Monday, March 2, 2015

Live Chat With Crandall Jones

For an hour last Friday morning, our Municipal Administrator, Crandall Jones, answered questions from residents in a live Facebook Chat. For those of you who couldn't participate, either because you're not on Facebook or had to do something else like work, here are the questions and replies. 2 other questions came in too late for Crandall to answer in the allotted time. The questions below aren't necessarily in the order they were asked. I corrected spelling but otherwise, the conversation is verbatim.

Nick Graff: Demolition of Mont hospital still on schedule. Really happy that it has not been a noise, dust or traffic issue

Crandall Ortiz Jones: Yes, the demolition is still on schedule. I think Council and particularly, President Christian has made great efforts to ensure that the disturbance to the community will be kept at a minimum. The developer has been really responsive.

Schannon Hadley Stoudemire: Can you tell us about upcoming projects in Norristown?

Crandall Ortiz Jones:  We have a micro distillery being developed now, luxury condos being developed now--both downtown. Last night Council approved a project bringing Diva's Restaurant downtown, luxury apartments coming to Sandy Street, other projects we can't discuss yet

Ernie Hadrick: How do you feel the Lafayette Extension will impact Norristown economically?

COJ: The Lafayette project is a great boon for Norristown! Think of Conshohocken before they got access to the turnpike. The same possibility now exists for Norristown. I think our potential is greater because we have are a transportation hub. Development activity is already increasing.
     There is so much development conversation going now. Property is beginning to move consistently and our Planning Department is getting a good number of calls. Ultimately, as business begin their development, our tax base increases, property values increase, individual taxes should begin to go down and you'll see more jobs and increased infrastructure development in town.

Elena Santangelo: Can you tell us about the new parking kiosks that go into effect Sunday?

COJ:  The weather is not cooperating with us in letting us get to some areas where we need to do some electrical work--ice is still on the ground. Looks like we're going to be delayed a few weeks until it warms up. We're finally migrating to credit card usage; pay and display instead of numbered spaces; reducing the hourly rate to $1.50 and allowing for incremental parking instead of mandating $2 only. The goal is to support businesses, commerce and movement in the downtown

Ernie Hadrick: Folks are concerned about funding for youth recreation/after school programs. Is the Municipality pursuing funds for this purpose?

COJ: Yes. Council identified youth programs as a priority in their retreat last year and we've been working on it. A week ago, Council approved us adding an additional full-time staff member to our Recreation Department. There are also multiple discussion going on about different approaches we can take at implementing some youth projects. More to come

Cory Steeley: While all the development of new/luxury condos is great, is there any plan to provide some incentive to developers to do more with existing blighted/abandoned properties?

COJ: The reality is that the current national development trend is not for single-family development; rather, it is for apartments. The current demand for housing shows that there significant shortage in the area nationally. Developers are responding to that--after all, they're in it for profit, not necessarily community development. On the other hand, the Municipality is doing other things to help with blighted properties--we have, through grant programs, put hundreds of thousands in improving blighted properties all over Norristown. Also, our New Horizons Collaborative project is targeting blighted and distressed neighborhoods in Norristown.

Nick Graff: Any new updates on public pool being available this summer and any upgrades to the parks in the area for Spring and Summer?

COJ: The Municipality does not have any control over what's happening with the Carver pool; however, we have been assisting them as we can in trying to resolve the pool issue--their board is in the drivers seat on that. As I mentioned earlier, we are looking at alternative ways we can impact youth activities through beefing up our recreation activities. We've had a one-man operation in the Rec department for 3 decades, we've got some catching up to do and things are underway.

Linda Thomas Smith: What is being done to reduce property tax?

COJ: Good question! Development is going to reduce property tax, by bringing in businesses that help share the load. That's a really exciting opportunity coming from the Lafayette Street project. Also, we're doing business smarter in order to reduce government spending--$100K reduction in phone expenses, effective reduction in staff to eliminate waste; restructuring to do the same; your trash bills will be coming down.

Linda Thomas Smith: What is being done about quality of life issues, i,e absentee landlords, late noisy late night basketball games (not really a problem in this cold weather, but a regular occurrence in the warmer weather), trash/litter, over crowded rental properties, etc.

CJ: Great question. We created the New Horizons Collaborative (info on my page of the website) to deal with quality of life issues. it's modeled after the Philly Rising Collaborative. Staff and I are currently working on several quality of life issues, which include an upcoming series of meeting with landlords and their reps on their responsibilities, tenants rights and responsibilities and our "new normal" in how we are holding everyone accountable for quality of life issues. A big quality of life change is our new trash contract--we're moving to 64 gallon rollers for trash and recycling. Also, our new policing strategy in Norristown is exceptional. You should come to the next public Police COMPSTAT meeting to listen, ask questions and get a picture of how we're policing in a positive way that directly impacts quality of life in Norristown. By the way, crime is Norristown is down 23% from 2013.

Donna Malin:  Do you think there will ever be an affordable gym in Norristown?

CJ: Over the last year, Development staff actually spent time working on attracting a major gym to the downtown. At the time our demographic/economic profile wasn't as attractive as it needed to be. I think the Lafayette Street project is a game changer, so there is the possibility that it can happen--in a variety of ways

Elena Santangelo: Any thoughts on how Council & municipal government can help to improve the appearance of Main St, to help attract visitors to our restaurants downtown?

CJ: We're doing several things on main already. Police walking beats; a new lighting improvement project is underway to brighten main street and West Marshall Street at night; we're partnering with the Elmwood Park Zoo with putting up attractive banners about the giraffe season there and are seeking other partners who want to likewise put skin in the game; working on night market and food truck activities for downtown; we've already invested millions in streetscape improvements. With our new trash and recycling program, we're going to be much more aggressive about businesses providing for residential and commercial trash collection downtown in order to keep our downtown and Marshall Street clean.

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