June 17, 2010

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8434 Germantown Ave.
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Identity crisis?

If you stand on the southwest corner of Moreland Avenue and Winston Road and look at the pile of bricks on the corner while contemplating its potential future, you may see two different things depending on your disposition.

Maybe you see in the plans for a dialysis center and some $2 million in investment to renovate the space a promising turn for a blighted corner, a much-needed infusion of new job opportunities — a sign that the neighborhood is on an upswing.

Or perhaps you think a brand new dialysis center may be a nice aesthetic change but also a potential disruption in added traffic and noise nearby. If you live nearby, those things worry you a lot more than the upgrade in property value.

These viewpoints don’t necessarily see the facts differently at all — all the neighbors concerned about the hours that the proposed Fresenius dialysis center would be open appreciate what the new center would mean for the local economy. It’s just that the facts mean different things to different people. When you own a house in a neighborhood, you weigh the economic gains by development across the street differently from anybody else.

Divergent viewpoints on development don’t exist only at the crossroads of Winston and Morelend, though. Nearly every time the winds  of institutional or commercial development (Chestnut Hill College, Good Food Market) blow, Chestnut Hill residents take sides on the matter. All want what’s best for Chestnut Hill, but they define what’s best in different terms.

Pro development people in Chestnut Hill would like to see Germantown Avenue become more dynamic. They’d like to see Avenue shops and restaurants open late. They’d like entertainment options: movies, music, comedy, etc. People of this persuasion are not simply “pro-business.” They want to see their neighborhood become a happening place — a hip place where you can shop after 5 p.m. and drink after midnight.

Opposed to this are the many homeowners who would like to keep some semblance of their quaint neighborhood remain just that. Quaint. They’d like the Avenue to be vibrant, but in a different way. They’d like it to be useful — a place of convenience and charm. They don’t want the Avenue to be a draw. They don’t want late hours at restaurants, out-of-town patrons taking up their parking spots or clubs with loud music into the early morning hours. These people aren’t simply cranks. They’d like to preserve what they have, an honest enough motivation.

Tension between these two viewpoints has driven a great deal of the acrimony in the neighborhood lately. All would like to see improvement on the Avenue, but they define it in different ways. I’m not sure if there is a center position. When you define progress in two nearly opposing ways, it’s hard to see where these two sides could find common ground.

Maybe, though, there is a vision that would be acceptable to all residents — pro development and preservationists alike. In order to figure out what that is, it’s going take some levelheaded discussion, not the kind of trench warfare we’re more familiar with. Such a plan will take a lot of compromise, too, and will have to come from businesses and residents alike.

Anything excluding anybody is worthless.

Pete Mazzaccaro


Op Ed: Regarding the proposed Fresenius dialysis center

We, as members of a community organization that represents and serves primarily the residents of Chestnut Hill, would have imposed the condition for which certain nearby neighbors advocated but for the one fact that the DRC and the board understood: that the additional condition limiting hours of operation would severely jeopardize the entire development that the community and the neighborhood so need.

Actions have consequences: sometimes unintended, sometimes very harmful.

The testimony by Joe Rapone and Marc Donohue persuaded the Zoning Board of Adjustment to grant the requested variance for this medical facility in the area zoned for industrial uses with the condition that there not be a third shift ending as late as 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I am not sure that the members of the ZBA fully understood that the imposition of that condition concerning a third shift jeopardized the entire project.

Rapone, Donohue and several other nearby neighbors who accompanied them but did not testify all explicitly desired this medical facility as a vast improvement over the decrepit unoccupied industrial building which remains. They sought only to limit those hours.

It appears that the Fresenius Dialysis Center, which had been prepared to invest more than $2 million dollars to upgrade and develop the property and to meet all the conditions for improvement that the CHCA had imposed upon them may now abandon the project because they are not prepared to proceed if they are constrained from expanding to a third shift on those three days.

The Fresenius facility in Mt. Airy from which they desire to move and its predecessor locations have never needed such a shift on those days, but other Fresenius locations do. The possibility of that need exists here based upon patient demand, with more people suffering from end stage kidney disease in our community who require dialysis.

I pleaded Thursday and Friday and continue to plead with the representative of Fresenius to move forward on this development because it is good for our community in general and this neighborhood in particular, and have asked them to petition for that additional shift on those days if and when it becomes necessary. Tragically, that is unlikely. We will know for certain by Wednesday, June 16, but the odds are against us.

The likely unintended consequence of this intervention by those neighbors is that this large property will remain for some while to come in its unsightly, deplorable condition and may ultimately be sold for use as some kind of a factory without the external improvements to which Fresenius had pledged and to the detriment of the neighborhood.

