants were blooming. As soon as the nights heated up a little 2 weeks ago, boom, the grass sprouted up 6 inches practically overnight. The dandelions, ground ivy and other wildflowers all bloomed within a few days. This happens every year; no one should be surprised by it.

That was in mid-May, early in the week. It was also fairly predictable that most of Norristown would mow their lawns the next weekend. This is reasonable--a lot of residents don't get home from work until it's nearly dark, and after a tiring day at work, who has the energy to mow anyway? The homeowners who didn't mow that weekend were mostly landlords who don't visit their properties and had no clue the grass was getting long, and owners who NEVER mow, and seem to never get cited for it.

However, on at least one block on W. Freedley ALL the houses got citations that week. It was as if one of the code enforcers, noticing the longer grass, decided to take advantage of the opportunity to write up citations, without giving any of the homeowners a reasonable amount of time (that is, the weekend) to mow. Frankly, if all the houses on a block are cited, especially if those houses, like the ones on W. Freedley, are normally neatly kept, the problem is with the enforcer, not the homeowners.

Poison ivy 
Furthermore, the citations were all for "noxious weeds." Now, according to the US Bureau of Land Management, a noxious weed is "any plant designated by a Federal, State or county government as injurious to public health, agriculture, recreation, wildlife or property."  Norristown, as far as I've been able to find out, follows the state designations for noxious weeds, which can be found at the USDA website. If you click on the name, you can view photos of what these weeds look like. The only one I've ever seen in my yard is thistle. I've seen the wild multiflora rose in my neighborhood. Cannabis is on the list and there's pretty good odds more than one person in town has it growing, on purpose, somewhere on their property. The rest of the list is unlikely to be found in town, though I'm fairly certain our code enforcers aren't trained in plant recognition.

One homeowner on W. Freedley said that their lawn had been mowed, but the dandelions had sprouted up after and she received a citation. Dandelions aren't noxious weeds. Quite a few people in town use them as a food source. They're also one of the first food plants in spring for honeybees. I could see citing someone who has a mess of dandelions growing out of their sidewalk (not for noxious weeds, but for unkempt property), but in a lawn, code enforcement needs to lay off if the lawn is kept mowed. That goes for other wildflowers, too. I have several on my property that I grow intentionally, like the patch of spearmint next to my back fence. If flowers like buttercups or yarrow or whatever bloom in someone's lawn and the owner chooses to mow around them until the flowers die, I don't see a problem with it as long as the grass is cut.

Ragweed 
There are a few plants I'd suggest Norristown add to its definition of "noxious weeds"--poison ivy, for one. There are places in Norristown where you can't walk down the street because great masses of poison ivy are hanging from fences or trees. That's a public health problem, yet people never seem to get cited for it. Ragweed, too, is all over town (including my backyard). It's not dangerous if you keep it mowed. Maybe only cite people who allow it to bloom. We'd all save on sinus medicine. And if you have kids in your neighborhood, it's a good idea to pull out deadly nightshade vines and pokeweed bushes--the ripe berries are tempting and can make children pretty sick, especially younger ones. If you remove any of the above, DON'T compost the plants or allow them to be mulched. Put them in your regular trash cans so they go far away to a landfill and can't come back to spread their seeds around Norristown.

Deadly nightshade 
Joe Januzelli is the director of our Codes Department. He seems like a nice, reasonable guy. I know when I've contacted him about code issues, he gets back to me fairly soon. I think the main problem isn't him, but a code enforcer or two who are a bit too Type-A-personality sometimes, and who aren't trained in recognizing plants. And of course, on the other side of the coin are all the property owners who don't maintain their lawns, gardens and sidewalks, thereby ruining it for the rest of us who do.

If you get a citation you don't think you deserve, take a photo of the spot that's supposed to be offensive, maybe using a ruler to show the height of your grass or whatever, and email it to JJanuzelli@norristown.org with your explanation. But you can also help him out but taking photos of overgrown properties and email them to him with the addresses.

Pokeberry bush
I would suggest to the Codes Department that code enforcers also carry rulers and take photos with the ruler when citing overgrown lawns. And if longer grass is seen on a lawn of a usually well-kept house, give the owners the weekend to mow it before citing them. If we get a weekend of storms, give them a few extra dry days. If the grass is still too long after that, fine, write them up.

If you've got an elderly or disabled person in your neighborhood who can't seem to keep up with their lawns and weeds, give them a hand if you're physically able to do so. Most of us have small lots and it wouldn't take too long to run your mower over your neighbor's lawn or pull a few weeds out of their sidewalk. Here's a tip: on a hot, sunny day, pour a little vinegar on your sidewalk weeds. The heat of the sun on the vinegar should kill most of them. If not, try reapplying it for a few days.

I think if both the homeowners and Codes Department stay reasonable where property care is concerned, and keep the channels of communication open, citations can be avoided, except to those folks who truly deserve them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cooperation, Not Competition

Norristown used to be a community of mostly farmers. I'm not talking hicks either--we were home to the Montgomery County Agricultural Society Institute, which had a huge campus on the West End in 1877 bordered by Stanbridge, Oak, Hamilton, and Beech. In those days, in April and May, the farmers and their families would all band together to help each other get their crops planted. They didn't compete. They knew they were responsible for the food supply of the region. If a blight or pest infestation hit a field of corn, they'd all work to try and figure out the problem, because they knew it could easily spread. They did the same each fall--all helped each other to bring in their harvests.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, because I realized I had bought pepper plants last week, the weather was heating up, and those plants had to be put in the ground as soon as possible or die. But Norristown was a busy place this past weekend--the flea market, the Riverfront cleanup--so I didn't get a chance to finish preparing the soil until yesterday. With rain in the forecast the next few days, the peppers had to be planted today--and early, because I wanted to go to the Norristown Business Association meeting at 8:30 am.

Yes, this is a rather long-winded way of explaining why the blog's late today, but also it's an analogy for how things seem to be getting on in Norristown at the moment. Too many people/organizations trying to do all that has to be done without asking for help. We have a lot going on and a lot of work coming up, in every area--from planning events to fixing our economy to keeping our town safe to building a future for N-town kids. Some of that work has to be done (or at least started) NOW.

For instance, we can't have community events and educational/recreational programs for students at Riverfront Park unless we get rid of the excess mud and weedy brush first, and help the Dragon Boat Club recover their equipment. Some of that equipment includes things like youth paddles and life vests, used to bring kids out on the river and teach them water safety and natural sciences and another way to have fun without hanging out in gangs. Sure the Dragon Boat Club will probably do everything that needs to be done eventually, but if other groups pitched in, think how much faster Riverfront could be ready for the summer's events.

We all seem to be simply waiting for the Arts Council and the theaters to invigorate Arts Hill. They do a good job, but why are we sitting back and making them do everything themselves? I was at Theatre Horizon 2 weeks ago and as I walked back to my car on DeKalb, I was struck by how empty and dark the street felt. We need night life on Arts Hill. Maybe a jazz club, an ice cream place, a microbrewery--SOMETHING that's open after performances where theater goers can stop and leave a little more money behind in town. But to attract businesses, we need to make Arts Hill LOOK like a special place more than one day a year. Riding up DeKalb, you see black streetlamps, black parking kiosks, black trash cans, and black benches. This would be fine if the street were lined with funeral parlors. We have lots of creative folks in Norristown who could band together for a community art project that would liven up the look of our arts district.

