Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Dropping Of The Ball

Tonight in New York City, they'll drop a ball to bring in 2016. I bet a lot of you will watch it on TV and use it as your cue that midnight's arrived and you can drink champagne and smooch your loved ones and whatever else you traditionally do to begin a new year. I don't. I'd prefer to take my cue from Norristown instead of NYC. Some of my neighbors will set off fireworks. Some local friends will post their greetings on Facebook. I don't need some far away city to make it official.

I've said on the Diary in years past that Norristown ought to do something similar to Times Square's ball drop to start the New Year, only with something rising instead of falling. Doesn't have to be expensive. Maybe ACPPA would take the challenge of making a paper mache or cloth eagle that could be raised on the flagpole outside Municipal Hall. Or a bee, since that's Norristown's symbol. Or a dragon for our connection with dragon boats. Doesn't even have to be raised at midnight New Year's Eve. The first business day or Saturday of the New Year would suffice. A pep rally of sorts. Something that says we N-towners recognize that this is a new beginning and we're all ready--together--to rise to whatever's ahead.

I usually do an end-of-the-year blog to remind everyone about our town's accomplishments over the last year. This year, however, our few town-wide accomplishments were in the first half of the year--Fourth Fridays, for instance. Last summer,  my end-of-the-week event blogs were packed with things to do. Lately, not so much.

Did we build on our successes this year? No. Most of the time, someone dropped the ball. But unlike NYC, not in a good way.

Norristown Business Association evaporated. This happened because the "president" of NBA simply stopped having meetings. He didn't officially announce an end to the organization. Had he merely told the membership at a meeting that he couldn't be president anymore, we could have elected new officers and gone on from there. But no, he dropped the ball without telling anyone. I'm willing to help reorganize the NBA, but I can't do it alone. Anyone in N-town who are interested in getting together to discuss it can contact me at this email.

The NBA was responsible for getting Fourth Fridays started, but some downtown businesses also jumped on board, seemingly enthusiastic. I talked to Oscar Vance a few weeks ago and Jazz on Cherry Street will be continuing as well as other events at 216 Cherry. Yet all the other venues involved in Fourth Fridays gave up when the NBA folded. They dropped the ball, too, just when people were starting to notice and compare us to Phoenixville and say Norristown was rising again.

Our government spent some of our tax money hiring a consultant from Better Block to guide us while we planned an event designed to show residents and budding entrepreneurs what could be done to bring visitors back to our downtown. At the first meetings, we had representatives not only from our government and the downtown neighborhood, but other concerned citizens from around town anxious to help get N-town back on track. We planned the event for Small Business Saturday to kick off the holiday season. Then 2 months went by and we heard nothing from the Planning Department (they were supposed to be in charge). Not until several of the other committee members (including myself) started sending them emails asking what was going on did we get an email in return saying they'd decided to put off the Better Block event until "the beginning of 2016." Municipal Hall totally dropped the ball, and frankly, I'll be surprised if they pick it up again. Meanwhile, I can't count how many people have told me how dead our downtown looks this holiday season. I was down there last Monday night. It was like a ghost town. And the snowflakes on the light poles are in serious need of replacement bulbs. It's pitiful.

This year up in the North End, because people who don't live in the 3rd District saw it as their sworn duty to make sure Linda Christian left office, some of the projects she was spearheading were left dangling. I won't say she dropped the ball--it wasn't her fault, and I know she's done her best to make sure Council had the info they needed to continue. One such project was a neighborhood committee that was meeting with Francis Vargas, the developer of the Montgomery Hospital property, to discuss the design of the new senior apartments to be build there. The intent was to make sure the buildings blend into the neighborhood and do N-town proud. Our last meeting with Mr. Vargas was to be in late September. Mr Vargas has sent emails saying he's committed to meeting with us, but 3 months later, we're still waiting. Now, with Council reorganizing next week, I'm not sure who, if anyone, will pick up that particular ball.

