Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Party, Election, and Other Events

Tonight most of you will probably be either escorting kids around for Trick or Treat, or waiting at your door for costumed kids to show up, but if you have no Halloween plans, think about seeing The Syringa Tree at 8 pm at Theatre Horizon instead. As I said in yesterday's Diary, the show has been Barrymore Recommended. Free tickets for Norristown residents -- call 610-283-2230. The play continues tomorrow at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 and 7:30 pm, Monday at 7:30 pm, a Wednesday matinee at 1:30 pm, next Friday at 8 pm, and the last shows will be Sunday, Nov 9 at 2 and 7:30 pm.

Saturday from 7 to 9:30 pm, 'Tween Halloween Party at ACPPA Community Art Center, 506 Haws Ave. Costume contest, food, karaoke, crafts,food, games, dancing, food, and more. Ages 9-13 years. Pre-registration required. $8 per child. Go to this link to register.

Sunday from 2 to 5 pm, this is the 2nd to the last Sunday Norristown residents will be able to get into Elmwood Park Zoo for FREE (December 7th is the last). Adults must show photo ID as proof of residency. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Also Sunday at 2:30 pm at the Historical Society of Montgomery County, 1654 Dekalb St, a free program - The Underground Railroad in Quilts by Cassandra Gunkel. Did African American slaves use quilts as signals to guide their way to freedom? Join the debate: History or folklore? For more info, call 610-272-0297 or email contact@hsmcpa.org.

Tuesday is Election Day. Get out and VOTE.

Because of election day, the monthly Council meeting will be a day later--Wednesday night at 7:30 pm at Municipal Hall. No agenda yet.



Call for volunteers: Next Saturday, Nov 8th from 10 am to 3 pm, The Norristown Preservation Society in partnership with The Norristown Project will be working at Selma Mansion. A sump trench needs to be dug to dry out the cellar, but they want to sort through the soil for artifacts as they dig. If you'd be willing to lend your strength to the digging or good eye to the sorting, please come. Volunteers are asked to wear warm clothes that can get dirty. Sturdy shoes. Bring a bag lunch. Snacks and drinks will be provided. Some gloves will be provided, but if you have your own work gloves, bring them. RSVP to Elena (yes, me) at missmaggieandpat@verizon.net

Norristown is preparing its Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) FY 2015-2019 Five Year Consolidated Plan and FY 2015 Annual Action Plan. As part of the planning process, the Municipality is conducting a survey to identify residents' needs in the community and ideas on how the residents would like to see funds under the CDBG Program spent. Please take a few minutes and complete this confidential questionnaire to the best of your ability. If you are unsure of an answer, or the question does not apply to you, please feel free to skip that question. Thank you for your assistance in helping us identify residents' needs and fair housing issues in the Municipality. Take the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MunicipalityofNorristown

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Goods News About The Arts In Norristown

I wonder how many of you will read this, either because I said "good news" and some of you only seem to want to hear bad news, or because I said "The Arts." Although the arts have become a very real part of our town's persona in the last few years, lots of you seem to purposefully ignore the fact.

At any rate, first I'm going to announce the great news about Theatre Horizon. Remember how their plays had garnered 9 nominations for Barrymore Awards and that they were up against productions by longer established professional theaters from all over the Delaware Valley, like People's Light, the Arden, and the Wilma?

Well, the results are in. Theatre Horizon's I Am My Own Wife won both the Virginia Brown Martin Philadelphia Award and also Best Leading Actor in a play (Charlie DelMarcelle).

Theatre Horizon's current production, The Syringa Tree, has been Barrymore recommended. One of the stars of that  show, Alice M. Gatling, also just won a Barrymore for Outstanding Leading Actress for her work last year in Gideon's Knot at the InterAct Theatre Company. If you haven't seen The Syringa Tree yet, you still have time. It runs through Sunday, November 9. For information about show times, go to http://www.theatrehorizon.org/shows/thesyringatree.html. Don't forget, if you're a Norristown resident, you can get in FREE (subject to availability). Tickets can be reserved by calling the Box Office at 610-283-2230.

The other good news for the arts in Norristown is that Municipal Hall has jumped on board and is supporting local artists by exhibiting their works in the lobby and side hallways at 235 East Airy. The artwork brightens up the place considerably. I went to last night's open house and Arts Reception, which was attended by maybe 40-50 people. Artists represented were, Adam T. Cusack, Jeleata Nicole, Lynn Jentes, Pedro Zagitt, Asa Watts (also a Codes Department employee and, wow, she's got talent, too), Stephanie Yuhas, and Mydera Robinson (who many of you know as Mydera SpeakMeFree--you've probably heard her poetry, come see her paintings). You can arrange to purchase work by these artists at Municipal Hall, so the town is truly helping to promote our local talent.

I was very happy, also, to see paintings by Frank Batson in the display case. I met Mr. Batson at a fair in upper Montgomery County last September. He painted a whole series of scenes of Norristown in the 1960s, which are wonderful. He's sort of the Norman Rockwell of N-town and deserves the recognition. I hope to see him in person at future Arts Hill Fests.

Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones said people have been asking for a Community Art Center. While something like that is likely in the future, Council saw no reason not to use Municipal Hall for the purpose now. He and Bill Caldwell said they envision more art events, and possibly even film festivals in Council Chambers. By coincidence, I met 2 other published authors from Norristown this past week. If I can round up more, maybe we can do a book festival at Muni Hall, too.

I love the idea of Municipal Hall doubling as our community arts center. It was built by the taxpayers, after all, and how much nicer for residents to be able to go enjoy the arts there instead of only associating the place with government, or with negative experiences like paying a fine. This way the hall becomes a real part of the community. Something to be proud of.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Election Decisions Made Easy

I have to admit, when I come across one of those quizzes on Facebook, unless I'm in a hurry, I'll almost always click on it and give it a whirl. I've found out that I'm smarter than a 5th grader, I should be driving a Model T, I'd be most comfortable living in the Renaissance (not without central heat, I wouldn't), and that I should play either the French horn or the triangle (I've played both, so I guess that's okay). But honestly, none of these revelations help me with everyday decisions.

The other day I found a quiz that really WAS helpful.  If you go to http://www.isidewith.com/pennsylvania-voter-guide and take the survey, it will show you which candidates on next Tuesday's ballot agree most closely with your own views.

Another nice thing about this voter guide is that you can take the fairly quick version if you don't have much time--maybe 5 minutes of yes/no questions in categories ranging from the environment to education to economy and beyond. You're also asked to rate each question on how important that issue is to you. Or, if you want to get a fuller picture, you can "Choose another stance" to see more possible answers.

Also, at the bottom of each category, you have the option of choosing to answer additional questions for that topic, so if it's an issue that very important to you, you might want to tackle all the questions. For instance, under environmental issues, there are no questions on fracking unless you choose to see the extra questions. In Pennsylvania, that's pretty important. The expanded quiz might take you 15 minutes.

