Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last Night's Town Hall

Despite nasty rainy, cold weather yesterday, we still had a pretty good turnout for the Town Hall at the library last night. I define good as being better than the number that usually show up for Council meetings. We had at least double that.

I'd also rate as "good" the meeting itself. Not excellent, because there wasn't enough time for questions on topics that weren't on the agenda. I barely had time to shout out "What about leaf collection?" before the library threw us out. I had a few other questions and I'm fairly sure other attendees did, too.

But we WERE given a lot of information last night. Jayne Musonye, director of Planning, gave an update on most of the developments currently in progress in the borough. On the Montgomery Hospital site, they're currently removing asbestos and other hazards from the buildings, then will proceed with interior and exterior demolition. The planned development is 100 units. A committee of borough officials and residents are working on the language for the the zoning to make sure the development is good for Norristown and the neighborhood. A resident asked if it would include Section 8 housing. Jayne said because Elon is using state funding, Section 8 has to be allowed, although this will be a seniors-only community. I agree with her that it makes a difference. I think we need affordable housing for our seniors. I just hope they're decent places to live.

Luxor at Sandy Street will be 157 units of upscale, luxury apartments. The belief seemed to be that this particular developer had attracted other investors in places he'd developed before, so they're hopeful the same will be true in Norristown.

The Kennedy-Kendrick Project (also senior housing) had been waiting for funding, but should get moving soon. Ditto for the Condominiums at Courthouse Square (the top floors of the bank building at Main and Swede). The Municipality is working to find a good tenant for the first floor, one that will compliment the development, but also enhance Main St and be accessible to the public.

The Lafayette Street Project has begun outside N-town's borders (between Ford St and Conshohocken Road), but has apparently already stimulated investors who are now looking at properties along that corridor and between there and the river. Lafayette Street will eventually be a 4-lane boulevard between Ford St and the Dannehower Bridge. The extension will connect it to the turnpike. Jayne assured us that riverfront development will be smarter here than in Conshy. A public walkway is planned between the development and the river so residents will have access, and to prevent worse flooding.

Five Saints Micro-Distillery has been hard at work converting the Humane Firehouse at Green and Main. Once open, they'll manufacture bourbon, which will be sold worldwide, but also conduct tours, have a tasting room and maintain part of the building as a firehouse museum. They're on schedule to open next March. They'll provide jobs to the community, yet also be a place that will attract visitors to Norristown.

Let me say that I think Jayne Musonye is a real asset to N-town. I've seen her go to bat for the residents many times and that's because she's a long-time resident herself. You can tell how much she loves the town as she talks.

Next up was the Police Department. We heard a Crime Stats update (violent crime down 27%--part one crimes down 23%). He explained how COMPSTAT works and how the new community policing policy is making a difference, especially in neighborhoods most vulnerable to crime in the past. He reminded everyone that the COMPSTAT meeting on Thursday night is open to the public (6:30 pm at Municipal Hall).

Then Bob Glisson, Public Works director spoke. Markley Street is ahead of schedule and should be complete from Elm to Johnson Hwy by next September. After that, the next phase will cover Main to Elm.

As far as street paving goes, I was disappointed to hear that the only streets mentioned and apparently being worked on were Oak, Elm, and Willow. I wanted to ask why the main roads in need of paving--Swede and West Marshall, for instance--were being ignored, but as I said, we didn't get a chance to ask additional questions. Seems to me, if you want to project a positive image of Norristown to visitors--if you want people to shop on West Marshall or downtown--you'd make sure the roads they have to drive to get there don't bounce them around like they're in an earthquake. Well, if enough members of Council and Mr. Glisson had to drive over the mess on Swede next to the library last night, I hope they noticed the problem.

Lastly, Crandall Jones talked about administrative stuff. The Municipality's new website should be live in about a week. It will include a mobile app that will let you photograph, say, a pothole and send it directly to Public Works. (I can see the website crashing when thousands of photos start rolling in.) He spoke about the budget, explaining that they were still conducting an audit, so they're being conservative in expenditures until that's done. He encouraged everyone to come to the Citizens Leadership Academy when it's offered again.

As for leaf collection--it's a townwide problem. Many people, including myself, reported seeing the leaf collector out the 1st or 2nd week, but haven't seen them since. Mr. Glisson said the problem should be taken care of this week. Someone on James Street said he saw the collector yesterday--not his usual street cleaning day. If they're showing up on other days, that's a problem, because cars are only moved on street cleaning day. On my street, we have lots of cars parked in front of or on top of leaf piles on other days. If the collector doesn't come this week, or misses leaves on your street because they came the wrong day, call or write Mr. Glisson (and copy council) and complain. rglisson@norristown.org or 610-270-0437 .

So that was the Town Hall. A fairly good meeting, though maybe for the next time, a venue (GNPAL perhaps?) that will allow a longer meeting would be nice, so we can ask more questions.

Thanks to Linda Christian for taking photos last night. I forgot to bring  my camera.

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