Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Best News About Our Riverfront

At the first Council Listening Tour meeting, I asked 3 council reps what the plan for Riverfront Park was. All 3 told me the plan was listed on the Norristown.org website. So that was the source I used for my last Diary entry about the park. Turns out, though, that I should have talked to the Planning Dept. Director, Jayne Musonye, and ignored the website and the council reps entirely. So, first of all, I apologize for any incorrect information I passed on (though, in my defense, I was just using the resource Council told me to use).

Last Wednesday, The Audubon Center at Mill Grove gathered volunteers, tools and potted plants and put in a whole garden of native flowers and shrubs along much of the park’s riverbank, to restore the riparian buffer zone and provide food for wildlife as part of the Plants for Birds project. These plants will spread out and help prevent erosion and absorb pollution in stormwater runoff. This garden was Audubon's gift to Norristown, so take your kids over to Mill Grove some weekend and thank them for their work.

Here’s what they planted:

Winterberry shrubs: They produce beautiful bright red berries which birds love to eat. (Not good for humans or pets, though, so keep your kids and dogs from picking them.)

Pink Muhly Grass
Pink Muhly Grass: These native grasses turn pink in autumn and birds eat the seeds.

Blackeyed Susans: Once established, they’ll flower all summer, providing food for pollinators, and birds eat the seeds in late summer and autumn.

Now the even better news. At last week’s Council Listening Tour meeting, Jayne Musonye said that the Comprehensive Plan for the park had been changed. The original was too expensive and the Planning Dept didn’t like the idea of paving the riparian zone, so Public Works will follow Audubon’s lead and plant more native shrubs and plants along the rest of the riverbank. We’ll have a gorgeous, natural area along the river that everyone can enjoy. Teachers will be able to use it as an environmental education area. And who doesn't like looking at colorful flowers and plants? Despite the mess of the last month and a half, good has come from it.

Even better, Planning has put rules in place for the upcoming development of the rest of Norristown’s riverfront (as part of the Lafayette Street project). Residents said they wanted access to their river, so developers will need to set back their buildings at least 100 feet from the riverbank. They’ll be required to put in native plantings on the floodplain and in the riparian zone.

This may not sound like much, but it’s incredibly forward-thinking. I don’t think any other river community in the immediate area has provisions for their riverfront environment like this in development areas. Not only is it a total win for the environment (and consequentially for our drinking water), but it will create a riverfront that outsiders will want to visit (and hopefully stay in town long enough to spend some money at restaurants, at least). It’ll be something Norristown can brag about and promote.

But we as citizens need to be vigilant and make sure this bright future for the riverfront happens. We've had too many instances in the last ten years where developers have circumnavigated the rules one way or another. Still, Planning seems to be taking a proactive stance with those who already own property between Lafayette St. and the river, so I'm more hopeful than I've been in a long time about Norristown and development.

In the meantime, go take a look at Audubon’s work at Riverfront Park. You can read more about the Plants For Birds project at http://www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds.

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