At the end, you'll be shown a sample ballot according to which candidates agree most with your views. It'll even show you percentages of agreement with each candidate, so if you're a true middle-of-the-roader, this should help.

The nice thing about this system is that it saves the trouble of going to each candidates' website and reading though reams and reams of words about each issue. And it DEFINITELY saves on trying to figure out who's lying and who isn't in each TV ad (answer--both sides are, at best, skewing the truth, so don't pay attention to ads or robo-calls or any other advertisement).

To see a sample ballot or determine your polling place go to http://webapp.montcopa.org/voterservices/sampleballots and select Norristown.

Remember, bad politicians are elected more often by people who DON'T go to the polls. In the mid-term elections of 2010, voter turn-out was very low and it resulted in the most do-nothing Congress in U.S. history. For this election, especially for Pennsylvania because of the governor's race, it's vital that everyone gets out to vote.

Besides, voting makes you feel good. Even better than, say, taking a quiz to find out which Disney character has your personality.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Elections: Wolf vs. Corbett

I'm going to make this short today because I'm running out to a Norristown Business Association meeting.

The midterm election is one week away and today I'm going to talk about the governor's race. I don't usually do flat out endorsements, but for the sake of Norristown, I think Tom Wolf is the best candidate, on the education issue alone.

When Governor Corbett took office in 2008, as you can see from the dark blue on the graph, spending on classroom education programs was over 9 billion. When federal stimulus money was made available in 2009 and 2010 (the yellow), Corbett cut the state's education budget and let the federal funds make up the difference. But in 2011 when the stimulus money was no longer there, he kept education program spending low. Norristown schools have suffered for it.

Wolf proposes to fund education by imposing use fees on the fracking industry, not by raising taxes. Corbett ads are using the word "taxes" a lot, but it means nothing. Just a scare tactic the GOP is using nationwide.

The other issue that effects Norristown residents directly is healthcare. PA doesn't currently accept the federal funding provided by Medicaid expansion. That means million of Pennsylvanians who earn less than $12,000, if they don't have children, don't get healthcare subsidies. They have to pay full price for medical insurance ($4000 a year or more), while those earning $13,000 and up pay a small fraction of their income. I know a lot of you out there love to spread the rumor that poor people are getting all sorts of federal subsidies, but the truth is, as far as healthcare goes in PA, most poor Norristonians can't afford it at all, and that's bad for our town's economy. Sick people can't work--they can't contribute toward society.

Pennsylvania is entitled to Medicaid expansion funds, but currently our share of the money is going to other states. Wolf supports expanding Medicaid in PA--it would be 100% paid for by the federal government, so no extra state funding would be needed.

Regardless who you vote for, get out and vote on November 4th.




Monday, October 27, 2014

This Week's Zoning Agenda

There's a Zoning hearing tomorrow night (Tuesday). Here's the gist of the agenda.

The first item is 1240 West Main (between Selma and Hartranft), what many of us know as the twin to the Gresh Mansion down the street. It was built by the brewer Adam Scheidt in 1890 and he purposefully copied the Gresh place in design. The house is one of Norristown's nicest pieces of architecture, built of Valley Forge marble.

Eadeh Enterprises now owns it and rents out 10 apartments inside--3 2-bedroom and 7 1-bedroom--plus 2800 square feet of office space. Eadeh is seeking a variance to continue 9 apartments and add 2 classrooms and an office to be used for the Headstart Program. Eadeh only own 3 properties in Norristown, one of which is the Tennis Club at 1529 Dekalb.

Item 2 is 1334 Powell, which is the Montgomery Hospital Parking Garage, owned by Einstein. New Cingular Wireless wants more antennas on top of the garage, so they're seeking a variance  to allow for a permanent facility that would consist of 12 panel style antennas. They're also proposing a screening structure that would match the existing building, which is the first sensible thing I've heard regarding the antennas. The height of the proposed antennas would be 90 feet and the top height of the screening structure would be 91 feet. I'm assuming that means from the ground, not from the top of the garage.

Once the hospital building comes down, this structure will tower over the landscape. We ought to make sure it looks decent.

If you want to protest or support or comment in any way about these projects, go to the Zoning Hearing at 7 pm tomorrow night at Municipal Hall.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ghosts, Theater, Dancing, Art and Other Events

Yes, you must choose between Theatre Horizon and ACPPA's Latin Dance Party tonight, but afterward you'll still have time to head over to Selma Mansion for their Ghost Tours tonight. Ntown offers other Halloween events this weekend, like the Spooktacular and Boo At The Zoo. Check the calendar links in the right column for other events. (One note: Haunted Woods was cancelled.)

Tonight, come anytime between 8 pm and midnight to experience Ghost Tours at Selma Mansion, 1301 W. Airy (between Selma and Forrest Ave), hosted by the Norristown Preservation Society. Adults $5; seniors, vets and children 5-12 $3, active military free. Come experience Norristown's most famous haunted house. Selma's spirits are guaranteed to make an appearance. Fun for the whole family. Tours run about a half hour. All children under 16 MUST be accompanied by an adult. All proceeds will go towards the restoration of Selma Mansion.

Tonight from 7:30-9 pm ACPPA Community Art Center (506 Haws Ave) is hosting a Latin Dance Party for adults. Couples and singles are welcome. $18 per person. Register online at this link

Tonight at 8 pm, "The Syringa Tree" continues its run at Theatre Horizon. Tickets are $20-38. Other performances this week: Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, and Thursday at 7:30 pm. For tickets go to this link.

Saturday from 10 am to noon, the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church is hosting a Photo ID Clinic. If you need a photo ID, birth certificate, Social Security card, voter registration or social services applications, they'll take the stress out of the paperwork. Bring any of the following: Personal identification paperwork, Social Security card, old photo ID or driver license, military ID; marriage or divorce certificates, passport, education ID, naturalization or citizenship certificate; birth certificate, proof of residence, rental agreement, mortgage paperwork, utility bills, medical bills, W-2 forms, work ID, tax returns, bank statements. Questions? Call 610-945-6398. (Note: You will NOT need a photo ID to vote on November 4th.)

Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm, The Norristown Project will host a volunteer project in the West End. Meet at Christ United Church of Christ parking lot (W Marshall and Noble). Volunteers will be asked to assist with a graffiti cleanup as well as cleaning up Hurst Alley, Blackberry Alley, and Rapp Alley.Open to all ages, please RSVP by emailing sashe@montcooic.org or call 610-279-9700.

Saturday starting at 1 pm, Halloween Spook-tacular at the Elmwood Park Bandshell. FREE event--costume contest, activities, prizes for all.

Last weekend for Boo At The Zoo, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 3 pm at Elmwood Park Zoo. Trick-or-treat stations, themed attractions, costume contests, and much more! Free with Zoo admission.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, 9 am to noon starting this week, you'll be able to recycle electronics such as televisions and computers by dropping them off at the Public Works Building behind Municipal Hall at 235 E Airy. The drop-off point is marked with striped lines for parking in front of one of the large bay doors near the center of the building. Please park, press the buzzer to the right of the door and someone will be with you shortly to take your electronics for recycling. For those of us who work, a special Saturday drop off will be scheduled in November.