I don't mean to be as pessimistic as I sound. A lot of other groups and individuals in Norristown have shown their integrity and made some great contributions this year--Buck Jones, CADCOM, the Dragon Boat Club, the Norristown Preservation Society, to name a few. Yet I can't help but be disappointed in our goverment and our business community. Real gains could have been made in our downtown economic situation. Now I hear, "Things will turn around when the distillery opens." Once again, we're putting all our eggs in one basket. That's never, ever worked in the past. No one person or company is going to swoop in and save us.

So, one last depressing look back. I'll start looking ahead again next week, but I hope you'll all give this some thought over the weekend. Let's all make a resolution to not give up so easily in 2016.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Events To Begin The New Year

Nothing's happening this week in N-town (outside of the regular library programs which you should definitely check out, especially if you have kids--click on the calendar link to the right). So I waited until today to posted upcoming events.

Sunday, Jan 3, 10 am-1 pm, Open Mic at Coffee Talk, 507 W Marshall. $5 admission.

Also on Sunday, after the Open Mic, from 1:30-5 pm, Coffee Talk will also host "Pork and Kraut," an afternoon of music, conversation, and the Polish foods traditional to the New Year. Sponsored by people in recovery and friends. Donation $5. for info, call 610-272-4811.

Monday from 5:30-6:30 pm, Chat with the Chief on Facebook. Chief Mark Talbot will be answering questions and addressing concerns the first Monday of 2016. Everyone is invited. Go to this link and follow instructions. You must be signed onto Facebook to ask questions, but anyone should be able to read along. 

Tuesday at 7 pm at Municipal Hall, Council reorganization meeting, followed by the regular monthly meeting at 7:30 pm. The new council reps will be sworn in. I'll post next week regarding the agenda.

Wednesday from 1-2:30 pm at First Presbyterian (E Airy and Dekalb), free orientation session for anyone interested in becoming a volunteer literacy tutor for adults. Hosted by the Literacy Council of Norristown. For info and to register, contact 610-292-8515 or visit their website at

Theatre Horizon's Theater School starts its new classes for kids 5-15 on January 9th. View the offerings and register at this link.
Next Saturday, January 9 from 8:30-11:30 pm  is Comedy Night at Centre Theater (208 DeKalb). Starving Artist Prevention presenting Jon Koppel in "Wait, Who?" Doors open at 7:30pm, show begins at 8:30pm. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. For tickets, call 484-809-4216 or 215-906-0919 or go to

The Historical Society is closed now through January 10. They'll reopen on January 11.

Have a safe New Year's Eve, whatever you've got planned.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

At Last, Probably Too Late

FINALLY there's an agenda posted for tonight Zoning Board Hearing. You can read the whole thing at this link. I suspect very few people will get a chance to read this because of how late it was posted. But if you plan to go, it's at 7 pm at Municipal Hall, 235 E Airy.

Not only is the project at 1529 Dekalb on the agenda, but so are 4 other properties, none of them owned by people who actually live in Norristown.

711 Swede -- The owner wants to create a duplex with 2 off-street parking spaces.

232 Minor -- Owner wants to build a roof deck and "pilot house." That's usually a nautical term, but in architecture, I think it's a top floor that projects out over the floor below. The house is one of a row of houses.

50 W Brown -- This is the old Cancer Center at Brown and Powell. They want to build 2 outdoor play areas.

923 W Marshall -- This property is on a residential block but already has a barber shop on the first floor front. They want to make the rest of the space 2 apartments.

I won't be able to go to the meeting, but at least I was able to speak at last month's hearing regarding storm water runoff from the 1529 Dekalb project. I hope that some neighbors are able to go tonight, but this close to Christmas, I wouldn't blame people if they couldn't. Yet this is basically how our town is being run currently. Everything done at the last minute. Decisions being made almost by default instead of allowing the taxpayers ample time to participate in the process. And the taxpayers, so used to this system, don't show up because they're intimidated, with good reason. So out-of-town landlords and developers end up determining what Norristown becomes, block by block, instead of residents and businesses shaping their community.

Can we change this in 2016? You tell me.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Still No Zoning Agenda

As of  8 am today, with less than 48 hours to go until the Zoning Board Hearing tomorrow night, there is STILL no agenda posted on the Municipal website. With a decision about a major development at 1529 Dekalb pending, this is absolutely not acceptable.