You can help the theaters just by talking up their shows. Share info on social media and by word of mouth with your friends and relatives. Easiest to do when there's a show running at one or both of the theaters. Which would be NOW for Theatre Horizon and June for Centre Theater.

What I'm trying to say here is, like those farmers from Norristown's history, our volunteer groups and businesses and government all need to let go of their "every man for himself" attitudes and start forming partnerships. We seem to get so much more done when more than one organization is involved in a project. And once projects get underway--once people start seeing progress--momentum is created for more projects.

If our local farmers had been as competitive and/or territorial as some people I've met in Norristown, early residents would have starved and we never would have become the county seat.

A year ago, I was one of the people who stayed home and didn't lift a finger to help this town. I don't have a lot of money or skills, but in the past 12 months, I've found that sometimes just showing up and asking "How can I help?" makes a huge difference.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Events for Memorial Day Weekend and Beyond

Remember this is Cleanup Norristown Week. At least take a minute to pick up trash on your front sidewalk. And weeds are easier to pull out today after the rain yesterday.

Hitchcock's The 39 Steps continues tonight at 8 pm at Theatre Horizon (Dekalb and Penn Sts.). I saw this show and HIGHLY recommend it. 150 zany characters (played by a ridiculously talented cast of 4), handcuffs, missing fingers and some good old-fashioned romance! Tickets are $20-31. Performances also Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, and next Thursday at 7:30 pm. Show runs through June 8. Call 610-283-2230 for reservations or visit the Theatre Horizon website. Click here to find out about free tickets for Norristown residents.

Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 3 pm, come to an outdoor Flea Market in the parking lot at DeKalb and Airy, sponsored by the Dragon Boat Club of Norristown and Norristown Business Association. You can park in the same lot. Besides typical yard sale items, new merchandise, crafts and works of art will be offered. Vendors spaces are still available ($20 a day, both days for $30). Contact dragonboatcrew@gmail.com.

Saturday at 9 am, join the The Norristown Project as they clean up Elmwood Park for the start of summer.. Just show up if you want to help.

Saturday night at 7:30, Coffee Talk (507 W Marshall) presents "Dan May--Short Stories and Songs", with special guest Tom Hampton. Tickets $12. Call 610-272-4811 for info.

Sunday at 3 pm, The Norristown Project will be in Riverfront Park, helping with the cleanup there. Volunteers are welcome. Work gloves might be a good idea.

The Summer Concert Series begins this Sunday at the Elmwood Park Bandshell at 7pm. This week features Wildflower, a funk and groove band, homegrown in Norristown. The concerts are free. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets. Sponsored by The Arcadia Foundation. Food/drinks available at the snack stand. Any questions call 610-270-0467.

On Monday at noon, the W. S. Hancock Society will present a Memorial Day Ceremony in Hancock Square (the public square next to the courthouse at Swede and Main) at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The Winfield Scott Hancock Award will be presented to Paul Koons. Music by the Norristown Chorale.

Tuesday morning, 8:30 to 9:30, The Norristown Business Association will have their monthly meeting at Caffe Galileo (317 Swede St.). If you own a business in Norristown, or you're self-employed here, like me, you should join this group. Guest speaker will be Joe Januzelli, Municipal Codes Manager. Please RSVP at: info@norristownba.org

Tuesday night is the May Zoning Board Hearing at 7 pm. The agenda is already online. http://norristown.org/userfiles/file/events/1293.pdf  Questions, contact Jayne Musonye, Director of Planning and Municipal Development, 610-270-0450.
  
Wednesday afternoon at 3 pm, the Norristown Schuylkill Rivertown Action Team will meet at Barton Partners, 700 E Main St, Suite #301. The Team is looking Norristown residents who want to be involved with promoting Norristown to the users of the Schuylkill River Trail and recreational development of the Norristown segment of the river. If you're interested, contact Lizzie Hessmiller at lhessmiller@pecpa.org.

Thursday night,  5:30-7:30 pm, the Small Business Assistance Center will present a free workshop on "Becoming Bankable- Traditional and Creative Ways to Finance Your Business," focusing on how to get capital to grow your business. The event will be at the Norristown Public Library (Swede and Powell). Please register for the event at this link. For info, contact E. Scot Fields, at 610-277-4455. 

More events on the calendar links in the column to the right. One caution--the town calendar listings for Theatre Horizon and for the Flea Market have wrong times and/or are confusing. Go to the links I listed above for correct info.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Clean Up Norristown Week

The Norristown Project declared May 21-30 CleanUpNorristown Week (technically 10 days, but since we'll lose a few days due to rain, it ends up being a week anyway). In today's Diary, I thought I'd post some updates to big cleanups going on around N-town. Maybe that will inspire everyone to tackle a small cleanup at their own home or possibly help out a neighbor.

First, Selma Mansion (Airy and Selma Sts.) is in Phase 2 of its exterior restoration. Remember last fall when the Norristown Preservation Society had carpenters and painters repair and refinish the exterior wood of the top 2 floors on the 1794 mansion? This month the workmen are back, repairing wood on the back porch and around the front entrance, and painting all the first floor wood. As more funds are raised, the plan is to repair the stucco. You'll be able to help the NPS raise money by coming to the History Day Festival at Selma next month on June 28th. Put it on your calendar and watch for forthcoming details.

Riverfront Park, as you probably know, took a major hit in the flood of April 30th. Our Dragon Boat Club has been putting forth a Herculean effort to clear the mud from the park and make it look great again, despite the distraction of having to retrieve one boat from a tree and another that was submerged. They're still working at getting their boathouse with its mural, Puff the Magic Dragon, out of the Schuylkill where it landed west of the DeKalb Street Bridge. The good news is that the dragon boats have been returned to the landing at Riverfront.

A lot of other organizations, if they hadn't simply thrown up their hands and quit, would have at least cancelled or postponed their events at the park this season, but not the DBC. They had planned to co-host an International Wine Festival along with the Norristown Business Association at Riverfront on Friday, June 13 and they say the event is still on. As you can see by the photos, the past couple weeks they've been busy turning mud into flower beds and planters.
You can help the DBC a few ways. Along with the NBA, they're hosting a Flea Market in the parking lot at Airy and DeKalb both Saturday and Sunday this weekend from 8 to 2. Show up and support the vendors who are supporting the Dragon Boat Club (and I assume they'll be selling things, too). The weather's supposed to be decent, especially in the morning. I'll be there Saturday. Second, The Norristown Project will be assisting with cleanup work at Riverfront Park starting at 3 pm on Sunday the 25th and volunteers are welcome. Drive out Haws Avenue toward the river, under the overpass and you're there. Third, put the June 13th Wine Festival on your calendar now.

The Norristown Project will also gather for a community cleanup at Elmwood Park at 9 am on Saturday the 24th. Elmwood recently had a cleanup on Earth Day, when the municipality also painted the bandshell, so hopefully that won't be as labor-intensive as Riverfront. Still, let's make sure it looks good for the start of summer.