Tuesday morning from 8:30-9:30 am, the Norristown Business Association will hold its monthly meeting In Bldg 2 of the Stoney Creek Office Center. Featured speaker is Elena Santangelo (hey, that's me) talking about how the Norristown Diary blog can help businesses and non-profits in town. For more info, email info@norristownnba.org .

Tuesday at 7:30 pm, the Zoning Board will hold its monthly hearing at Municipal Hall. View the agenda at  http://norristown.org/userfiles/file/events/1128.pdf

Wednesday from 5 to 7 pm, Norristown Municipal Council invites you to an Open House and Arts Reception. Artwork from local artists. Light refreshments will be served. Please RSVP to gprete@norristown.org by Oct 27th.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Art For Everyone

The Fantasticks at Centre Theater
If you ask people on the street what "The Arts" means in Norristown, most will say the Arts Hill Fest and our two theaters. Some will mention Open Words Open Mic Poetry.

Not as many, surprisingly, will say music, maybe because we had concerts in the park long before we had Arts Hill. No one seems to count live music in restaurants as "art"--I think a lot of people consider it just another perk provided by the management, equal with munchies put on the table while you look over the menu or down your drinks.

For most folks, "The Arts" is something done by professionals for the rest of us to sit back and enjoy, not something we ever participate in.

Quite a few parents in Norristown DO encourage their kids to participate. Centre Theater hosts childrens' theater arts classes, summer theater camp, and Student Musical Theater productions 3 times a year. They also started a music school for school students this past year. Theatre Horizon has an afterschool drama club, drama camps, an autism drama program, and a theater school for ages 5-15. This year the Norristown Educational Theater, SpeakMeFree Productions and Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative partnered to form YouthNET, which holds FREE creative sessions each Saturday at 19 W. Marshall. And, of course, there's ACPPA Community Art Center on Haws Avenue, who offers all kinds of kids' classes in the arts--different kinds of dance, painting, pottery, music, etc., and at extremely reasonable rates.

Those of us who've worked with youth know that channeling kids' creativity into the arts is the best way to keep them off the streets and to reduce our crime rate in the long run. As I heard a parole officer say just last week, criminals are some of the most creative people you'd ever want to meet. Let's focus our youth's creativity BEFORE they can become criminals.

But what about the rest of us? Are the arts only for professionals or children? Do the rest of us feel we've somehow outgrown the need for creative expression? I think it's more that we feel that creative expression is expendable--everything else in life comes first.

A few weeks ago, I started taking a pottery class at ACPPA. Now, even though I consider myself a professional writer and musician, artistic craft does NOT translate across mediums. In the visual arts, I know 4th graders who have more skill than I do. A pottery class of 6 year-olds meets right before our class--they're crafting recognizable clay elephants and cats. Meanwhile my teapot's spout keeps falling off. But I'm enjoying the class immensely. There's something very therapeutic about playing with clay for an hour. It's not a big time commitment, and the cost is cheap compared to other night classes. I'm thinking of re-upping for next semester.

There's also something about being in a building where people of all ages are being creative. Doing art of any sort, or watching your kids do art, makes you feel good for a while, even if you had a really bad day at work. Being in a place where everyone's feeling good because they're playing and creating makes you feel even better. I just heard that ACPPA's preschool dancers having been taking the class with their dads. What a great thing for kids to not only be introduced to dance at that age, but to share the experience with their fathers. Then again, it's as good an experience for the dads as it is for their children.

So, I recommended getting out and participating in the arts in Norristown. ACPPA has been adding more and more adult classes and events. Centre Theater's production of "The Fantasticks" last summer was open to all ages. There are opportunities all over town--I'll post them as I get details. Get your kids involved, but get yourself involved, too. You'll feel better.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SBAC This Morning; Council Tonight

Tonight is the Council meeting and the agenda's been posted, but I'll get to that in a minute. There's one other event this morning that residents ought to know about. Not that I'm encouraging anyone to go. I won't be going.

This morning at 10 am, the Norristown Small Business Assistance Center invites everyone to their grand re-opening at their new office. N-town SBAC is a joint venture between the Municipality of Norristown and Enterprise Center Capital Corporation. The Enterprise Center is based in Philadelphia and their purpose is to provide access to financing for small businesses. Many of their clients are businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans, though they'll work with any small businesses that seek help.

The old office of N-town SBAC was at 208 Dekalb, which most of us know as The Centre Theater. I don't think it was well-known that SBAC was located on an upper floor of the theater. I remembered seeing their address, but it only sunk in exactly where they were when I went to that floor for an Arts Council meeting last January and saw SBAC's name on a door. SBAC needed a street-level sign and needed to put the floor any place they listed their address. But I liked the fact that there was a mutual benefit for both entities--office space for SBAC and an income for Centre (I'm assuming SBAC paid rent--don't know for sure).

I don't know what prompted the move--possibly SBAC needed more room, or better access--whatever. The new office is at 266 E Main Street, a building not only owned by JAR Investments, but JAR's headquarters. Who is JAR Investments? It's the real estate company owned by the Gallo brothers. 266 E. Main is Gallo-Central in Norristown.

JAR Investments owns 81 properties under that name in Norristown, including most of the 200 block of East Main, so it's a bit hard to avoid them, but honestly, a municipal office right in the headquarters of the biggest owner/manager of rental properties in town? What kind of message does that send?

I could go on and on, but I'll just leave the topic with my opinion that this was not a wise choice.

As for the meeting tonight, first, 900 Sandy Street goes before Council. That's the proposed luxury apartment building I talked about last week. I heard from 2 sources that there were tax credits involved and/or that they were asking for public funds from Norristown. I don't know if this is true. If it is, I guess we know where the money we SHOULD be spending on fixing the roads is going.

There are 2 seemingly related items on the agenda to improve lighting on Main and Marshall Streets, and a West Marshall Business District lighting proposal. I've heard people all over town the last year saying we need better lighting for safety in our business districts, so on the surface, this seems like a good plan.

Under Public Works, an RFP (Request for Proposal) is listed for "Trash/recycling collection and disposal", plus a separate item regarding Snow Emergency Routes. Not sure what each entails, but now is definitely the time to talk about the latter.

While I appreciate that the agendas are now appearing more or less on time, there's still very little detail in them, and "Public Comment" is allowed only at the beginning of each meeting, before the topics are discussed. As a resident, I often don't know I'll have a comment until AFTER the topic is explained. I ask Council to either put more of an explanation on the agendas, or allow public comment later in the meeting, after the topic is explained but before you vote. Please consider it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Road Repairs? Or Just Filling Holes?

At 7:30 this morning, my outdoor thermometer registered 39 F. It didn't quite get down to freezing last night and I'm glad, because I still have hopes of harvesting a jar full of fennel seeds before the frost gets them. But it was a reminder that pretty soon, we'll have occasional overnight freezes, then the weekly ones, then nightly through most of the winter.

