Saturday, March 11, 2017

Norristown: Your Ad Here?

I don’t usually make Diary entries on a Saturday, but this concerns a Planning meeting scheduled for Tuesday (assuming we aren’t dealing with a major winter storm that day) and I wanted to give everyone the chance to share this issue with their friends and neighbors. Please do share.

I’ve blogged before on the entry points to our town and how unwelcoming they are. Most people enter Norristown at either end of Main or Markley Streets or the south end of Dekalb. The largest welcome sign is on the Schuylkill River Trail overpass over the Dannehower Bridge, and frankly, that sign needs a  touch-up.

Of all our entry roads, coming off the Dannehower onto Markley likely brings the most traffic into Norristown. It’s the first view of our town for some of those folks. What sort of impression do they get in the first 2 blocks from Main to Elm?

This is one of the ugliest stretches of road in Norristown. I admit, we can’t do much about the railroad. It would be nice if we could landscape it a bit more -- plant more trees or and low-maintenance shrubs along the curbs. PennDOT is eventually supposed to widen the part of Markley between Elm and Marshall, so perhaps new curbs and streetlights will help (though I suppose our old-growth trees will go).

But what people probably notice more are the many billboards, and the vacant or unkempt buildings in that stretch. Long-time residents have been calling these blocks “Billboard Row” since the 1970s or 80s, and not as a compliment.

We actually have less billboards now than a few years ago, due to the advent of digital billboards like the one in the photo above, where one board that changes ads several times a minute can be much more profitable than many boards on one piece of property.  So far, the owners of these boards have been landscaping around them. Still, they don’t do much to improve Norristown as a whole. Billboards will always make an area look depressed. There are, I think, 6 billboards now between Elm and the Dannehower, 4 of which are between Elm and Marshall.

This week at the Planning meeting on Tuesday night (7 pm at Municipal Hall), Richard Mina of Ramco LLC will ask for conditional use approval for the placement of six 6x12 foot outdoor advertising signs on the wall of 750 Markley, which most of us know as the old Maaco building, between Elm and the Stony Creek Office Center.

Do we need more ads on that block?

The building is an eyesore as it is. It’s ironic that Municipal Hall keeps approving the demolition of historically important buildings in N-town, yet we’ve got to put up with the sight of derelict structures that should have been levelled long ago. Can’t we somehow hook up the developers with the buildings we WANT demolished?

But back to the ad signs. I asked residents what they thought on Not only did I get a flood of opinions within 24 hours, the residents were, for the most part, angry.  No one wanted what was essentially more billboards in Norristown. Several residents expressed the opinion that their view wouldn’t be listened to—that Municipal Hall would do whatever they wanted regardless of the taxpayers’ desires.

Still, several residents made constructive suggestions. Many wanted a mural on that wall. One said to level the building and make a park. Another thought was, instead of 6 ads, have 6 pieces of art the same size, sponsored by businesses, with the sponsors’ names under the art. That way the owner gets revenue from it, and no tax money needs to be spent.

If you don’t want to see more ads on that stretch of Markley Street, and have better ideas about what could be done with that building, please attend the Planning Commission Meeting Tuesday night. If you can’t attend, call the Planning Department (610-270-0450) before Tuesday, 5 pm and make your views known. If we DO get a big snowstorm Tuesday, hopefully the Planning meeting will be postponed to a day when we can all attend.


  1. I brought up the issue of vacant/boarded up/burnt down buildings in a meeting I had with Municpal Administrator Jones yesterday; I walked away with the distinct impression that blighted properties only matter once a developer has shown interest in them. When I brought up the 4 burnt out rowhomes on the 1000 block of Willow St and the boarded up homes around the corner on Elm St., I never received a clear answer on why these properties have been allowed to remain in this condition for so long.

    1. Frankly, I've never received a clear answer from Mr. Jones on any question.