The development calls for 34 housing units on only 1.26 acres of land. This development could effect not only the dozens of residents who live in the immediate neighborhood, but hundreds of others downhill who would potentially be effected by any changes in the storm water runoff that's now absorbed on the site. (How much? One half inch of rain on 55,000 square feet equals over 16,000 gallons--and that's only an average rainstorm).

The development involves yet another historic building being slated for demolition, which concerns quite a few residents of Norristown. And since the developer will be seeking public funding, tax dollars from ALL of us are on the table.

And, I'll add a little history here--The Borough of Norristown bought this property in the year 2001 for $900,000. They sold it only 2 years later for $227,000. So, we've already lost over $600,000 in tax dollars on this place.

The thing is, there's no one to complain to. It's late December, 4 days before Christmas. This is the current Zoning Board's last meeting. The 2015 Council is already adjourned, as is the Planning Commission.

But the law says if Zoning fails to come to a decision within 45 days of the developer's application (which was last month), the application is automatically approved. And 45 days are up, I believe, on December 31.

Those of us who want to know whether or not to show up at the meeting tomorrow, or if another hearing will be scheduled before year end, come out sounding like the Scrooges in this deal. But remember, we aren't the ones who'll be profiting from this venture if the Zoning Board fails to make a decision. Even if they do vote, one way or the other, every resident or business owner in town ought to have the opportunity to express their concerns and opinions if we're going to call ourselves a democracy.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Theater, Dance, Music and More This Week

Even with the holidays, there's still a long list of things to do in Norristown this week.

Today Friday, Dec 18th, 8-11 am in the Main Floor Lobby of Human Service Center (1430 Dekalb St) is the Nurse Family Partnership Bake Sale. All proceeds benefit our volunteer photographer so she can continue to take pictures of the NFP babies for free of charge.

Tonight, ACPPA's "Norristown Nutcracker" opens at 7 pm at East Norriton Middle School. Second performance on Saturday at 2 pm.  Tickets at this link.

Also tonight at 7:30 pm, "The Santaland Diaries" opens at Theatre Horizon. It runs 3 days only--Friday, Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $25-32.

Saturday from 10 am-2 pm at the Norristown Library (1001 Powell St); New Beginnings Evangelistic Outreach Ministries presents Christmas Fellowship. Food, fun, door prizes, games.

Saturday from 11:45-2 pm at the First Presbyterian Church Gym (Airy and Dekalb), FREE Open Gym. Pick up dodgeball games, pillo polo, indoor soccer, ping pong, foosball, air hockey or just running around. Just show up for fun. Sponsored by Norristown Recreation and First Pres Sports Club. You can also register for winter Recreation programs there.

Saturday at 7 pm at Coffee Talk, 507 W Marshall. Blues and Jazz Concert featuring Vince Roggio, Allen Reynolds, Hurk McGruder, Jackie Person and others. Tickets, $10. For reservations, call 610-272-4811.

Sunday from 11 am -3 pm at Hair Illusions, 1221 W Main St - Handbag & Jewelry Expo with door prizes, wine & cheese. Holiday sale 40% off everything. More info call Hair Illusions at 610-277-6808.

Monday at 1 pm at Casa Bonita (Oak and Dekalb), the Norristown Rivertown Action Team will be meeting to discuss signage along Norristown's stretch of the Schuylkill River Trail and for Riverfront Park. This is a great way for Norristown businesses to attract the thousands of potential customers who use the trail. Come be a part of the team. The more residents/businesses who get involved, the better for Norristown. RSVP to

Tuesday at 7 pm at Municipal Hall. Zoning Board Hearing. No agenda is posted yet, but I believe they might be voting on the proposed high density development at 1529 Dekalb. Not posting the agenda in a timely manner if it contains a major development like that is a HUGE disservice to the community. I get the feeling Scrooge is behind this.