If you click on this link, you can view the average climate data for Norristown. From November to March, our average low temperatures are below freezing, but in all those months, our average highs are well above freezing--41 F and higher. We usually only have about 2 weeks in January that the daytime highs are likely to be below 32 F. That means for the better part of 5 months of our year, we have daily freezing, thawing and refreezing every single day.

We also have a fairly notable annual precipitation-around 41 inches (about up to my armpits--a lot of water). This makes our part of the U.S. kind of unique. South of here they don't get as many overnight freezes. To the north, they get whole months without a thaw. To the west, for instance in Moab, Utah, you'll find daily freezes and thaws half the year, but they only get 9 inches of precipitation.

A few of you may have noticed road crews out this week, filling potholes leftover from last winter. These were the same holes that were filled last May, plus a few extra here and there (like West Oak Street, FINALLY). Now, if the macadam that was originally put in those potholes in May got knocked apart during the summer, how long will that filling last now that our overnight freezes are poised to begin?

Moreover, in the areas that I think of as pothole nurseries--those lumpy-bumpy sections of street covered with a spider-web patterns of cracks--I don't see any work being done at all. Drive the block of Swede alongside the library. Go up Elm from Markley to Stanbridge. There are sections of road like this all over town, some of them major arteries to our main streets. How do they get that way? All that precip seeped into the cracks last winter, froze, thawed, froze, etc. for months, cracking all the underlying road surface. It's already difficult to drive on. By December, we're likely to have many more potholes in town, and by then, it's too cold to do any real work on them.

We talk a lot in this town about attracting visitors to our restaurants and attractions. Our community image is projected as much through road surfaces as through the facades of our buildings and the neatness of our lawns and gardens--maybe more so. For every driver going through Norristown--they might be in too much of a hurry or too concerned with their own problems to notice our architecture, but they'll have their eyes on the road (or at least, they SHOULD). What good is making our buildings look amazing if the roads are bumpy and unkempt and hazardous?

When you bring up the subject of road repair to government officials in Norristown lately, you hear how bad last winter was. I've lived here 58 years--we've had many, many winters that were far worse. Yet the worst streets were always repaired in the spring--not just the potholes, but all the rough, bumpy places, too. They even filled the potholes in my alley, every year. Until lately. We had a couple milder winters, then this year, and it's like everyone at Municipal Hall has forgotten what our climate's like when it's normal. Nickel-and-diming repairs now is going to cost us a fortune in the future. It's like patching and repatching a bad roof. Sooner or later you'll have to rebuild the whole thing from the wood up. Roads are the same way. Keep up their maintenance every year and they won't cost nearly so much in the long run.

Last week in the live chat with Crandall Jones, one resident asked if there was an ongoing plan for road maintenance. The answer was "There is a great deal of reprogramming going on right now in terms of how we handle pothole repair. Council has been very focused on this issue and we are working to improve the process." You read that and think, political answer that says nothing, right? Really, it says a lot. "Pothole repair" instead of "road maintenance." It tells me that the mindset is to fill potholes as they occur, instead of assessing the roads and properly repaving where needed on an annual basis. Treating the symptom instead of the disease.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Another Busy Saturday and Beyond

I said last week's Saturday was the busiest one ever, then the weather worked against us. But, the Car Show was rescheduled until tomorrow, a slew of other events are scheduled, and the weather's supposed to be beautiful. So I think THIS Saturday will be the busiest. Get out and enjoy yourself. And don't forget, leaf collection starts this week. Details below.

Tonight and tomorrow night at 8 pm, "The Syringa Tree" continues its preview week at Theatre Horizon (Dekalb and Penn Sts). After that, performances are Sunday at 2 pm, Wednesday at 6:30 pm, then Opening Night Thursday at 7:30 pm The show will run through November 9. For the complete schedule and info on tickets, go to http://www.theatrehorizon.org/shows/thesyringatree.html or call (610) 283-2230.

Tonight from 7 pm to 9 pm, ACPPA Community Art Center (behind Grace Lutheran Church--enter off of the parking lot) is hosting "Studio 506: A BYOB Painting Party." Uncork your creativity! Savoring a class of wine (or whatever) and painting make for the perfect way to unwind at the end of the week. Bring a group of friends and simply follow along with the instructor to make your own masterpiece. Tickets are $30, registration required. Go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/studio-506-a-byob-painting-party-tickets-13268262731

Saturday from 8 am to noon, the Norristown Area High School Alumni Association's annual Indoor Flea Market at the NAHS Gym, 1900 Eagle Drive. Rental space $15 for 10 x15 space, $25 for space and 2 tables. Car Wash at the school front entrance from 10 am-1 pm. Contact Cindy Serratore-ccserrator@aol.com or call 484-690-3678 and leave a message.

Christ Church's Festival 2013
Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm, Christ United Church of Christ's "Harvest Festival" will take place, West Marshall at Noble Street. Baked goods, books, clothing for the entire family, used sports equipment, seasonal decorations, jewelry, small appliances, tools, a great lunch selection and much more. I never miss this festival. Great food. Big selection of crafts, jewelry, etc.

Saturday from 10 to noon at the Norristown Public Library, Habitat for Humanity presents a Homeownership Orientation. Homeownership opportunities in Norristown and Pottstown. The orientation will take place in the Community Room. To see if you meet HFH's basic requirements, please visit http://www.habitatmontco.org/homeownership/qualifying-for-a-home.  For more information, call 610-278-7710.

Saturday, downtown on Main St. is the rescheduled Norristown Car Show, from 10 am to 3:30 pm. Registration starts at 9 am. Price is $10 for early registration and $15 day of show. Awards at 2:30 pm. Open to all years, makes, & models: cars, bikes and trucks. Burnout Demonstration, 50/50, DJ, Live Bands, Vendors. Benefits Gethsemane Baptist Church.

Boo At The Zoo continues at Elmwood Park Zoo, noon to 3 pm Saturday and Sunday (and every weekend until October 26).  Trick-or-treat stations, themed attractions, costume contests, and much more! Free with Zoo admission. For more information, contact Guest Services at 610-277-3825 x222.

Saturday, 1-2:30 pm at ACPPA Community Arts Center - Calling all 4th-6th girls! Keeping It Klassy is starting up again. RSVP to jrobinson@acppa.net

Also Saturday, from 3 to 7 pm, The George Washington Carver Center (249 E Jacoby St) will host a Mac-N-Cheese Cook-Off. $35 to enter. Register at http://www.legendarycreationinc.com/mac-n-cheese-cook-off-registation/

Sunday at Elmwood Park Zoo, from noon to 3pm (and every Sunday until November 9) is the Zoo's Harvest Fest. Enjoy games, crafts, food specials, rides, hay-bale and corn mazes, animal interactions, bison feeding and much more! Guests will also have an opportunity to build their own scarecrow to be entered into EPZ's Scarecrow Contest! Live performances at 1 pm. Free with zoo admission. For more information, contact Guest Services at 610-277-3825 x222.

Starting Monday, leaves will be collected on the day of your scheduled street cleaning. Continuing each week until December 12th.