As I said at the beginning, TNP is encouraging residents to cleanup around the outsides of homes and apartment buildings. As soon as the rain lets up, I intend to rake and prune my front garden bed. If your house already looks beautiful, consider helping elderly or disabled neighbors clean their front yards. If organizations like the Dragon Boat Club, the Norristown Project and the Preservation Society can take on big cleanups around town, the rest of us ought to at least tend to our own smaller spaces.

And, while you're cleaning up around your house, if you find any hazmat collection materials (see the list on the county website), put them aside to bring to the Hazmat Collection at Norristown Area High School next Saturday, May 31st, from 9-3.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tonight's Council Agenda

Municipal Council meets tonight at 6:30 pm at Borough Hall. Note the change of time (meetings used to be at 7:30). Hopefully the weather won't be awful tonight. Read the full agenda here, but a few things caught my eye.

First, the new Zoning Ordinance. Hopefully Council will approve it tonight and, more hopefully, Zoning and Planning will use the new ordinance the way it's intended, and not simply ignore it to grant variances to every developer that comes along.

Second, there's to be a discussion of parking issues, specifically "Lazy parking, rolling stops, double parking." I'm going to skip over "rolling stops." That's not a parking issue, it's a moving violation issue, and unless we're going to install force fields at intersections to make cars stop, I can't think how it can be prevented other than to catch drivers when they do it, which would require a bigger police force than we have.

I also don't understand why double parking requires discussion. If I see cars and trucks double parked on certain streets every time I venture across town, they shouldn't be hard for our meter maids to find and ticket.

Combatting lazy parking on the streets is impossible unless we line parking spaces all over town. Where they're already lined, like downtown or in parking lots, again, simply ticket those cars that take up more than one space.

I think it's interesting that the parking discussion only covers what drivers do wrong and doesn't mention what intrinsically creates parking problems in town. For instance, approving development that brings in more cars than a neighborhood's parking spaces can handle, like the townhouses at 1202 Dekalb St. And continuing to allow variances for houses that have more apartments inside than parking spots outside. And not enough free public parking in areas where we should be encouraging retail development and visitation--like downtown, Arts Hill, and West Marshall.

Third, Public Works will review which streets need paving and how much it should cost. I hope they include Swede, a major route into downtown from the north which took a lot of damage from last winter's ice, on top of simply getting a lot of use. It's a lumpy, bumpy mess. And several streets in the West End that are filled with half-patched potholes, the worst, I think, being Oak Street.

Last, 3 Special Council Meetings have been set for "Main Street Economic Development Project Fuego." I couldn't find anything on this, so hopefully all will be explained at tonight's meeting. The special council dates are tomorrow, May 22, and next Wednesday and Thursday, the 28th and 29th.

I wish there was a way of knowing more about all the agenda items before each Municipal Council meeting. With little or no information, it's difficult for residents to know if the topics will impact them and if they should come and voice an opinion.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Reminders, Corrections, and Central Presbyterian

Tomorrow is primary election day. Please get out to vote. The polls are open from 7 am to 8 pm.

A correction: Last week I said Val Arkoosh led the pack in quantities of junk mail. I was premature. As of today I declare Brendan Boyle undisputed Master Ruler of Junk Mail, some of it so big, it doesn't fit in my mailbox or bag for recycling (which, in my house, is where all political junk mail goes without reading). Candidates, please don't expect me to believe your pious words about the environment when you send out mountains of junk mail.

I can't declare a winner in annoying phone calls yet. So far the honors go to whoever ordered the exact same survey every week for the last month and a half. Just for the record, I lied on at least one item each time. I've been every age group, a man, a Republican, and from different races. I figure if politicians can lie to me, I should return the favor.

I'll be working inside the polls tomorrow, so I won't be posting a dairy entry. If you vote in 3-3, come in before 10 am and say hi. After that, I head for a polling place down in Pen Wyn.

One other correction. The Municipal Council Meeting on Wednesday night is at 6:30 pm, not 7:30. The agenda's been posted, if you want to check it out. I'll talk more about it on Wednesday.

Now, on to Central Presbyterian Church, located at Stanbridge and West Airy Streets. To refresh your memory, it was built in 1906 of Valley Forge Marble, with large stained glass windows by Nicholas D'Ascenzo, a nationally reknown artist. The church's original congregation had dwindled to 40 members. They shared space with an Hispanic ministry, but they had less than 60 members. Together, they couldn't keep up with the costs of maintaining and heating the structure. The building's been vacant for at least 18 months.

The property was to be auctioned off last Friday (though some notices said Thursday and it got confusing). The Times Herald reported that church members and their real estate broker called off the auction because they'd received several sealed purchase offers prior to the auction. Church members are due to open those bids today and decide the building's fate.

It's thought that two of the purchase offers are from other congregations, which would allow Central Pres to go on being a church. I hope ALL of the offers are from buyers who want to preserve the buidling, and not from developers who, say, want to level that beautiful structure to put up something like a Family Dollar or more horribly cramped stacked townhouses like we'll see at 1202 Dekalb.

As I said in a blog not long ago, it would be ironic that we're putting up Victorian style street light all over town, only to be demolishing our authentically historic buildings.



Friday, May 16, 2014

Theater, Good Scotch and Don't Forget To Vote

The Norristown Project and Montco OIC upgraded their community calendar for easier reading. Check their link in the righthand column, and the link for the municipal calendar, for events not listed below.

Start your Friday evening at a Scotch Tasting from 6 to 8 pm at Centre Theater. Tickets are $50 each or two for $90. All proceeds go to the Centre Theater. For more information, click here. For tickets, call Robert Polsky at 610-585-9082 or email A4quad@comcast.net .

Friday night at 7 pm, Coffee Talk (507 W. Marshall) presents local educator Larry Reed in "Historic Norristown As Seen Through Old Photographs." Admission, $5. Call 610-272-4811 for info.

I saw "Hitchcock's 39 Steps" at Theatre Horizon (401 Dekalb St.) last night. It's extremely funny and entertaining, doubly so if you're a Hitchcock fan. The cast is amazing and full of energy. I highly recommend it. Tonight's show starts at 8 pm and is just up the street from the Centre Theater, so you can walk there if you've been sipping Scotch the 2 hours before (make a theater night of it). Best parking is at the end of Penn St., near the theater entrance. Other performances this week: Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm. Wednesday is Norristown Night--members of the cast and creative team will be answering questions and leading a conversation about the play's themes immediately following this performance. Norristown residents can get in FREE to selected performances. Please contact Audience Services Manager Lyndsey Piecyk  at 610-283-2230 for more information and reservations.

Saturday starting at 8 am, multi-family yard sale on the 1500 block of Powell Street.

Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm, the Master Gardeners of Penn State will hold their annual Plant Sale at 1015 Bridge Rd in Collegeville. I mention it here because Penn State has presented wonderful free gardening workshops at the Norristown Library this past winter. The plant sale benefits the Master Gardener program (so maybe they'll be able to come back to the library next year). They'll have all kinds of herbs, vegetables, annuals and perennials and garden items. For more info, go to this link.