Next week's list of events (if any) will probably be posted on Saturday the 26th. Have a safe and very Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Watch What You Call Us

This is what blight looks like, but it's not in N-town. 
In the last month, I've heard the word "blight" applied to Norristown twice. Both times the word was used incorrectly. And when you use that word incorrectly, you insult the residents of the block you're talking about. So let's begin with the dictionary definition.

The Urban Dictionary defines "urban blight" as "consisting of the deterioration of part of a town or city due to ageing, neglect, and lack of financial support for maintenance."

Collins English Dictionary defines it as "the decay and deterioration of an urban area due to neglect or age."

The first coinage of the term was used to mean a whole section of a city. It came from the type of plant blight that not only kills one plant, but spreads. But more recently, urban blight can also be used in terms of "a blighted property"--say, a single house that's been abandoned or neglected by the owner until it falls into obvious disrepair and ruin. It's used to describe man-made structures, not empty lots, or at least, a combination of both if the lots look, for instance, like Montgomery Hospital's does at the moment. That's why we have a law that says if you demolish a building, the lot must be planted in grass, so it becomes green space.

We have a few blighted properties in town, mostly rental properties neglected by their landlords. There are a few areas of town where you have more of these properties than others, and our riverfront has abandoned industrial buildings, but in Norristown where people are actually living, we don't have whole sections of our town that could be called blighted.

Last month, when Sarah Peck was pitching her newest development before Zoning, she said the 1500 block of Willow was blighted. The photo to the right shows that block. It's a nice, even pretty, residential street, not deteriorated in any way. She said that because there was a foreclosure on that block, it's blighted. I feel sorry for the owners who lost their mortgage, but they obviously took good care of the house, as do the residents on the rest of the block. The word "foreclosure" has nothing to do with the definition of "blight." Ms. Peck owes the residents on that block an apology.

The other day, I saw the word "blighted" used to describe the empty field that had been at 1202 Dekalb before Arbor Mews was built. Here's a photo of it. Mown grass and mature trees. Green space. If you're going to call that blight, you might as well call Valley Forge Park blighted.

Here's an example of a blighted property. This photo shows the fence over Saw Mill Run beside August Moon's parking lot on Main St. It's obviously deteriorated from rust and has been for decades. I haven't been able to find out who exactly owns it. Does it belong to the factory building or because it's a bridge over a creek, is it Municipal property? I suspect it might be the latter (the Municipality actually owns August Moon's parking lot). Wouldn't take much for Public Works to slap some rust remover and paint on that fence and powerwash that wall, on Main and at least as far back as August Moon's sign. Or, I'm guessing if the Municipality bought the supplies, The Norristown Project might do the work for free. Or make it a Day of Service event. We shouldn't have something that ugly on Main Street when it's easily fixable.

So, to summarize, if you see something in Norristown that looks like the photo at the top of this article, fine, call it blight. (Those properties, by the way, are in Philadelphia.) But where Norristown has real urban blight, let's fix it before it spreads. Remember, "blight" is a strong, negative word--a word that, for the most part, Norristown doesn't deserve. The vast majority of residents don't neglect their properties and they should be applauded, not insulted.

Monday, December 14, 2015

This Week's Council Agenda

The meeting is tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 6:30 pm at Municipal Hall. Not much to the agenda this week. In short, they'll be

1. Voting on the dates for the 2016 Council and Council Workshop meetings.

2. Voting on 2016 Municipal budget.

3. Voting on whether to enter into an agreement with Municipal Solutions in the amount of $19,800
to provide recruitment services for the Public Works Director position.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Events Galore (and Santa's Still Here!)

Lots to do this coming week in Norristown. Remember, today is the last day to drop off gifts for the Santa Express at Municipal Hall before 4 pm. Info at 

Today, Friday, Dec 11, from 2-7 pm at Hancock Fire Hall (820 W Airy), American Red Cross Blood Drive. Appointments are preferred. Call 1-800-RED-CROSS or sign up online at Enter code: hancock.