* Rake loose leaves to the curb, do not place leaves in the street
* No leaves will be collected if placed in plastic trash bags or if mixed with branches or trash
* Brown biodegradable bags may be used
* Please do not place leaves at the curb any sooner than two days before collection
LEAVES WILL NOT BE COLLECTED FROM ALLEYWAYS.
Any questions please contact Public Works at 610-270-0437.

Tuesday night at 6:30 pm is the monthly Municipal Workshop at Municipal Hall in Council Chambers. No agenda yet.

The Times Herald posted an Interactive Halloween map of holiday events happening now until the end of the month. Check it out at http://www.timesherald.com/Halloween-events-map-2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The House Next Door

I was asked what the outcome was with the house next door to me that's owned by Judge Lawrence. The short answer is that there is no outcome yet, but I'll give you a quick update.

As I said before, the tenant left September 30th. As far as I can tell, all or most of the codes violations are now being addressed. The loose stucco is being removed from the garage, the overgrown bushes have been trimmed and the loose paint on the back porch is being scraped (although there are still sparrows living where the joists connect to the house). I've heard workmen in the middle bedroom so I assume the ceiling is being repaired.

Out front, the uneven pavement was removed and last week was spent trying to cut all the tree roots on the sidewalk side. Since sycamore trees have no tap roots, it's a little worrisome that they're trying to remove all the roots on the one side of the two trees where the roots absorb the most water (most of the rest of the root system is under the street), but we'll see how healthy/stable they appear come spring. Meanwhile, I wouldn't park under them, or even across the street.

Fran Lawrence has been here doing a lot of the work himself. He's been respectful of my property, as has the guy who trimmed the bushes and trees and who worked on the tree roots. If anything he had to do effected my property in anyway, he asked permission, showed me what he wanted to do and asked for my input. Not so the Gallo brother who drove a backhoe over my lawn and bounced it up and down on my sidewalk while trying to dig out next door's pavement. He DID tell the other workman to sweep my pavement afterward, and that workman DID try to fix flatten out the ruts left on my lawn..

Like I said, I don't know who the good guys and bad guys are in this situation. I don't know why it took 10 years. I don't know why the work couldn't have been done with the tenant living there. But I am happy to see that the house is being repaired.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Luxury Development in Norristown

Tonight is the monthly Planning Commission meeting at Municipal Hall at 7 pm. There's only one item on the agenda:

For Property Located at:
900 Sandy Street
Property Owner: Sandy Spring Real Estate Partners, L.P, 1300 Virginia Drive, Suite 215, Fort Washington, PA 19034

Sandy Spring Real Estate Partners L.P. is requesting subdivision and land development approval to build a 157-unit luxury apartment building with surface and subsurface parking facilities.


The word that jumps out at me is "luxury." Developers rarely use that word to describe projects in Norristown. We hear "low-income, subsidized" instead.

900 Sandy is located where the street ends in a cul de sac, right before the strip of stores where Genuardi's used to be. The lot is 3.5 acres, so that would be about 45 housing units per acre, less crowded than the planned stacked condos on Cherry Street. On Sandy Street, near the town border, there's less of an impact on infrastructure than in the heart of town where we have many more residents competing for parking spaces and water pressure. And 900 Sandy Street is already zoned for apartment buildings.

On the surface, I'd say this looks like a good development for Norristown. Hopefully, our Planning Commissioners will have caught anything below the surface that's not good, like bad design or poor storm water management, and have it corrected before the project gets final approval.

One thing I DO hope for this development--I hope 1000 Sandy Hill Associates, who owns the strip of stores adjacent to these new apartments, takes advantage of the word "luxury" and uses it as a selling point to get SOMETHING into the big anchor store. They do have some small businesses-- Sandy Hill Cleaners, a Comcast store, Family Dollar, Anytime Fitness--but with the big store still empty, it makes the whole strip look vacant (especially with the "space available" sign at the curb). If a large store or an office building aren't feasible there, maybe create an arcade for smaller stores and restaurants. I've seen this done in other cities I've been to, but in Norristown, we always seem to feel the size store must dictate the size business that goes inside. We need to start encouraging creative solutions.

The problem is, 1000 Sandy Hill Associates is based not in Norristown, but in Jenkintown, and we're probably only a dot on a map to them. They probably have no clue luxury apartments will be going up next door. They probably don't care much about what happens in our town. And that's perhaps the crux of Norristown's problem--too many out-of-town landlords with no real vested interest in our community.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Friday's Chat with Crandall

Today I'm going to post the gist of the live chat session with municipal administrator Crandall Jones that took place Friday morning, for those of you who missed it. Mostly, I'll just quote what's there (you can read it firsthand at this link), but I'll also try to clean it up a bit so it's more understandable. There was confusion at first as to where the chat would take place, so the Municipality posted questions from the event page, not always saying who asked them, plus some of the answers aren't for the questions listed above them, so I'll try to make that clearer here.

Also, questions are not necessarily in the order they were asked or answered. Facebook uses an algorithm to put comments in an order it thinks is most meaningful for each user (it never is meaningful, but they do it anyway). So if you go the page to read the original transcript, it will be in a different order on your screen than it appears on mine.

First, Crandall answered a question from Grace Williams about how our tax money is allocated.

Crandall: Good morning and great first question. The great majority of tax dollars are spent on service delivery--Police, Fire and Public Works (streets, parks, etc) are the largest departments. You are correct in noting that you can't find it on our website. We're working on doing a better job with that.

Shae Ashe: Why hasn't there been any additional discussions on paving roads in Norristown since May's workshop? Specifically 1000 of Oak.

Crandall: Actually, there has been more discussion. We put the street paving project out to bid and just last month the Municipal Council approved a $600K paving project that includes East and West Oak. The program will be posted on the website and work actually begins in the next 2 weeks.

Grace Williams:  Along the lines of Shae Ashe's question, will there be more focus on getting last winters pot holes properly repaired before the coming winter weather.... Is it there a plan in place or do pot holes get addressed as reported or put on a list? If there is a plan great, if not then asking residents for input would be helpful. I saw an answer to Shae's question but that doesn't address ongoing maintenance, just a one time repaving project.

Crandall: There is a great deal of reprogramming going on right now in terms of how we handle pothole repair. Council has been very focused on this issue and we are working to improve the process.

Nick Graff: What is the status of all the construction going on on Markley, is it still on schedule, behind? When should it be all done?

Crandall: Markley Street is actually a bit ahead of schedule. The next phase will start early next year and the project should be completed around the end of 2016.

Unknown: Hello. I live in a twin on Swede St which shares a walkway with a rental home. The landlord refuses to put a fence at the rear of his property. Therefore anyone can walk through and leave trash, cigarette butts and beer bottles that I am constantly cleaning up. This is a MAJOR SAFETY CONCERN for me. What can I do?

Nick Graff: Just report them to code enforcement. And I agree, rental houses are getting worse in Norristown, these landlords will let ANYONE use their property and be obnoxious.