Also from 9 am to 2 pm on Saturday, Montgomery Co. Recycling is holding a rain barrel and compost bin sale at Montco Community College, 340 Dekalb Pike (enter on Morris Rd). I bought one of each a couple years ago from Montco--they're quality items and you can save at least 50% off the list price. Checks and credit cards only. No cash. Info at 610-278-3618. Just make sure you have a good-sized trunk and back seat. They're bigger than you expect them to be.

Tuesday is primary election day. We'll be voting for the candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, US Congress Rep, and State Representative. Polls open at 7. Click here to find your polling place.  To see a sample ballot, click here, choose "Norristown", then click on your Ward.

The Municipal Council meeting will be Wednesday night instead of Tuesday this week because of election day. 7:30 pm. No agenda yet.

CleanUpNorristown Week is actually a 10-day stretch from May 21 through the 30th.The Norristown Project will host various cleanup projects in the community each day. Residents around Norristown are encouraged to volunteer by either attending one of our projects or by doing gardening or other clean up around your own home. Next Saturday, May 24th at 9am - Elmwood Park Community Cleanup. Sunday, May 25th at 2pm - Riverfront Park Community Cleanup. If you're on Twitter or Facebook, post each day about what you're doing to keep Norristown beautiful.

Next weekend, May 24 and 25, the Norristown Business association and the Dragon Boat Club of Norristown will host a Flea Market in the lot at Airy and Dekalb from 8 am to 3 pm. Vendors interested in reserving a spot, please send an email this week to info@dragonboatclub.org. Space rental is $20 a day, or both days for $30. Bring your own tables, tents and chairs. A vendor space is equal to 2 parking spots and you'll be able to park your car right next to your space for easy unloading.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

One Last Winter Chore - Potholes

Before I get to today's topic, I want to let everyone know that Central Presbyterian Church will be auctioned off tomorrow in an online auction between 11 am and 3 pm. You can follow the bidding at Auctionpoint.com. You might remember that I blogged about Central Pres back in February (read it here). The church's stained glass windows were created by a nationally-acclaimed artist, who also designed the windows for the Washington National Cathedral, Valley Forge Memorial Chapel, and historic Riverside Church in Manhattan. Let's all hope whoever buys the place doesn't do so with the thought of demolishing it. That would be a huge loss in and of itself, let alone coming on top of the loss of Montgomery Hospital.

Potholes on Oak Street  
But today... hey, it's the middle of May. Memorial Day weekend is just over a week away. Time to finish off that one last pesky winter chore--filling potholes. Yes, we can all agree that this was a bad winter, especially hard on our roads. We understand that it might take a few months for public works to get around to all the potholes in town, but honestly, now that I'm starting to see efforts at patching these voids, I have to say that the patch jobs so far seem totally inadequate.

I traversed Hamilton yesterday, between James and Airy, which was pretty torn up this winter. Lots of little patches, but only the bottoms of the holes. There are still too many sunken-in spots and too much crumbled macadam around them. You might not break an axle now, but your car's alignment won't last long if you have to travel that street every day. Rocks could fly up and damage your or other cars. On a dark night, you could easily hit a depression the wrong way and lose control. And those crumbled spots will just get worse with traffic and rain.

I was on Buttonwood between James and Sterigere, and Harding Blvd between Sterigere and Fornance. Same problems, not quite as bad as Hamilton, but still, the patches aren't enough.

Every time I've headed downtown the last 2 months, I've had to dodge the growing craters on Swede Street between Pine and Elm. These are right in the middle of the street, so you can't avoid the holes. Lots of people double park in that stretch, making it all the more hazardous. And the half block between the library and Elm is chopped up and bumpy.

One of many bad patch jobs 
I've been hearing from West End residents that the absolute worst place is Oak Street, so I went over to check it out for myself. Between Noble and Buttonwood, it looks like the street was bombed. Shae Ashe sent me the photos of Oak that I'm posting here. Trust me, the images don't do justice to the reality. It's a wonder no one's been hurt there. The residents there have called in to public works multiple times about the problem and so far, they've been ignored.

Of course, I haven't been all over town, so I have to assume there are other bad spots that I haven't seen. If there are potholes that need fixing in your neighborhood, add a comment below or on Facebook or email me--give me the exact stretch of road in Norristown that needs fixing--and I'll update this Diary entry.

What worries me most is that those patches I've seen so far might be all we'll get. That's not good enough. Okay, so maybe we can't afford to completely redo streets, but make those patches adequate enough to level the area, smooth out the bumps, clear loose rocks, and prevent further deterioration of the street. We expect our taxes to pay for basic infrastructure and pothole repair is as basic as it gets.

A few decades ago, people used to say that Norristown was the speed bump on the way to King of Prussia. At the moment, it's literally true.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Last Word Before The Election

PA-13 looks like a lobster. 
For the candidates for our Congressional District, I tried doing a summary of issues, like I did with the candidates for governor, but the 4 Democratic candidates go into such detail, it's like writing a dissertation--a repetitive one, because all 4 of them say similar things.

The Republican candidates were easy--they each had next to nothing on their websites. Here they are--click on their names to link to their issues pages and read for yourself:

Carson Dee Adcock is the owner of W.W. Adcock, Inc., worth between $50 to 100 million in annual income, with 50 to 99 employees. They sell swimming pools and pool supplies. He only lists 2 issues on his site: the economy and healthcare. His only plan for the economy is to cut regulations on business. As for healthcare, he's against Obamacare, but states no plan of his own for a replacement.

Bev Plosa-Bowser was in the Air Force for 30 years. Her issues are the economy, national security, healthcare, Social Security, energy independence, and immigration. She's anti-abortion. She'd cut taxes, eliminate Obamacare, support fracking, tighten border security. She lists no actual plans for how to do any of these things.

For the Democrats, I've also linked their names to their issue pages. What I'll tell you instead is the glimpse I got into their minds by how they worded their statements, along with what I found out about claims and accusations they each made on ads and through junk mail and robo-calls.

Marjorie Margolies was in Congress for a single 2-year term 20 years ago. She has a multiple-page PDF of plans for each of the 4 issues she lists. I noticed that she says things like "Philadelphia area","Delaware River" and "Schuylkill Expressway" a lot. She obviously considers the 13th district to be only Philadelphia--surrounding areas like Norristown have no unique identity in her mind. We're just a 'burb. She does mention bringing rail service to King of Prussia, so Philadelphians can get to the mall. So much for getting shoppers to come here. As I said yesterday--she never answered my question about Norristown. Maybe she doesn't know we exist. I also was rather surprised that under her stance on the environment, she never mentions climate change or global warming.
     Margolies only really began campaigning in the last two weeks. Before that you saw no TV ads, she didn't show up at debates, and she'd hardly raised any money. Fundraisers that she did have weren't held here in the district. The biggest one was in New York City. Daylin Leach accused her of violating campaign finance laws--you can only spend a percentage of funds raised on the primary and apparently she may have spent much more. The Philly Inquirer picked up the story yesterday. There's also been some rumors about whether Margolis actually lives in the district, or if she just rents a house in Philadelphia but spends most of her time elsewhere. Unlike the rest of the candidates, I couldn't find out anything at all about where she lives. I think she's banking on name recognition to win. For me, she comes across as too politically savvy and somehow seeing herself as above us mere mortals especially now that she has the Clintons for in-laws. I don't think she'd be in touch with her constituents.

