Giving away the farm
I was moved to write this letter when I read a remark from one of the lawyers involved in the Germantown Avenue controversy to the effect that massive buildings are appropriate to urban areas such as Chestnut Hill.
Chestnut Hill changed from farmland to suburb some time ago. Residents may be dismayed to learn that it is now to become urban.
There has always been a bit of tension between the Germantown Avenue shopkeepers and the homeowners living behind them. The merchants would like more traffic, more customers, and more sales; the homeowners would like more peace and more quiet (also a little convenience).
In a rush to profit from the cachet of the “Hill,” Germantown Avenue was overbuilt; large chain stores appeared, but swiftly flew away the instant their spreadsheets turned red, leaving behind empty stores and increasingly desperate small merchants.
In some ways Chestnut Hill has grown to resemble a company town, with dwellers tied down, not by an employer, but by mortgages and property values. The continued construction of monumental structures on Germantown Avenue will soon make the term “charming village” sound very hollow indeed.
Newcomers to the area will begin to look elsewhere for “extraordinary shops,” comfortable homes, and pleasant gardens. Eventually, those former huge signs, advertising for check cashing and dollar stores, will prove to be not a threat but a prophecy.
Why is Bowman exempt from zoning process?
Last year, I initiated a procedure to get a zoning variance for my house to permit me to legally process honey for sale. This was required by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
I went to the Chestnut Hill Community Association, got the application, filled it out, petitioned all my near neighbors, went before the Development Review Committee, which then recommended approval to the board, which voted to support me.
I called the office of my Councilperson Donna Reed Miller, explaining what I was proposing, and then finally went before the Zoning Board of Adjustment to present my case in person. My request for a zoning variance was approved, with slight modification insisted on by the representative of the City Planning Commission.
We now have a situation in our community, granted, far more momentous than my own endeavor, in which the person needing a zoning variance has decided to totally bypass the protocol we have in place.
I am referring to Bowman Properties’ attempt to get the Magarity Ford site at 8200 Germantown Avenue remapped to a zoning of his liking to develop the property in a manner that in my opinion will be deleterious to the neighborhood, the community at large, and the city of Philadelphia.
This is especially egregious because the developer is not an outsider. Rather, he is a member of our community who has greatly benefited from the process we have in place here for those requesting a zoning variance.
I would implore the CHCA board to reject this attempt to circumvent the system and recommend to City Council that they vote no on the ordinances before them.
Not all businesses are against Fresh Market
Glenn Bergman of Weavers Way wrote a very thoughtful letter to the Local in which he expressed his concern about the probable effect on the local community of the new proposed development at the McGarrity Ford site. He clearly pointed out that many local small businesses would likely be adversely affected by the proposed addition of Fresh Market: the Farmer’s Market and other small local grocery and fresh food venues as well as Weavers Way. Bergman was writing in his role as manager of Weavers Way Co-op and as such I believe he was speaking for many of the thousands of local members, including myself.
Of course, there is also the issue of the scale of the project. It is amazing to me that the Chestnut Hill Business Association, which has fought hard to maintain an aesthetically pleasing and attractive environment for the Hill, would even countenance this development. I hope they will find a way to stand up for the many local people who will be negatively impacted by this proposal.
Magarity developer is one of us
The developer of that eyesore, the abandoned Magarity Ford dealership smack in the middle of Germantown Avenue, is Bowman Properties, whose signs with an archer dressed in green, beckon to restaurants that never come or to the upper floors of tastefully done buildings, and a number of quaint pricey and beautiful shops and second-hand shops of interesting once-expensive clothes.
The mastermind behind Bowman properties is Richard Snowden, of whom there are widely disparate opinions. He has his many fans: people of his own class, business people of whom he is a long-time customer, or business people who admire and respect his intelligence, even though they occasionally battle with him, or organizations that have been the beneficiaries of his philanthropy.
He has his foes, most of whom have never met him and a few who have, who watch in some alarm as he acquires more property and influence in how things are done around here.
Those of us who have led this community and discussed Richard ad nauseum have sometimes tired of the discussion because he can be unfathomable – just what does he intend to do with all of these properties? – but ubiquitous. He has taken us all on a roller coaster ride and tired some of us out. But he hasn’t gone away. He stays and almost seems to love us.
Would that he might also trust us, believe in our capacity to preserve, in our aesthetic senses, in our best motives. We will not go away, either.
Business group votes to support Fresh Market
As the current co-presidents of the Chestnut Hill Business Association we are writing on behalf of our board of directors to announce that our organization voted last week in support of the Bowman proposal for the development of the Magarity site.
The CHBA has spent the last several years working to attract new businesses and customers to our commercial corridor. We have partnered with the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District to retain a consulting firm and employed an energetic professional retail recruiter who has been a very successful addition to our office staff. The 15 new business additions to our avenue over the last few years are impressive given the economic climate.
We are thrilled that the Fresh Market, one of the nation’s best boutique grocery chains, has decided to open itsfirst urban Northeast store in Chestnut Hill. This is a major win for our business district and the city.