Crandall: Correct on Code Enforcement 610-292-8096. We're reaching out to landlords directly to deal with Code issues, both through our New Horizons Collaborative and in how we are revising our Code Department business model.

Grace: When I was working part time I was able to better keep up with the website and other concerned citizens (Elena Santangelo's blog, Norristown Nudge), but one thing I noticed early on is that the Council meeting agendas are rarely posted in a timely manner and if a topic is coming up that impacts my family I would like some time to talk it through with my husband and communicate our perspective to our Council People. Any possibilities to better this process?

Crandall: Yes. I actually thought we had resolved this. I promise we'll do better at getting this done.

Elena Santangelo: With recent developments in the last months, has there been any discussion on how the municipality might identify rental properties where the landlords are not licensed? Seems to me we might be missing out on a lot of revenue, plus having unknown codes violations/hazards to neighborhoods.

Crandall: Yes--one of the things I saw was a bit of "bunkerism" among our team in dealing with property issues--we're actively attacking that mindset and there's now a great deal more of a team approach among various departments in dealing with property issues--both rental and non-rental.

Grace: ...about demolition of Montgomery Hospital...This is not only in my neighborhood, I use that bus stop every morning. While I'm disappointed enough that Norristown as a Municipality took the "it's their property they can do what they want stance" on allowing them to knock it down without a proper development plan & funding in place, we're here now. What does this timeline look like and how will it impact me as a neighbor and also a SEPTA commuter?

Crandall: The timeline is pretty fluid right now. They're in the hazardous material abatement and demolition permitting phase. From our discussions, they are anxious to move forward with demolition as soon as possible. The Municipality always requires that the developer coordinate with SEPTA to insure the least possible adverse impact to riders

Grace: Follow up to that, what expectations have been set to avoid all that goes along with a vacant lot, especially one of that size. The look will do nothing for my neighborhood, but more importantly will the property owner be held accountable for security maintenance, pest control issues that could arise?

Crandall: The Municipal Council, especially Council Member Christian, has been very pointed about making sure that the vacant lot does not become an eyesore. She has named a representative committee of citizens from the neighborhood who continue to meet with Einstein representatives and staff about the intermediate and long-range plans for the site to make sure they are in line with community expectations. Yes, the property owner will be held accountable.

Nick Graff: Is Norristown going to improve on investing in parks and recreation programs, ie. the park could use some refurbishing, having a public pool open in the summer. I see all these other towns with these amazing recreation centers, I go there instead of taking my kids keeping them on their home town.

Grace: Considering what a draw Elmwood Park Zoo is, phenomenal question...the park is just so drab & ill-maintained.

Elena: Would also like to see work on Riverfront and other parks. The Dragon Boat Club is doing improvements to Riverfront at their own expense. Can the town at least spring for some trash cans there?

Crandall: Love this topic! There is lots of discussion going on among Council and staff about parks and recreation in Norristown--even discussion about how to develop a community center. We all know that will take money. We're doing some of the "not so sexy" background work--getting our financial house in order is the first order of business. We are in discussions with multiple potential partners in trying to make something happen. Recreation is now a direct report to me instead of Public Works, because I know it is so essential to quality of life.

Kathy Walsh: When is the new development to start at the old Kennedy Kendrick School ?

Crandall: Hopefully early in 2015. Our development team and I met with them earlier this week--the project is still moving forward--the banking regulatory environment today is really slowing the process

Kathy: Why not partner with Habitat for Humanity?

Crandall: We are partnering with Habitat. Council gave them money a few months back for the Cherry Street project and many of our departmental staff (Planning & Development, Public Works) are working with them routinely.

Tom McGlynn: Many people who work can't come to this meeting. many people who don't work don't use Facebook. can we have a more accessible alternative? Thank you for your time and initiative.

Crandall: Absolutely! The first one will be sometime early November--we'll let you know. Council Members Caldwell and Christian are planning it for the entire Council.

Crandall: Everyone--thanks so much for your interest and participation in this first chat--way better than I expected! You all rock for taking the time to join me.. Have a great weekend!
______________________

That's the gist of it. Facebook, because of their algorithms and because you have to keep refreshing the screen to see new comments and answers, was in my opinion, a really poor choice for this kind of online chat. A Google Hangout or something of the sort might be a better venue if the Municipality considers doing this again. Crandall's last answer refers to a Town Hall meeting being planned by Council for next month, so watch out for news of it.

I do appreciate Crandall taking the time to meet with us, though. Thanks, Crandall, for doing your best to answer our questions despite the confusion.



Friday, October 10, 2014

EVENTS: The Busiest Saturday Yet

Saturday is so busy this weekend, you definitely will have to pick and choose your activities, but it's still possible to, say, watch the Team USA trials at 8 am, get your car washed, go to the car show and bring your kids to Kids Day at Riverfront without being too out of breath. 

Saturday 8 am to noon at Riverfront Park, you can watch the Team USA Dragon Boat Time Trials for FREE. That's right, Team USA--world class athletes--right here in N-town. 

Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm, the Norristown High School Boys Basketball Team will hold a car wash at Marshall St. Elementary School, 1525 West Marshall St.

Saturday from 9:30 am to 1 pm, the George Washington Carver Center will host a car wash. $5.  Call 610-272-7480 for info.

Saturday downtown on Main St. is The Norristown Car Show, from 10 am to 3:30 pm. Registration starts at 9 am. Price is $10.00 for early registration and $15.00 day of show. Awards at 2:30 pm. Open to all years, makes, & models: cars, bikes and trucks. Burnout Demonstration, 50/50, DJ, Live Bands, Vendors. Benefits Gethsemane Baptist Church. Rain Date: Oct 12th.

Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm-- Inspired Women's Leadership Symposium, hosted by Kappa Chi Sigma Chapter of ETP at PAL (340 Harding Blvd). $5 Donation (includes registration fee, conference packet and light refreshments). Executive Panel Speakers Meagan McLeod, MAR, Author and Breakthrough coach, Juanita Wooten, Ed.D, Professor and Executive Trainer, Sheila Fortson-Williams, Host of "Food 4 thought". Breakout sessions. Please support our fall community projects by donating a non-perishable food item or school supplies. For more information about this event, please contact Dr. Adriene Hobdy-Lambert at ahobdy2014@gmail.com

Also Saturday, Elmwood Park Zoo's Boo At The Zoo starts from noon to 3 pm (continuing ever Saturday and Sunday until October 26th). Features candy stations, games, corn mazes, activities and more! With Zoo admission. For more information visit http://www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/event/142.

ALSO Saturday, it's Kids Day at the Riverfront Park from 2 to 4 pm, hosted by the Dragon Boat Club. A day where kids can be kids - sack races, jump ropes, water ballon fights, football toss, etc. Kids might want to bring a dry shirt and a towel. For more info contact: info@dragonboatclub.org

Saturday from 7:30 to 10:30 pm at August Moon (300 E Main). Crying Sam Entertainment will host the Dylan Taylor Quartet and Spoken Word Artist Warren C. Longmire. $10 and a 2 Drink Minimum.