Brendan Boyle lives in the state district he represents in Northeast Philly and also has his Campaign HQ there. He lists 8 issues, but on most, he only says a paragraph or 2 about what he believes. No real plans about what he'd do. Margolies and Arkoosh accused Boyle of lying about his stand as a pro-choice candidate, saying he'd voted against abortion and or Planned Parenthood. His voting record says that he voted opposite ways on 2 abortion bills, and didn't vote at all on a 3rd, so they're only 1/3 right. On a related topic, though, he brags on his website and in junk mail about sponsoring free mammograms for women in his district. The thing is, since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, ALL mammograms in the US have been free. So Mr. Boyle can't take credit for that. He keeps accusing his opponents of being millionaires (as if that alone equates them with Satan), but his claims seem questionable.
     Yesterday I received a rather frightening robo-call, defending Boyle against Margolies's accusations. The caller said she was Michele Bachmann and I assume she meant THE Michele Bachmann--Republican US Rep from Minnesota who's completely against everything that Boyle says he's for, including being fiercely anti-abortion. Why would Bachmann be stumping for Boyle? Unless the GOP is merely trying to discredit both. (The caller was Michele LOCKMAN. See comment below.) But even without that call, I can't take Boyle seriously as a candidate. He has no plans, and there just seems to be an air of blarney about him.

Val Arkoosh is a physician. She insists on reminding us of this every chance she gets, even in her website's descriptions of her stands on the issues. On TV ads, she's frequently seen in a lab coat having a compassionate discussion with a patient. I don't know about you, but my experience with anesthesiologists has been only a 3 minute meeting before major surgery. Not a lot of time for chatting about my health concerns. Maybe obstetric anesthesiology is different. I realize that being a physician is the only credential she can present since she has no experience in legislating, but to me, her constant reminders of it only tell she has a very limited view of the world, and she seems to want to keep it that way.
    That said, her issues statements on the Jobs, Healthcare, Clean Energy, Social Security and Defense Spending are more comprehensive than Boyle's. Other issues, though, are vague, something-needs-to-be-done statements, education being the worst. On her TV ads, she only mentions women's issues and Social Security. And despite her statement that climate change is the "greatest, long-term threat," she's sent out more junk mailers than any other candidate, telling me she thinks her campaign is more important than Mother Earth. I believe she'd be a good rep if Healthcare were the only issue, but unfortunately, it's not.
     I should mention that Arkoosh lives Springfield, Montgomery County and has her campaign HQ in Glenside, though, as I said yesterday, she's got a field office in Norristown.

Daylin Leach lives in Upper Merion Township and his campaign HQ is in Jenkintown.  He lists the most issues on his website of any of the candidates--13. As you click on the links, you'll see a 1 to 3 minute video in which he talks about his stand on each issue, and about his planned legislation for each. I was only disappointed that, like Margolies, he doesn't mention climate change under his Environment issues, and that he doesn't mention women's equality in the workplace under Women's Issues or Worker's Issues. Otherwise, his statements on the issues, and number of the issues he covers, seem much more comprehensive than his opponents. Leach is probably the most liberal of the candidates (by dictionary definition, meaning he believes more in progress and change than in status quo and tradition). I also think he has the best sense of humor of any politician I've ever met. I think humor may be the best political and legislative tool ever.

I don't usually endorse candidates on this blog, but I'm going to endorse Daylin Leach. I think he and Arkoosh would probably vote the same way on legislation, but Leach has experience as a legislator already. I like that he's put a lot of thought into so many issues, and I like that he knows Norristown and seems to believe in our community. We wouldn't just be constituents somewhere out in the nether lands like we would be for Boyle and Margolies.

Whoever you decide on, don't forget to vote on May 20th. Don't stay home. The winner of this race will likely be the representative we send to Washington.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Would YOU Do For Norristown?

The primary election is one week away.  I was going to do today's Diary entry on all the various candidates for Congress in District 13, and what they say about the issues plus the other things I've found out about them, but with 2 GOPs and 4 Democrats running, a blog like that would be way too long. Plus, it's taking me more time than I thought to read through their websites. So tomorrow I'll summarize the issues. Today, I'll start with the most important question I put to the candidates: "If elected, what would you do for Norristown?"

This started at the last Norristown Business Association meeting, when Val Arkoosh showed up and gave a little spiel about her candidacy. I had a chance to talk to her, so I asked her the above question. She pointed out that she was the only candidate with a field office in Norristown (turns out, when I looked it up, that it's in what used to be Ronca's Bar, once owned by my cousins, on E. Main near Walnut). She kind of made it sound like her whole campaign operated out of that office, but her actual headquarters is in Glenside. However, her campaign DID have a table at the Arts Hill Fest, the only candidate I saw represented there (though I didn't get all the way up the hill). I should mention that she's been an anesthesiologist and healthcare activist, but has no experience in public office.

Anyway, to my question, she stated that she would seek funding to help bring economic development to Norristown. No details, but at least she recognized the need for development in Norristown.

A couple nights later, I went to a Daylin Leach appearance at Ray's Diner, one of those deals where I got a robo-call inviting me and promising a free dinner. I don't turn down free dinners. He gave a short speech outlining the issues, then took questions, so I identified myself (he knew of the Norristown Diary!--his office had kept up on it when I did my blogs on the mural on Lafayette). I asked the same question I asked Arkoosh. As our state senator, Leach has probably spent more time in Norristown than the other candidates. He sponsored a Kids' Fair for Mercy Suburban at our zoo last year. He was instrumental in the implementation of our mural project. He stated that he believes that Norristown is on its way up, but that economic development can't happen unless we improve the infrastructure. He specifically mentioned wanting to make sure that funding is in place for the slip ramp off the turnpike, so we can get people into Norristown and develop the riverfront and downtown.

I emailed or went through the contact page on their websites to ask the other candidates the question.

 Brendan Boyle is State Representative for District 170, which is between the turnpike and Northeast Philadelphia. His campaign contact page didn't work, so I messaged his Facebook page. He answered fairly quickly. He claims he's held "4 community meetings in Norristown since the winter; the only candidate to do so." I was only able to find where he was here twice--once for a morning breakfast appearance at the Norristown Diner, that wasn't generally advertized, at least not in town. The other time was a noontime press conference at the courthouse. No one in N-town considers PR at the courthouse to be a "community meeting." You're there for the media and county politicos, most of whom don't live here in town. He went on to say "I would love to play an active role in securing federal funding for improvements needed in Norristown, especially the Main St and High St corridors," pretty much proving that he hasn't spent enough time in town to know that High St isn't a main corridor, but a small residential street in the East End. Confusing us with some other town, no doubt. The end of his statement: ",,,older cities and Burroughs will have real infrastructure issues over the next two decades." I think he meant "boroughs." Possibly an auto-correct issue, but if I were running for a major office, I'd want to present myself as an educated human being, so I'd check what I typed before hitting send.  He does claim that he'd like to put a congressional constituent service office in Norristown.

