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..