On Monday starting at 11:15 am, there will be a Columbus Day Celebration at the Columbus monument in Elmwood Park (rain or shine). Special Guest Speaker Sheriff Russell Bono.

Monday from 3 to 6 pm at Montco OIC (1101 Arch), Open House Pre-Apprenticeship Program. Light Refreshments. Speak with instructor and Union Representatives. For more info go to http://www.montcooic.org/pre-apprenticeship-program.html

Tuesday at 7 pm is the Planning Commission Meeting at Municipal Hall. No agenda has been posted yet.

Wednesday from 10 am to 3 pm at Mercy Suburban Hospital--Women's Health Fair and Fall Craft Show in the Main Lobby. Free mammograms, DEXA scans, skin cancer screenings, flu shots, learn about yoga, enjoy a chair massage, and more. Raffles, giveaways, refreshments. Appointments and prescriptions needed for mammograms, scans and cancer screenings. Call 1-877-466-3729.

Wednesday from 6 to 7:30 pm at the Norristown Public Library, Master Gardener Jane Irvin-Klotz will share the secrets of  Backyard Composting for the Home Owner--techniques in cultivating rich soil in your own backyard.

Wednesday from 7 to 8 pm at the Montco Historical Society (Dekalb and Roberts), "Mr. Justice Holmes and the Civil War" FREE program about Oliver Wendal Holmes and his service in the Civil War. Questions, call Karen Wolfe at 610-272-0297.

Thursday from 11 am to noon at the Norristown Public Library: Genealogy: Using the Internet, with John Shinpaugh- search logic, genealogical websites, census and other online helps.

Thursday night begins preview week for "The Syringa Tree" at Theatre Horizon with a 7:30 pm performance. It continues through November 9.  This week's perfomances also include Friday and Sat. at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, Wednesday at 6:30 pm, then Opening Night next Thursday at 7:30 pm. For the complete schedule and info on tickets, go to http://www.theatrehorizon.org/shows/thesyringatree.html or call (610) 283-2230.

Next Saturday, Oct 18, from 8 am to noon, the Norristown Area High School Alumni Association's will host their annual Indoor Flea Market in the NAHS gym. Reserve your space NOW. Rental space $15 for 10 x15 space, $25 for space and 2 tables. Car Wash at the school front entrance from 10 am-1 pm. Contact Cindy Serratore-ccserrator@aol.com or call 484-690-3678 and leave a message.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Crandall Jones and Getting Ready for Halloween


Those 2 topics are unrelated, honest. It's that my brain's a bit addled after dealing with roofers at my place this week, and with jackhammers at a neighbor's house, and other loud machinery violating the noise ordinance last night (I think they were cutting tree roots, working in the darkness with no light at all--I kept waiting for someone to hit a gas line). So, anyway, I've been hiding in the quietest part of my house instead of writing Diary entries.

Today, just a few reminders:  First, tomorrow morning, our Municipal Administrator, Crandall Jones, will hold a Town Hall at 10 am. Come and ask him questions. I for one would love to know why the streets were never fixed after the damage of last winter. Swede is the main route leading downtown from the north and it's a disgrace.  Yes, I know this meeting is at a lousy time for most of you, because most residents have to work. Maybe those of us who go can ask if another town hall can be scheduled in the evening. -- UPDATE--the event page on Facebook says the event will take place "on Facebook", although it still lists the venue as Municipal Hall. Your guess is good as mine.

Second, it's October, which means Halloween is coming. I love Halloween--without it, we'd already be hearing Christmas music in the stores. There are a lot of trick-or-treat events scheduled toward the end of this month, but here are some ways you can get into a Halloween mood early.

The Norristown Preservation Society is telling ghost stories from Selma Mansion on its Facebook page every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from now until their Ghost Tours at Selma event on October 24th. They started last Monday. You don't have to be signed onto Facebook to view and read them. Just click on https://www.facebook.com/NorristownPreservationSociety and scroll down to see the first 2 entries. More info about the Ghost Tours will be forthcoming (or read it on their page).

Elmwood Park Zoo's Boo at the Zoo will return starting this Saturday from noon to 3 pm. More info in tomorrow's Diary, but you can read for yourself at http://www.elmwoodparkzoo.org/event/142.

The most active weekend for Halloween events will be October 24-26. Besides the Selma Ghost Tours and Boo at the Zoo, you can attend the Halloween Spook-Tacular costume contest at the Elmwood Park Bandshell at 1 pm on Saturday the 25th, and Haunted Woods at Riverfront Park, hosted by the Dragon Boat Club, starting at 7 pm the same night (possibly other activities there earlier too--stay tuned).

So mark your calendars, and start decorating with jack-o-lanterns and ghosts and witches crashed into trees...and oh, how about some fake tombstones with the names of Norristown's worst landlords? Just a thought.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New Garden at Gotwals

I taught in the Norristown Schools full time for 3 years and in the last 15 years, I've taught writing workshops to 4th through 8th graders throughout the Delaware Valley. One thing I'm sure of is that the best way for kids to learn is through hands-on activities. The second best way is observation/demonstration.

Last spring I did a Diary entry about some schools in our district that had gardens to grow food and wondered why the program wasn't expanded to all the schools. I pointed out specifically that Gotwals has all this sunny space next to its playground that would be ideal for a garden. Well, as of this week, that space is being turned into a garden by Gotwals 4th graders, but they're not planting food crops. With guidance from the John James Audubon Center, they're going to grow Pennsylvania native plants.

Why grow native plants? What difference does it make? In PA, non-native invasive plants are crowding out the natives. As of the turn of the 21st century, 37% of the state's wildflowers are now non-native species. And many pollinating insects, butterflies, birds and beneficial insects won't go near the invasive plants. So as the native plant population diminishes, so does the population of all the insects, birds and animals who rely on those plants for food.

Also, since they evolved to grow in our climate, native plants are usually easier to grow and don't require as much maintenance. For you gardeners out there, that means less work. If you grow vegetables, having native flowers in your garden will bring on the bees and butterflies to pollinate your peppers and tomatoes. To read up on what native plants to get for your garden and how to put them in, go to the State of PA Forestry site.

Lobelia
So, our students are getting hands-on experience growing plants, then they can observe their gardens, to see what wildlife they attract.

Here are some of the flowers Gotwals' students will be growing:







Marsh Marigold


Purple Cone Flower












I talked to Carrie Barron, Audubon's education manager, a couple weeks ago. She has hopes that they can expand our schools' native plants program to involve creating a natural area along the Schuylkill at Riverfront Park.

You can see more photos of the project at http://www.timesherald.com/social-affairs/20140917/john-james-audubon-center-brings-native-plant-gardens-to-norristown-school

Monday, October 6, 2014

Another Trick of Bad Landlords

Last week, in a post I finally took down because the tenant was being harassed, I spoke about the need for tenants to never accept favors from their landlords or property managers if they could help it.

