Chestnut Hill College deal tops list of important projects before the CHCA

Opinion May 24, 2011 0 Comments

by WALT SULLIVAN

This Thursday, your board of directors will elect my deserving and worthy successor, Jane Piotrowski. For years, she has been the spark plug of virtually every event, made many committees work, recruited many volunteers, and ably held critical vice-presidencies. It will be my privilege to support her in every way I can.

As an elected director and immediate past president and Executive Committee member, I will continue to advocate for those actions that I believe we need to accomplish for our community and our association. There are many projects currently before the CHCA that directly affect every resident of Chestnut Hill.

1. Chestnut Hill College expansion on SugarLoaf Hill

Our work in June and July will conclude with an agreement with the Chestnut Hill College that I believe adequately protects the vital interests of every Chestnut Hill resident, including the nearby residents in the northernmost part of Chestnut Hill, while permitting the college to grow as it must.

The issues in negotiation are numerous and dauntingly complex. We have resolved most. Our work now is to bring an agreement before the CHCA board for approval. There may be some nearby neighbors who complain that the agreement did not go far enough in protecting their interests. Be assured that we will not present any agreement unless we believe it does exactly that.

This is the single largest development in five decades in our community. This is our college. Our college needs to expand and grow including on the SugarLoaf Hill site. Yet the way in which that expansion takes place significantly affects not only the near neighbors and their two advocacy organizations but also our entire community.

In the fall of 2009, your CHCA board established a committee of nine plus several alternates, for the purpose of negotiating with our college the manner of its needed expansion. That group included representation by two representatives of near neighbors. Those people commenced preparations for those conversations with our college. Those people have to date invested many, many thousands of hours (some of them alone well over 3,000) in this vital work. (I alone have devoted well over 1,000 hours to facilitate and monitor this work.)

During our negotiations, the college postponed its IDD application three times for more than a year and has agreed to modify that zoning status giving added protections to the community that will be enacted into the ordinance. We did not originally favor an IDD, and the college agreed to create and alternative-zoning overlay, but that alternative did not pass muster with the City Planning Commission. Thus that IDD with those substantial modifications is all that is possible and now moves forward through City Council.

Those negotiations are now nearing a conclusion and will result in a Community Development Agreement (CDA) and a pattern of extensive conservation easements and zoning-related arrangements with our college that will assure the needs of the near neighbors, of the other interested community organizations and, above all, of our whole community – and of our college.

The present furor in press and public

I take care here to say nothing that will estrange anyone or undermine agreement, but I do have the duty to inform this community that we represent and serve.

Naturally enough, there may remain areas of disagreement among the nearby neighbors in the community coalition that comprises this committee. Here in our Local, these last several weeks, there have appeared articles, letters, columns, and a large ad for a public meeting expressing divergent opinion, and that may continue. What else, after all, do we publish a community newspaper for? And some in direct mailings to residents and at public meetings now make assertions (many not accurate, and many quite hyperbolic) that raise concerns in the minds of many. We move forward to resolve those concerns, profoundly mindful of the interests of the nearby neighbors and of the whole community.

Other important goals

2. Move forward to fill vacant storefronts

We retained a retail consultant who developed a workable plan and helped us recruit an excellent retail recruiter, Eileen Reilly, whose work is producing substantial visible results. I am therefore not dismayed by those storefront vacancies that still exist. We are doing exactly what needs to be done.

3. Chestnut Hill needs a bookstore

It is a crying shame that this most literate community has been without a bookstore for almost 18 months. It is a deep personal loss to very many of us. Community leaders with the means to act must act to bring Chestnut Hill a bookstore – chain or independent, I don’t care – where we can browse and relax over coffee and sit and read and decide to buy.

4. We decide June 23 about the “BigBelly” trash compactors

You’ve seen them throughout center city, in Mt. Airy, and one just for community review down by The Night Kitchen. They’re good for environmental reasons, but they are quite large. Some strongly favor them here. Some want none at all here, largely for aesthetic reasons. Some are unsure. We need to hear from you whom we represent because your board must decide the question June 24.

5. Your community needs all Chestnut Hill residents to join CHCA

Not just because your membership gives you a subscription to our valued Local, as good a reason as that is. Certainly not just because with it come discounts at many shops and eateries. And not just because the modest membership dues that you pay are absolutely necessary to support everything that your CHCA does. The money is important, but has never been what I really care about.

No, the fundamental reason is that you need to be part of CHCA to participate in the life and work of our community, to be fully involved, to preserve what we love about this place and to change what needs to be changed.

Your community organization needs to mount an all-out house-by-house drive to recruit new members, using BRT records block-by-block, voter street lists, reverse phone directory lists, phone calls and, yes, shoe leather.

Many other actions are useful, such as outreach to new homebuyers through realtors, but none of them all together are enough unless we do a block-by-block, house-by-house full court press. Your community is worth that.

And never forget that half of our residents are renters, many long term, whom we need more fully as part of our community and its decision-making and its work.

The work internal to your CHCA to strengthen it

1. The community-wide Web portal

Approved by a vote of 20 to 5 on April 28, the portal moves forward to the report in June or July from portal consultant Mel Taylor and to the adoption by the board of the job description he prepares for a separate portal manager within our Local and to the authorization to proceed.

2. Resist all efforts to water down the September 2009 solvency motion that protects our beloved Local

That motion provides a gradual build-up in the Solvency Fund to $125,000, which must not be slowed. This ensures the solvency of our Local, upon which its ability ever to borrow is essential.

3. Secure from the IRS 501(c)(3) tax deductibility status for grantors and donors to the CHCA

This is essential to enable your CHCA to be eligible for programmatic grants.

4. Provide a separate board with expertise for our beloved Local

Quite controversial, this proposal was defeated Feb. 24, by a vote of 15 to 11. It remains just as necessary this term. An Executive Committee of 12, and a board of 33, amateurs, however devoted, are not the right people to be evaluating and overseeing the work of our skilled Local professionals. A board of three with great expertise in publishing is.

Want to support the Local? Join the Chestnut Hill Community Association. Membership helps fund what we do. Join today.