Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Council's Agenda--Leveling The Tennis Club

Tonight starting at 6:30 pm will be a Council Workshop Meeting at Municipal Hall. The full agenda is at this link, but I wanted to touch on one item in particular.

Sarah Peck, the infamous developer of Arbor Heights and Arbor Mews, will do a presentation on her latest project--the demolition of a Norristown architectural landmark, the Ersine Tennis Club building and grounds at 1529 Dekalb, to put up "housing."

Ms. Peck's definition of housing is stacked condos so dense, that if she were allowed to develop every block of town and managed to sell all of her condos, our population would increase twelve fold. Her projects put a powerful strain on the infrastructures of their surrounding neighborhoods--electrical grid, water pressure, roads, etc. They never include the requisite 2 parking spots per unit. When snow comes to the Arbor Mews parking lot this winter, rest assured Mews residents will put their cars on the streets before the storm to avoid being plowed in.

Her proposals totally violate our zoning code, which says that proposed houses must match the existing housing in the neighborhood. If a block has only single houses on it, you can only build single houses there. If it only has twins, you can only build twins, etc. Yet, somehow, she always manages to get zoning approval.

I've sat in on Sarah Peck's past conversations with Council. She asks for money continually. She expects Norristown and the county to find the money to fund her projects, instead of investing some of her profits like a normal businessperson would. She usually refuses to compromise on design to settle conflicts with the surrounding neighborhood unless she's given even more money. And once when she was speaking to me, not knowing who I was, she actually said Norristown was a soft touch.

At last night's roundtable discussion at the Centre Theater, Buck Jones stood up and asked how developments like Arbor Heights have changed Norristown for the better. No one answered his question. Our economy hasn't improved since Arbor Heights opened. That neighborhood hasn't changed in any fundamental way, other than being more crowded. Her designs certainly don't improve the look of the street much (though the final Arbor Mews design was MUCH better than the proposed warehouse look, but it still doesn't match the rest of the neighborhood).

Now Ms. Peck's proposing to level a landmark. The structure was originally built to be a mansion in 1892, then the Ersine Tennis Club bought it in 1895. Weddings, music concerts and other social events were held there for decades. Tennis was played on lawn courts, the grassy expanse to the left of the building. It was a vital part of Norristown's North End community.

Sure, the building's been empty for a while, but it's still a loss to the architectural character of the borough. The last group to level a landmark--Einstein--at least donated funds toward architectural preservation in Norristown to somewhat compensate for the loss of Montgomery Hospital. I'm guessing Ms. Peck would bawk at such a suggestion. Her M.O. is asking for money, not giving it or anything else to our community.

Last night Bill Caldwell tried once more to convince us that Norristown ought to be considered a city. Thing is, Council doesn't seem to have any intention of updating our sagging infrastructure and solving our parking problems to accommodate the population increase. But they don't even talk about that. How can they approve one overly dense development after another--how can they put our tax money toward it?--when the town as it stands can't handle the extra residents?

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