Marjorie Margolies was a former US Congresswoman, though for only one term (1993-95). She never answered my message.

There are 2 candidates on the GOP ticket, Bev Plosa-Bowser, an ex-Air Force colonel, and Carson Dee Adcock, a businessman. I wasn't able to contact either one. Frankly, they give me the impression that they're only running to give the Dems a name to run against and aren't very serious candidates. Adcock was the candidate that Allyson Schwartz defeated last time.

Oh, and I should mention--I've run into some people who are under the impression that if Allyson Schwartz loses the governor's race, she'd remain our US Rep. Her term is up at the end of this year, and she decided not to run in the race for Congress so she could run for governor. So, no, the only candidates for PA 13 are the ones above.

Tomorrow, the issues.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Requiem for a Hospital

You might remember, the last time I blogged about Montgomery Hospital, I reported that Einstein plan to demolish the buildings had triggered a PA Section 106 Project Review. A review like this is held anytime someone plans to demolish a property supposedly protected under the PA History Code and/or National Historic Preservation Act. You can read about the review on the PA Historic and Museum Commission's site.

Triggering this type of review, though, doesn't  mean the buildings can't be demolished. All it means is that the state takes a look at the individual case to determine what's legal. The law states that no federal or state money can be used in a project that has an adverse effect on an historic property. That's the main thing.

The 106 Review for Montgomery Hospital was held 2 weeks ago. It's a fact that Elon will be asking for tax credits, and will therefore be using public money, and that they're the ones asking for Einstein to level the site for their project. It's also a fact that Einstein and Elon keep referring to their arrangement as a partnership--Elon will be responsible for a quarter of the demo costs. However, at the review meeting, Einstein stated that they intended to demolish the buildings regardless whether or not Elon receives funding. The state essentially decided that the demolition and the development were two different projects, and since the demolition uses no public funds, they decided that Einstein could legally level the site.

Einstein got their way, as usual. Montgomery Hospital will come down.

Let's take one last look at what Einstein has said in the last 5 years or so. I'm only repeating what I, in person, heard their representatives say at town meetings. First they said they weren't taking the hospital out of Norristown. Then, when they announced the building of their new place in East Norriton (which the loss of hundreds of jobs here), they said they planned to keep Montgomery open as a clinic for emergency medical care, with the rest of the building used for other medical purposes. Well, THAT didn't happen, and our community's close access to emergency care went away when the hospital closed.

They really did take a community survey about what we thought the hospital buildings should be used for. I answered the survey myself. And they did have one developer, Mission First, come in to do the conversion to senior apartments. But the process seems to have been a closed one--no open town meetings as they had these last months with Elon. We had no input. Possibly if we had, especially the Norristown Preservation Society, we could have helped make those plans work.

Next we heard that Einstein planned to demolish the site. At the last 2 town meetings with them, the community expressed concern that, if Elon couldn't get funding, we'd be left with a vacant lot. Einstein assured us, more than once, that they were partnering with Elon and that they were committed to making sure the site was developed and not vacant. Now they tell the State Review that they intend to level the site no matter what.

I heard it said last week that Einstein took heroic measures to try to preserve the hospital. Heroic is not the word I'd use for people who lie at every turn and who obviously don't care about us. We didn't just lose a pile of pretty Art Deco bricks out of this deal, we lost our largest employer, and close access to emergency care. Lots of our citizens can't afford the $1500+ for Plymouth Ambulance and many don't have a car. NOTHING Einstein has done since buying Montgomery has been in Norristown's best interest.

And what of Elon and their development? Last week, John Cover of Montgomery County Planning explained the zoning for that district to a group of residents living near the hospital. What Elon has proposed so far isn't allowed in the existing OR the proposed code. They can and should make modifications to their plans before submitting it. And if we want quality senior housing on that site--housing that fits in with the neighborhood, doesn't lower the property values, and is an asset to the community--we need to make sure we show up en masse at zoning and planning meetings and INSIST that the code be followed. Remember, they'll be using our tax money to build. We get a say.

That is, of course, assuming Elon gets funding and development takes place at all. Otherwise, another vacant lot for Norristown.

In the meantime, for at least the next year, the demolition will take place..

Friday, May 9, 2014

FOOD, Music, Carnival, and a Clean Car


Another busy weekend, plus events coming up later that you should plan for now. They're calling for summer-like weather. And remember, Sunday's Mom's Day. Take her to a Norristown restaurant, to the Zoo's carnival, bring her flowers from a Norristown flower shop or greenhouse, and buy her tickets to the upcoming play at Theatre Horizon. Pick her up in a car newly washed by NASD students. See below.

The Dragon Boat Club and Norristown Business Association are partnering to sponsor a Community Flea Market on May 24-25 from 8 am to 3 pm at Airy and Dekalb Sts. If you're interested in being a vendor, the cost per space is $20 for one day and $30 for both days. Reserve your space NOW by email info@dragonboatclub.org . Details will be forthcoming.

There are 3 days left on Restaurant Week. Remember, the participating restaurants are Almaz Cafe, Banh Mi Bar, Casa Bonita, Crispy & Juicy, Diva's Kitchen, Jus' Java, and Taqueria La Michoacana. They all have Friday and Saturday hours. The latter 3 have Sunday hours. For a complete listing of discounts and hours, go to Restaurant Week's Facebook page. You don't have to sign in to Facebook to see the information.
  
Elmwood Park Zoo's Season Kickoff Carnival is still on tonight, 5-10 pm, Saturday, noon to 10 pm, and Sunday, noon to 5 pm. Rides, games, food and fun right in the Zoo's parking lot. Admission to the carnival is FREE and separate from Zoo admission. Tickets for rides and games may be purchased at the carnival. The Zoo will be open its regularly scheduled hours of 10 am to 5 pm.

Tonight is another Family Feud Game Night: The reigning champions of the Norristown Council will take on the Norristown Men of Excellence. 7 pm at Caffe Galileo (317 Swede). The trash talk started at the Arts Hill Fest last week. Come out and see who will emerge victorious.

Saturday, 11 am - 2 pm, Car Wash at Stewart Middle School to benefit the Music Boosters. If I find out cost, I'll update this entry. Get a clean car and help keep music in our schools.

At 4 pm, Saturday, The Norristown Chorale will present its spring concert, "The Music's Always There" at Victory Church, 2650 Audubon Rd, Audubon. FREE admission--good-will offering accepted.

Saturday night from 8:30 to 1 am is Comedy Night @TheCarver, featuring Norristown's Own Comedians, NASIR, Stan Tannell. Tickets $10. Carver Center, 249 East Jacoby St.

Tuesday at 7 pm, Planning Commission Meeting at Municipal Hall. No agenda yet.