Unfortunately, a lot of the renters in Norristown are low-income, so if an offer comes their way that will save a bundle of money, they'll take it. But the repayment bad landlords or property managers expect is always in the tenant's worst interests. If someone is storing furniture for you free of charge, you can't complain much if they don't fix things around the house. If someone offers to help you move in or out, you can't complain if the apartment isn't ready or if they tell you with no notice that you have to leave 2 weeks sooner. Better to seek favors from people you WANT to do favors for in return.

Over the weekend, I heard of 2 other incidents, both in Montgomery County (one in Norristown)--two different landlords. In both cases, the renter went to look at a rental property, liked it, signed the lease and wrote a check for 1st and last month's rent. What they both failed to do was get a copy of the lease, signed by the landlord, before their move-in date.

When they arrived at their new apartment/house with all their stuff, the places weren't ready for occupancy yet. Despite the fact that both landlords had agreed verbally to the move-in date, they both claimed that they hadn't signed the lease yet or cashed the checks, so they weren't legally bound to have the properties ready. The tenants couldn't move in.

In the one case in southern Montgomery County, the renter at least had someone she could stay with for a week until the apartment was ready. In the other case, the person had no where to stay and was forced to get a motel room. She's on a low, fixed income and can't afford a long stay, but the landlord has no urgent incentive to work faster, other than the loss of a few weeks rent, which doesn't seem to faze him. Neither of these landlords had qualms about making someone homeless.

In at least one of these cases, a real estate agent was involved, and she was responsible for getting the lease signed by both parties. She allowed the landlord to put her off so the lease was never signed. But she DID give him the check, and both renter and agent assumed he'd cash it promptly. The landlord had listed the property on the market, which he shouldn't have done if it wasn't ready for occupancy.

So, if you're looking for a rental property, if you want to go through a real estate agent, you might do better to use a realtor. Pretty much anyone can call themselves "real estate agents" and may not have much training. "Realtors" are regulated by the National Association of Realtors, and usually have more training and know the business better. Whether you use an agent or not, make sure you get a copy of the lease, signed by the landlord, within a week of signing it yourself, and long before your move-in date. And frankly, I would insist on having that signed copy BEFORE I write the check.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Events for the Coming Week (Run, Walk, Paddle, Eat, Drink Beer)


First off, a new restaurant is open in town--Las Palmas Del Sur at 10 W Main, right across from Banh Mi. You can almost smell the food in the photos on their Facebook page, it looks that good. Stop by and welcome them to our community. And if you're on Facebook, LIKE their page.

Saturday morning from 9 to noon, The Norristown Project and Chosen Ones Youth Group will clean Rapp Alley, Blackberry Alley, and Hurst Alley. Meet at Christ UCC church parking lot at Marshall and Noble Sts.

Saturday at 2 pm, a new bench will be dedicated in a short ceremony at Riverfront Park (1 Haws Ave). All are welcome to attend. The bench will be dedicated to the memory of Van "Peanut" Matthews, one of the Riverfront Rangers.

Also Saturday, staring around 2 pm at Riverfront Park, the Schuylkill Rivertowns initiative with the Fairmount Waterworks present the Norristown Around-the-Island Walking/Boat Tour. On this guided tour, you'll walk along the Schuylkill River Trail across Stoney Creek to the DeKalb Street Bridge. After crossing the bridge, you'll visit the Norristown Dam Fishway before meeting a dragon boat at the Upper Merion Boat Club dock, then paddle around the backside of Barbadoes Island.  Knowledgeable local guides will provide background on Norristown's important historic, environmental, and recreational connections to its river, our drinking water source. The walk is approximately two miles and the paddle is approximately a half mile. This event is free, but space is limited! Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/norristown-around-the-island-tour-tickets-12876244193

Saturday evening from 4 to 7, the Centre Theater presents "A Taste of Theatre" -- a fundraiser that includes beer tasting from Gretzky Brewery and Poor Yorick's Brewing. Food provided by Zone Catering and Capone's in East Norriton. Tickets are $30 per person or $50 per couple. Call 610-279-1013 for info. Tickets at https://thecentretheater.ticketleap.com/a-taste-of-theatre/ Come out and support the Centre Theater.

Sunday morning starting at 9 am, 5K Run and 1 mile fun walk at Elmwood Park Zoo. The event supports RSVP's Children programs which provide help to area Head Start programs and the like. Awards given in each age category (under 12 to 70 and over) and gender. Refreshments. Following the race, there will be free admission to the zoo that morning to all participants and their families. Go to this link for more info.

NOTE: Due to the race, Harding Boulevard will be CLOSED Sunday morning.

Also, Sunday from 10 am to 1 pm, Open Mic at Coffee Talk Artists Coop, 507 W Marshall. Donation $5.

Sunday from 1 to 4 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo and the Norristown Fire Department present Fire Smart -- family-friendly activities that promote fire safety and prevention. This is also the 1st Sunday of the month, so Norristown residents can get into the zoo free between 2 and 5 pm. Firefighters, police officers, and EMT's will be on hand, and opportunities for children to dress up as a firefighter, operate a fire hose and tour a fire truck. For more information, contact Guest Services at 610-277-3825 x222. I should also mention that this is the giraffes last weekend before they head for winter quarters.

Starting Monday at Roosevelt School (1161 Markley St): The Incite Institute-- stimulating interest STEM, the Arts, and Fitness for Norristown Area Students grades 5th through 8th. Free Tutoring and Homework help. Sponsored by 21st Century Community Learning Centers, NMOE, GNPAL, and NASD. You must register--contact Hakim Jones, 610-630-5048 or hjones@nasd.k12.pa.us .

Tuesday at 7:30 pm, Municipal Council Meeting at Municipal Hall. The agenda is already available (wow!) at http://norristown.org/userfiles/file/council_agenda_oct_7_2014.pdf.

Next Friday morning, come down to Municipal Hall and chat with Norristown Administrator Crandall Jones. Starting at 10 am, Crandall will hold a Town Hall meeting, which will allow residents to ask questions about our town, upcoming projects and municipal services.

Heads up for next weekend: Don't plan to go out of Norristown. The Car Show will be downtown, and it's Kids Day at Riverfront Park. Plus you'll be able to watch (for FREE) the time trials for Team USA's dragon boat team right here on our patch of the Schuylkill River. More info next Friday.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Landlords and Property Managers: The Next Installment

I took this diary entry down. Why? Because I forgot what I'd learned in 15 years of researching crime for my novels--the chronically guilty will always push the blame off themselves and onto innocent people. Always.

Since I'm not the police, or council, or judge, or jury, or anyone else who has the power to really do something about bad landlords in our town, my words will do nothing to change the situation, except make it worse for tenants. It's very easy for anyone fairly secure and safe in their own homes to say "name names." They're not the ones who might end up homeless. So that strategy won't work. Informing the public might seem like the whole point of this Diary, but not if it's going to make the problem worse instead of better.

Still, it doesn't mean I'll give up on the topic of slumlords, or stop talking about it. I'll just have to approach it differently from now on. So stay tuned.