Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Scary Stuff on Council's Agenda Tonight

I can't make the Council Workshop Meeting tonight, but if you plan to go, don't worry if you have to be a little late. The interesting stuff is on page 2 of the agenda (also the most scary item--see bullet point 3).

First, they'll be approving council meeting dates for 2015, and giving the okay to a few new handicapped parking spots. There's a motion to extend J.P. Mascaro's contract, but interestingly, only for 90 days. A motion for a supplemental Roadway Lighting Agreement with PennDOT, but no explanation of what that means.

So, page 2 -- There's a motion to "declare the telecommunications facilities provisions of the Norristown Zoning Ordinance Invalid." I looked up the Zoning Ordinance and found Section 320-243, which deals with the size and placement of antennas, satellite dishes, cell towers, etc. If they're throwing all that out, I hope they'll replace it with equal or better safeguards or Norristown could start looking like a cell tower forest.

Finally, under "Items for Discussion," the first bullet point is labeled simply "Carver Request." I think quite a lot of people in this town would want more description under that agenda item. I have no clue what it means.

Bullet point 2: "Going green on a larger scale (where possible)." To paraphrase Groucho Marx, whatever it is, I'm for it. I think the Municipality could save a load of money in the long run by investing a little now to wean our government off the use of fossil fuels and non-renewable resources. At least, I hope that's what that item means.

Bullet point 3, the last item on the agenda. Here's the scary stuff: "Potential closing of one or more fire house." The reason is implied in the next sentence: "Could it further strengthen the volunteer base at 3 locations instead of 4?" Apparently we're short on volunteer fire personnel.

The 4 stations they mean are Montgomery Hose at Freedley and Pine, Fairmount #2 on W Main, Hancock on W Airy, and Norristown Hose at Dekalb and Chestnut. Granted, Norristown is only 4 square miles, yet we can get gridlocked with traffic at times. I know from experience that it can take a good 10 or 15 minutes to drive from Elmwood Park to the Dannehower Bridge. Sure, I don't have a big truck with siren and lights, but if my house is on fire, I like the thought that the nearest fire station is only 5 and a half blocks away. Ask any fire fighter the kind of damage a fire can do in 10 minutes. Not to mention all the other things our volunteer firemen do--like when my elderly neighbor's roof collapsed in the middle of the night during a horrendous storm. It was our fire volunteers who came to her aid at 3 in the morning.

What's really frightening is that Council is considering closing fire stations while allowing, even encouraging developers like Sarah Peck and Mark Chalphin to build the densest housing Norristown has ever seen, not to mention new 4-story senior housing--and all built of wood. Yes, new construction should have sprinklers, but do you want to be a neighbor of something like that if it catches fire, especially if your firehouse is one of the ones that closes?

And what of the personnel themselves? At one point do we start worrying that we may not have enough firefighters to serve our community. The folks who argue that Norristown is a city haven't been very vocal lately. Maybe issues like this have made them realize that if we want to go in that direction, we need urban infrastructure, which means professional fire personnel. With that kind of incentive, the fire department could do a presentation at the high school each year showing that being a fire fighter can be as viable a career choice as law enforcement in Norristown. Right now, as Fairmont Engine Company puts it on their Facebook page, "We offer long hours, No pay, Nights away from family, And some of the best Firefighters around, backed by 160 years of pride and dedication."

When a house is on fire, though, the occupants aren't thinking about 160 years of history. We need fire stations and personnel who are there NOW.

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