Also Tuesday at 7 pm, INTRODUCTION TO GENEALOGY presented by Genealogist Rose Brown at The Historical Society of Montgomery County (1654 DeKalb Street). This begins a 4-week workshop for beginners, each Tuesday through June 3. $7.50 member/$10 non-member non-refundable materials fee. Seating is limited. For information or to reserve a space, cal: 610-272-0297 or email contact@hsmcpa.org

Wednesday from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm at the Library (Swede and Powell), the Montgomery County Health Department will have certified child car seat technicians who'll inspect child safety seats. Participants are educated on the proper way to install a car seat in their car, and to ensure their child is properly restrained in the car seat. Car seat checks are by appointment only. Call 610-278-5119 to make an appointment

On Thursday, May 15th, at 7:30 pm, HITCHCOCK'S THE 39 STEPS opens at Theatre Horizon with a "Pay What You Can" Preview. (They'd really appreciate at least a $10 donation). The play is described as "...a fast-paced whodunit...packed with nonstop laughs, over 150 zany characters (played by a ridiculously talented cast of 4), handcuffs, missing fingers and some good old-fashioned romance!" Discounted previews ($20-22) will continue on Friday (16th) and Saturday (17th) at 8 pm, and Sunday (18th) at 2 pm. The show will run through June 8th. And remember, Norristown residents can get FREE tickets through the PNC Norristown Neighbor Program. Email Ticket@TheatreHorizon.org or call 610-283-2230 for information. Or reserve regular seats online at http://www.theatrehorizon.org/shows/the39steps.html.

Remember to check the calendar links to the right of this blog for more events.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

In The Loop

I read The Norristown Project blog yesterday with interest. Shae Ashe shared some ideas about making Norristown a "commuter-friendly community." He talked about Washington D.C.'s bikeshare program, in which you can essentially rent a bicycle at any bike station in the city and return it to any other station. The first 30 minutes of your ride is free, then you pay a nominal fee per hour.

I looked up what most cyclists cal their average commuting speed and it's in the neighborhood of 15 mph, depending on traffic and weather. But figure 7 miles for free with a bikeshare.  Even if we had a bikeshare in Norristown with the first quarter hour free, you could, say, park at Logan Square and probably cycle to the courthouse in the allotted time, saving you the cost and hassle of parking downtown. If you stuck to smaller streets like Pine, Maple Alley and Church St, you probably wouldn't take your life into your hands too much.

I don't think Norristown is unfriendly to pedestrians, despite what I've heard from County Planning on the subject. When I was in junior high, I used to walk from the North End to Stewart for summer band, lugging a French horn. When the new library was built little more than a half mile away, I started walking there regularly. In college, I thought nothing of walking the mile and a quarter downtown to catch the P&W (now the high speed line) to 69th Street so I could get a bus into West Chester. Up until 10 years ago, a few times a year I'd walk to and from the Elm Street train station so I could get into 30th Street to catch Amtrak for book tours and conventions. And I did it pulling a suitcase on wheels behind me that was often weighed down with books. Bike-wise, I used to cycle the 2 miles over through Elmwood Park and the West End to Hartranft St. to visit my grandmother.

Last October during the Ghost Tours at Selma, we had students come who'd walked from the Carver Center 2 miles away. They weren't even winded.

If you're physically able, Norristown is easy to navigate on foot. In nice weather, you can be across town in either direction in less than an hour. Cycling isn't bad either, as long as you can do the hills. The major concern is traffic.

SEPTA's 90 bus route.
But once my knee problems began, I became dependent on driving to get around town. I almost never go downtown during the day anymore because, as Shae put it, "Parking is horrible in Norristown." The last time I had to go there on a weekday was to talk to the lawyer for my dad's estate. Took longer than we thought and my brother had to run out to feed the meter twice. Even if Main Street was filled with as much retail as it was in the 1960s, there's no chance of a relaxing afternoon of shopping or meeting friends for lunch if you have to constantly watch the clock to make sure your parking spot is still legal.

I'm not the only one with mobility issues in town. We have a lot of seniors, some of whom don't walk easily anymore. We have disabled residents, some veterans. We have people who, for whatever physical reason, can't walk or cycle. Some can't drive. And when it's raining or icy or too cold or too hot outside, even the most athletic residents would opt for an alternative way to get around.

True, SEPTA has 7 bus routes through Norristown. I know a lot of seniors who use them, though mostly to go OUT of town, to the malls. Most non-seniors who aren't regular commuters don't use the buses much--figuring out the routes can be confusing. I could use SEPTA to get downtown, but really, if I get 24 or more mpg in my car, why would I spend $4.50 for a round trip of less than 3 miles? I'd still have to walk a half mile to and from the bus stop.

So I propose an in-town bus shuttle, sort of like the King of Prussia Rover. It could connect all 3 of our (potential) main shopping areas--Logan Square, West Marshall, and Downtown. It could follow an easy loop that wouldn't be confusing. (I drew up a tentative loop-photo at left. The part though the West End could be extended further out, maybe to a public parking lot?). The shuttle could stop at the train stations and connect with SEPTA buses, and stop at each block in the business districts. Commuters to the courthouse might use it if they could park at Logan Square. People working in town might hop on it to go grab lunch at places in the North or West Ends.

The photo at the top is an electric shuttle that holds 15 passengers and costs about 2 cents a mile. It recharges overnight, but can also recharge with a rooftop solar panel during the day. It goes about 50 miles on a charge. The price tag on the website is about $25,000, cheaper than a lot of cars. Other website have similar eco-friendly vehicles. Charge riders $1 a ride, with all-day, all-month, and all-year packages available. Maybe seniors could ride for free.

Of course, we'd have to have great drivers, who presents the best impression of Norristown--drivers who let people know how to get to the zoo, what restaurants are where, what plays are going on in our theaters, etc. Our shuttle wouldn't simply duplicate SEPTA's function, it would advertize Norristown and all we have to offer.

So there's my notion for the day. What do you think? 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Norristown Gardens - A Contest and a Non-Contest

My pink roses last year. 
I've said before that N-town in summer is a garden place. Ride down certain streets, and you'll see flowers in front of every house. Even many of our row houses that have no front yards have window boxes or container plantings. A peek into a lot of side and back yards reveals thriving vegetable beds and more flowers. And we've got a whole slew of gardeners tending community plots.

I think we take our gardens for granted, but as I've said many times before, they're an asset to the look of our town. We should all express appreciation to the residents who make them happen each year.

At the Arts Hill Fest last Saturday, I stopped and talked to the ladies at the Norristown Garden Club booth. What attracted me to their table was a display of photos of Marshall Street School kids learning about and doing gardening. I'm a firm believer that one of the best ways to teach kids biology is to get them outside working in a garden early in life--they not only learn botany with the plants, but also about bees and earthworms and eco-systems.

Anyway, the Garden Club told me about this year's contest they're running for Norristown gardens. CASH prizes, folks. 1st prize in each category is $100, 2nd is $50, 3rd is $25, and Honorable Mention is $20. The categories you can enter are Front Yard Garden, Rear Yard Flower Garden, Vegetable Garden, Window Box, Container Garden, and Public Places (Churches, Schools, City Lots, etc.). Any garden within Norristown's limits is eligible. The deadline to enter is June 6th. They'll come to judge your garden on July 9. So you all have plenty of time to get your gardens in tip-top shape.

The Garden Club has a form to fill out for contest entry, but it's not available on their website or facebook page. I have a pdf of it, though no way to pass it on through this blog. Still, if you want to enter, send me an email at this address and I'll send you the pdf. If you don't garden, but see a plot in your neighborhood that you think could win, email me for the form and give it to your neighbor. It's a bilingual form, so we can get the whole community involved.