Also today, 4-7:30 pm, Montgomery County OIC (1101 Arch St, 2nd Floor) will hold their winter Open House. Learn more about OIC and their programs. For more information, call 610-279-9700 or visit

Tonight at 7:30 pm, "Black Nativity" continues at Theatre Horizon (401 Dekalb). This is the LAST WEEKEND. The show features the writings of Langston Hughes and West African and modern dance. Shows this weekend on Saturday (3 and 8 pm), Sunday (3 pm). Go to this link to see the schedule. For the box office call 610-283-2230 ext 1 or email

Tonight at 8 pm at Coffee Talk Artists Co-op, 507 W Marshall, Show in the Holidays Spirit, concert featuring Annabelle Wood. Donations welcome.

Saturday 8 pm at August Moon, Second Saturday Jazz with the George Weldon Quintet. Swing music and standards from Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins and more. Entertainment fee $10. 2 drink minimum. Doors open at 7:30 pm.

Sunday from 12-6 pm at Almaz Cafe (24 W Main), Single Parent Foundation Annual Fundraiser. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the door.

Sunday at 4 pm at Coffee Talk (507 W Marshall). A Pollyanna "gift exchange with surprises." Donation $10. Open stage for musicians, pictures with Santa, concert at 7 pm with Cordilia Arcay and Matt Asti - jazz. For info, go to this link.

Monday the 14th is the deadline for donations to the Montgomery County Commerce Department Holiday Drive. They're currently collecting donations of toys, clothing, and books for children ages 1-13. Donations can be made at Career Development Center, 1st Floor, Human Service Building, 1430 Dekalb St. Contact Josette Walton at 610-278-5947

Monday through Wednesday, 6-7:30 pm in Eisenhower Middle School's gym, registration of winter baseball camp for kids ages 6-8 and 9-12. Learn or improve the skills of bunting, fielding, hitting and stealing. You will need a glove and sneakers, all participants will receive a T-Shirt. Limit 25 participants in each age group. Camp will take place on Mondays beginning January 4th. Ages 6-8: 6:10-6:50 pm, and ages 9-12: 7-7:45 pm. $25 per player  Make checks payable to "NLL". For further info, call 610-270-0467

Every Tuesday this month from 10 am-2 pm at CADCOM (113 E Main) Certified Application Counselor in CADCOM office for walk-in visits to apply for health insurance. Please bring proof of income and ID. For info, contact Heather Lewis, 610-277-6363, or
Tuesday at 6:30 pm at Municipal Hall, Council Workshop. No agenda yet.

Next Friday, Dec 18th, 8-11 am in the Main Floor Lobby of Human Service Center (1430 Dekalb St) is the Nurse Family Partnership Bake Sale. All proceeds benefit our volunteer photographer so she can continue to take pictures of the NFP babies for free of charge.

Next weekend, ACPPA's "Norristown Nutcracker" will take place Friday at 7 pm and Saturday at 2 pm, oddly enough not in Norristown, but at East Norriton Middle School. Tickets at this link

Next weekend, Theatre Horizon presents "The Santaland Diaries"--3 days only--Friday, the 18th at 8 pm, Saturday the 19th at 8 pm and Sunday the 20th at 2 pm. Tickets $25-32.

Pajama Drive for the Holidays, sponsored by Vance Community Partners and Strategic Wear. Bring your donations of new cozy pajamas for infants, toddlers, teens and adults to Vance Center, 212 Cherry St. For info, contact Jill Adelman 610-277-9125 ext 307 or

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Santa Express Time Again

Surprise your child with an early visit by Santa. Drop off one small, wrapped gift per child at Norristown Municipal Hall (235 East Airy) by 4pm on December 11th and have Santa deliver it to your child on Saturday, December 12th.

·     Drop off one small, shoebox-sized wrapped gift per child at Norristown Municipal Hall, 235 E. Airy Street,  1st floor lobby.
·    Complete the form found at the link below, please PRINT clearly, and attach to each gift.
·    Gifts must be dropped off between December 7–11 from 9 am – 4 pm.
·    Due to time and planning constraints, NO gifts may be dropped off after December 11.
·    Santa will deliver the gift on Saturday, December 12 between 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. (Delivery time cannot be predetermined).
·    Please have your child/children ready to come outside and meet Santa when you hear the sirens. A parent or guardian must accompany all children. Santa cannot wait.
·    Delivery addresses MUST be within the Municipality of Norristown
·    Any questions, please contact the Fire Chief at 610-292-8281.