Chestnut Hill was selected over other locations including the Main Line. The Fresh Market and the larger Magarity development will bring needed jobs and economic activity to Germantown Avenue. Moreover, the project will bring new residents who will reside here and buy goods and services from our other stores.
Chestnut Grill & Sidewalk Cafe
What about Borders site?
Could someone remind me of why we as a community are not debating the pros and cons of what I hear is to become of the former Borders Bookstore site? Is it true that it’s going to be turned into a school for young children?
How can that be? How will these children be dropped off and picked up safely and how will traffic at the Germantown Avenue/Bethlehem Pike intersection handle the inevitable bottlenecks that will arise? How many children will there be, and where will they play outside?
Perhaps I was away when our usually outspoken community hashed all this out, as it is usually so ready to do. Or is this situation a fait accompli, a done deal, and I just don’t know about it?
Mary Sue Welsh
Susan deserves to be honored
In her letter in last week’s Local, Barbara Sherf rightly and eloquently praised Susan Pizzano for the many contributions that Susan made to the Chestnut Hill community. Much could be added to this list, but as someone who trotted along with Susan on her ventures, I like most to say that everything I did with her was fun. Susan celebrated Chestnut Hill, as did her husband, Joe, who was with her every step of the way.
I loved Barbara’s suggestion for honoring Susan, and I’d imagine there may be others. Susan’s friends and fellow volunteers were a diverse group. I would welcome any one who has any thoughts to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215.479.8540
Chestnut Hill Board member, Fountain Plaza
Susan Pizzano tribute deserved
I was so happy to see front-page recognition of my friend, Susan Pizzano (Dec. 1 issue).
I met Susan 10 years ago this month. She was recovering from breast cancer and chemotherapy, and I was an eight-year lung cancer survivor. I was new to the area, and she, BettyAnn Schmidt and our English friend, Gaynor Pates, took me under their wing. We enjoyed so many dinner parties, Christmas get-togethers (the cooking usually done by one of the husbands).
She did so much for this community. Snubbed a few noses in the process, but that was Susan. She did not suffer fools gladly, nor did she treat fools gladly.
I will miss her strong spirit, friendship and willingness to make things better for the community.
Community made House Tour a successful event
Inspiration was everywhere this past Saturday when the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Holiday House Tour opened the doors to 5 wonderful homes here in Chestnut Hill.
We would like to thank the generous event sponsors, Chestnut Hill Hospital, Bowman Properties, Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, and National Penn Bank, and the gracious homeowners – Elizabeth Bales and Michael Dell’Angelo, Jean and Piers Wedgwood, Monica Hemmers and Steve Heimann, Nancy and Rod Johnson, and Susan Bray – who allowed us in to create the magic and holiday inspiration that was presented to the tour guests. Special thanks also go out to the 27 designers, florists, and garden clubs who shared their holiday vision in all of these great spaces.
Over 600 people attend the tour every year and enjoy all of the beautiful and unique displays and leave being inspired. This event could not happen without the tremendous amount of work put in by the Holiday House Tour Committee members and the many other volunteers who worked on the day of the event.
Special thanks go out to CHCA Community Manager Celeste Hardester and Administrative Coordinator Noreen Spota for their incredible hard work to help make this event so successful.
Jane M. Piotrowski
Holiday House Tour Chair
I’m writing to call attention to an omission in my Nov. 24 article on the GFS High School Journalism Conference, in the hope that you might print my letter. I neglected to mention the incredible work and investment of Anne Gerbner.
Anne is Germantown Friends School’s director of independent Studies, an English teacher (and former department chair), as well as the faculty advisor to the GFS Earthquake.
Anne was the driving force behind the journalism conference. She sent hundreds of emails to spread the news, recruit speakers and organize the most mundane logistics. She reprimanded me – quite suitably – each time I put off an urgent phone call too long or forgot to address some crucial detail.
Anne also lost a lot of sleep over the conference: For the last two months, she’d frequently remark to me that she’d woken up in a panic over registration, or name tags, or our tangle of expenses.
Several weeks before the event, Anne remarked that we really needed someone whose full-time job was organizing the conference. She was right. And, unfortunately, she’s received little recognition, if any, for her work – an oversight for which I’m partly responsible. I couldn’t be more grateful for her leadership, her commitment and her labor.
Go to Cuba, and learn for yourself
Thanks for the article in your Nov. 24 issue, describing our trip to Cuba. The reporter Lou Mancinelli’s provocative questions in the last paragraph illustrate the misinformation and mystique surrounding Cuba that have been ingrained in our psyche for decades.
Our response: Go to Cuba and see for yourself. Travel is becoming more accessible as the United States government grants more licenses for people-to-people exchange programs to Cuba. Cubans are in the midst of major government transitions that offer an opportunity to listen and learn.
By the way, we never requested withholding our ages because, at 71, we are thankful we can travel and continue to have a strong desire to learn about our world with open minds. Aside from that, about which all our friends chuckled, the article was very accurate. Lou did a good job.
Remember Pearl Harbor
“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 … A date that shall live in infamy” … So spoke President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Let us all remember what those words meant and make sure our young ones understand those words.
For I quote the words of former prime minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, “A nation that does not know its past will have no future.”
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