That said, I have to admit that where any art is concerned (and gardening is most definitely an art), I have an aversion to contests. Art shouldn't be about competition. There's a reason we all can identify with the phrase "Dance like nobody is watching." We don't want to be judged on self-expression. When we aren't judged, we're free to delight in the joy that comes from being creative. And when we all share our creativity with each other without fear of judgment, we all have way more fun.

My day lilies in 2013 
So, I've decided that the Norristown Diary will sponsor a Norristown Gardens Non-Contest this year. Like the rules above, all gardens within town limits are eligible. Simply send me a photo or two of your garden  (jpg, png or gif format) in any or all of the categories above (or add new categories: side yard garden, for instance) to the same email address as above. Tell me where in town the garden is. I'll post the photos I receive on the Diary every now and then. If I get enough photos, I'll even start a Facebook page to show how great our gardens look. Send the photos anytime you've got something pretty or interesting blooming in your garden. Tell me in the email if you want your name mentioned or if you'd just prefer something generic like "a front yard garden on Arch Street."

Please, though, if you send pictures of people, I need permission from each to publish their image or I'll crop them out. And I won't publish photos of children on the internet with any hint of where they live, so keep that in mind.

Let's start being proud of our gardens, Norristown. We're a beautiful place during the growing season.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Democratic Candidates for Governor -- Do Your Homework

McCord, McGinty, Schwartz, Wolf  
The primary election is just 2 weeks away. This week the first negative ads starting showing up on TV for the governor's race--one each from Rob McCord and Allyson Schwartz, and one from Governor Corbett. All the ads attack Tom Wolf, even Corbett's, though he isn't directly running against Wolf, at least not yet.

I researched each ad's claims. McCord's accusation of racism against Wolf seems to be totally baseless (Wolf was a campaign chair (apparently not a hands-on manager) in 2001 for a candidate who'd been accused, and found innocent, of causing a death during a race riot in 1969, over 30 years before). Most top Democrats in PA have asked McCord to take the ad down. Schwartz's accusation against Wolf said he dealt in "questionable business practices." That seems to be baseless as well. The practices she's accusing him of took place after he sold his company, which then fell on bad times because of the recession. Wolf rebought the company and the company recovered. Corbett said taxes went up after Wolf became tax collector. Really? I don't blame Berkheimer when taxes go up. I blame the government officials who voted in the tax raise. So whereas McCord gets the prize for nastiest ad, Corbett gets the prize for stupidest.

Anyway, I thought I'd take a look at each candidate's website and see where they stood on the issues (click on their names below and you can, too). It wasn't as easy as I thought. All the Democrats essentially support the same things, which I'll list first, but some added detailed plans which helped to differentiate them. I've added a link to their issues pages with each candidate below.

On JOBS, all said that they support raises in the minimum wage, protecting the rights of workers, and development of clean energy jobs. EDUCATION: all support reversing Corbett's cuts to education, full-time kindergarten and universal pre-K for 4 year-olds. Also, better access to higher ed within the state. NATURAL GAS: all support a tax on shale drilling to help support education and other programs. All say they would put better environmental protections in place for gas drilling. ENVIRONMENT: All would develop clean energy technology and renewable energy industries. All mentioned green building technologies. HEALTH: All would allow expanded Medicaid. INFRASTRUCTURE: All mentioned fixing PA's many structurally deficient bridges and older water and waste water treatment plants, but also making sure the whole state has access to broadband internet access.

Katie McGinty is hardly ever listed with the other candidates and isn't considered a serious candidate by most. I found her issue page to be rather sparse on details (though she claims to be the only candidate with definite plans for the issues). She does say she'd raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour.

Rob McCord calls for renew support for the state’s two largest industries – agriculture and tourism. He'd leverage Pennsylvania’s leadership in biomedical research to attract word-class talent, investment capital, and innovative start-ups, McCord calls for a 10% drillers’ tax. He says high school students should earn credit for college while still in high school. He calls for "innovative approaches" to health care, but not much else. He does have a "Working Families" section in his issues list, calling for a raise in the minimum wage to $10.70 in 2015, with an increase of .10 each year through 2024. Tipped minimum wage--from $2.83 to $5 in 2015, with .10 increases for the first 10 years, and to preserve a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for student employees. He wants mandatory paid sick leave for all employees, and daycare that's affordable. He calls for the preservation of farmland and open space, and specifically mentions the development of wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectricity, rather than just saying "clean energy". His site addresses gun safety laws and police concerns. That said, he gave less detail than Wolf and Schwartz, relying more on generic and vague phrases. And I have to admit, that attack ad turned me off to him. I don't want a governor who's that nasty.

Tom Wolf called for a rebuilding of PA’s manufacturing sector, starting with clean energy technology. He supports increasing the minimum wage to $10.10, plus pension reform. On education -- "Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the entire country that does not use a funding formula for distributing state education dollars to local school districts, and is far below the national average in terms of percentage of state funding -- contributing only 32%." He's the only candidate to mention access to higher ed for high achieving, low-income students and vets (everyone else mentioned the middle-class but not low-income). He wants investments in energy efficiency retrofits of commercial and residential real estate, to require the State to meet green building standards on all state-owned new large building projects, and the development of a public/private green jobs training program. He plans to reform campaign finance rules and institute ethics reforms. In health, he wants to set nurse-to-patient ratios and keep more Pennsylvania-trained primary care doctors in the state.

Allyson Schwartz would like to double the number of worker-trainees enrolled in registered apprenticeship programs, and bring together employers in targeted industries to provide joint training for workers. She'd reinvest in community colleges and in career and technical education. She also mentions making the distribution of school funding fair. She'd restore state support to higher education, freeze tuition at state universities, and relieve the education debt burden on middle-class families (nothing about low income). Her gas drilling tax would be 5%. She wants to require that 30 percent of our electricity comes from Tier I renewable resources by 2030, and to develop alternative transportation options. She'd strengthen Act 129, (which requires Pennsylvania electric distribution companies to conserve electricity), promote green building standards, and fund energy efficiency upgrades. She'd keep a moratorium on gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin to protect the water. She went into a bit more detail about  launching a PA Health Insurance Exchange (as well as expanding Medicaid). Her site covered Voting Rights, LGBT Rights, Gun Violence Prevention in more detail than anyone else's, and she has a separate section dealing with Veterans issues.

I encourage you to take a glance through the candidate's sites for issues you're interested in because I've had to really summarize here, especially for Wolf and Schwartz, who had a lot of meaty information on their sites. For me, it's mainly a contest between these two candidates--both seem to fully understand ALL the issues and both have some good solutions in mind. Right now, I'm undecided between them. Though I wish Schwartz hadn't put up that attack ad.

I should mention that on the GOP side, Governor Corbett's opposition, Robert Guzzardi, was taken off the ballot by the PA Supreme Court for not filing a statement of financial interests. He says he's still running a write-in campaign.

Please go do your homework on these candidates. Don't base your vote on things you hear on attack ads, which are almost always, at best, exaggerated, and at worst, bald-faced lies. The attack ad says more about the candidate doing the attacking than about the target. Be an informed voter.