To download the form, go to this link.

Note from the Diary: This was only posted to Facebook yesterday and the deadline is this Friday (Dec 11). Not sure where else they advertised it, but really Norristown, we have to get better at more timely and more widespread notifications. It's our biggest problem in people not knowing about the good things that happen in town.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Meet Our New Councilwoman

Just a reminder to 3rd District residents and any other N-towner who's interested: Third District Town Hall  Meeting tonight at 6:30 pm at the Norristown Library (Powell and Swede). It's a Meet and Greet for Councilwoman Valerie Scott Cooper, who was appointed to council to fill the vacancy left by Linda Christian.

There's still no agenda posted for the Planning Meeting which was supposed to be at 7 pm. I'm taking this to mean they have no agenda items for this month.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Santa Comes To N-Town, More Than Once

Tonight, Friday, Dec 4, from 5-7 pm is the annual tree lighting at Elmwood Park Zoo. This is a FREE event. Santa Claus will make an appearance to bring his reindeer-in-training to the zoo for the winter. Photos with the reindeer, $5 each. For info, contact Guest Services at 610-277-3825 x222.

Also tonight at 5:30 pm at the Centre Theater, the Centre Theater Music School will present their Winter Concert. Information at this link. Admission is free. Donations accepted. Please reserve tickets at this link.

Also tonight at 7:30 pm, "Black Nativity" continues at Theatre Horizon (401 Dekalb), featuring the writings of Langston Hughes and West African and modern dance. Shows this week also on Saturday (3 and 8 pm), Sunday (3 pm), Thursday at 7:30 pm. The show has been extended through December 13 (only 2 more weeks). FREE TICKETS AVAILABLE for Norristown residents. Go to this link to see the schedule. For free tickets, call 610-283-2230 ext 1. For info, email

Saturday starting at 6 pm at Riverfront Park (1 Haws Ave): Winter Wonderland 2015. While you wait for Santa to arrive by Dragon Boat, drink hot cocoa and coffee, sing carols, munch cookies. FREE event. The park will be decked out with lights for the holiday.

Sunday from 10 am-1 pm, Open Mic at Coffee Talk (507 W Marshall). $5 admission.

Sunday after 2 pm, Elmwood Park Zoo, FREE admission to Norristown Borough residents. Adults must show photo ID as proof of residency. Children must be accompanied by a Borough resident. Non-residents will be charged normal admission rates. For more information, contact Guest Services at 800-652-4143 x222.

Every Tuesday this month from 10 am-2 pm at CADCOM (113 E Main) Certified Application Counselor in CADCOM office for walk-in visits to apply for health insurance. Please bring proof of income and ID. For info, contact Heather Lewis, 610-277-6363, or

Tuesday, 6:30 pm, Third District Town Hall Meeting at Norristown Library to meet the new 3rd District councilwoman, Valerie Scott Cooper.

Also Tuesday at 7 pm at Municipal Hall, Planning Commission Meeting. No agenda posted yet.

The Wednesday Matinee (1-3 pm) at the Norristown Library (Powell and Swede) this week will be White Christmas.

Next Friday, Dec 11, from 2-7 pm at Hancock Fire Hall (820 W Airy), American Red Cross Blood Drive, Appointments are preferred. Call 1-800-RED-CROSS or sign up online at Enter code: hancock.

Also next Friday, 4-7:30 pm, Montgomery County OIC (1101 Arch St, 2nd Floor) will hold their winter Open House. Learn more about OIC and their programs. For more information, call 610-279-9700 or visit

Also next Friday, 6:30-8 pm, Greater Norristown PAL (Harding Blvd). Family Holiday Carnival co-sponsored by GNPAL and Norristown Recreation. For ages 4-12. All children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Games, crafts, music, give-aways, prizes, food, photos with Santa. Number of participants is limited, so registration is REQUIRED by today, Friday Dec 4. To register - or call 610-278-8040.