Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ask The Questions That Council Won't

I attended the roundtable "discussion" at the Centre Theater last week. I put discussion in quotes because it wasn't that at all. It was a Q&A session where it seemed mostly that the people with the most interesting insights barely got the chance to express themselves while the more practiced political orators kept feeding us the same old promises/excuses.

Maybe in another Diary entry I'll cover it further--I haven't decided if it's worth my time yet--but today I just want to tell you about an answer to the question I asked that night. I wanted to hear any ideas the panel had for how our downtown could be brought back to life, or how could we learn from what was working on West Marshall and apply it to the Main Street.

Bill Caldwell said we can't learn from the West End district. He said the difference was that people lived close enough to West Marshall Street to patronize those businesses, but no one lives downtown. He said until we increase the number of residents living downtown, it can't thrive again.

First of all, the teacher in me balks when someone says we can't learn from something. You can learn from ANY situation. All you have to do is open your mind and think creatively.

Second of all, someone explain to me who owns all the cars that are parked on the streets downtown overnight and on weekends? Try going to a Sunday matinee at our theaters. Finding a parking space on the street is next to impossible. If no one lives downtown, where do all these cars come from?

But just for the sake of argument, let's say Mr. Caldwell is right. If we need residents downtown, then last week when Sarah Peck of Progressive Ventures proposed yet another ultra dense development--34 stacked condos on 1.2 acres in another residential area--why didn't Mr. Caldwell or any other Council rep ask Sarah why she can't build these big behemoths of hers downtown where we supposedly need more residents?

The proposed development will be at 1529 Dekalb between Freedley and Brown. Never mind that this marks another historical building slated for demolition, and that the lot is some of the only green space left at a high point in town where it right now efficiently collects stormwater and lets it drain slowly. Let's ask instead what Norristown businesses will the residents of this new development support? How likely is it that they'll buy groceries and gas in Norristown? Where will they go for a fast meal? It's about 3/4 mile from 1529 Dekalb to Eve's Lunch or Sessano's or Zachary's, and all routes involve some pretty steep hills. Even Jules is a half mile walk.

Meanwhile we've got loads of vacant space downtown, and lots of restaurants and a few other businesses who would love to have condos within a block or three of their doors. Why isn't Council trying to get developers interested in Main Street, instead of letting people like Sarah Peck build where it will only cause annoyance to the existing neighbors, worse floods for those downhill (like me) and no boost whatsoever to our businesses? (Did Arbor Heights or Arbor Mews help our any of our businesses? No.) AND here's the destruction of yet another architectural landmark, coming so soon on the heels of Montgomery Hospital.

Tonight is the Zoning Board Hearing at 7 pm at Municipal Hall. The 1529 Dekalb condos will be voted on. As I said in my Diary last week, this development will use public funding--our tax dollars--so we need to have a say in it. One would assume we DO have a say, through our elected officials, but besides Olivia Brady, none of them so much as asked questions last week before approving the project. I suspect it might be no coincidence that this zoning issue was scheduled for a holiday week when people will have trouble attending, but PLEASE, go to the hearing if you can. Get up and voice an opinion for the record.

And next election, we need to start asking our candidates upfront if they intend to sit on Council like silent bumps on a log while outsiders walk all over them and our community.

1 comment:

  1. It appears that the residents of Norristown and surrounding townships are starting to take a direct interest in how the area develops. The "Anything goes..." attitude toward development is embedded in the culture of the area. It is unimaginable that historical buildings are torn down to build chain drug stores and strip centers. It is unimaginable that green space is destroyed to build some rich persons personal project. Green space and natural areas are fundamental to the well being of the community. Access to community small businesses restaurants, bistros, sidewalk cafes, allows residents to relax, carry on conversations, and express themselves creatively.
    I don't believe the BOS and Town Councils are overtly trying to destroy the community for the almighty dollar. I believe they really don't know any better. If residents want to make a difference they will have to share their vision and lead the way. That means showing up at public meetings and communicating regularly with planners and Council leaders. Let them know you are here and here to stay.
    Good things are starting to happen in Norristown. It's time to build momentum and fuel the change.