Present with Rapone and Donohue, although not testifying and although completely unknown at the time to the ZBA, were four other near neighbors. In addition, Ron Recko and Meredith Sonderskov, neither of them near neighbors, were present but did not testify and were unknown to the ZBA when they made their decision.

Ralph S. Pinkus, a well-known attorney in our community who represented the applicants, outlined the application, presented a letter supporting the application from the CHCA, presented a letter supporting the application from District Councilperson Donna Reed Miller, presented the effective expert testimony of Craig Schelter, well known to our community, and introduced the several of us from the CHCA. 

It may have been unfortunate that he did not introduce the several of us to testify briefly: myself as CHCA president; Lawrence McEwen as co-chair of the DRC; Tom Hemphill as chair of Traffic Transportation and Parking Committee and as a member of the DRC; Bob Rossman as Vice President for Operations and Rob Remus as a member of the CHCA Executive Committee, both of them nearby neighbors who supported the variance without the additional restriction on hours that was imposed.

I was standing beside Pinkus urging that he call us.  Of course no one can know for a certainty whether that testimony would have may any difference of not.

Whenever in the future that an issue before the ZBA arises that requires our attendance, we must make sure that those of us in attendance testify, however briefly.

We await final word from Fresenius, but it does not look good.

Walter Sullivan is president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association. His remarks refer to a ZBA ruling last week that granted a variance to developers of 10 E. Moreland Ave. to convert the old factory into a dialysis center, but also included a condition that operators cannot keep the facility open past 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.


The envelope, please: The literary agent has replied

In daring to make public my quest to write a novel and then describe the grueling process of trying to find a literary agent to represent it, I remind myself of Emily Dickinson’s line, “How public, like a frog” (from “I’m Nobody, Who Are You”).

When I last reported on my progress via this column, an agent had read my query letter and synopsis and written to me, using the words “sounds strangely fascinating.” And he asked me to send a complete manuscript right after the 31st of May. Day of days! Joy of joys! In the infinite progression of stages to being published, I had advanced about three rungs on the hundred-rung ladder.

I spent eight days tightening up that book (now called “AmericanaRama”) and then mailed it off on June 1. All excited on the way to the post office, I was suffused with post-partum depression on the drive back home. I resolved to keep busy, very busy, to make the time pass.

Silence followed. I resisted the urge to phone or e-mail to ask if the package had arrived. It must have. I’d sent it first-class, return receipt. Nothing to do but wait and keep busy. In fact, I wrote a short story that week. A mere seven pages! What a lark, after wrestling a 315-page alligator for two-and-a-half years.

Then, June 7 arrived. I had just plunked into my chair to watch the opening inning of the Phillies game and decided to check my e-mail via the laptop I keep next to my living room chair.

There it was — from “him,” Mr. Goodtaste.

I didn’t want to open it. I knew the answer would be a digital Yes or No.

I wanted to go take a walk instead. Or shut off the computer. Or read “The Consolations of Philosophy,” by Boethius. I settled for a cool sip of the dry Riesling I’d poured a moment ago. Then I squared my shoulders, balanced the iBook in my lap, held my finger poised in the air, and slowly brought it down to tap out the potentially life-changing command. Open!

Dear Hugh:

 Thanks so much for sending AmericanaRama.  I like the writing very much and the way the story unfolds in a Pulp Fictionesque way. I also like the insights into the book world and the setting is very defined and clear. Unfortunately, though, in the end, the story did not quite stand out enough for me … it kept me interested, but I did not jump out of my chair with super enthusiasm.  

Thus, with regret, I am passing, but I like your writing so hopefully you will contact me in the future.

Best of luck,

“Mr. Goodtaste” (pseudonym I’ve assigned him till he agrees to become my agent — no free publicity).

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said to Janet, my wife and editor, “It’s a learning experience.”

And despite the calm I showed, I sank further into the chair than I ever thought I could. Maybe this means my synopsis had sounded more thrilling than the book actually was. Maybe I should pitch to a different kind of agent. Maybe I stink! Maybe I can write good columns occasionally, but don’t have what it takes to write a publishable novel. Well, I can self-publish. Yes, but maybe I stink.

“I need to take a walk,” I said. And I left and walked around the track at CHA because there is a huge oak tree near the pole vault pit that I pour my heart out to as I walk past it. And from which I get perspective.

I rounded the first curve, saw the tree’s magnificence, touched my heart with my closed hand and said the names of the persons most important to me who have died, including – most recently – my dear mother-in-law, Jessica Goodman. I wished them well and reminded them that I was still here to remember them fondly and keep their names alive.

And I reminded myself that they’d probably love to trade places with me, even if it meant they’d have to take on my petty problems.

And then I was past the tree, nothing but blue sky ahead, like a blank slate onto which I could write my future. I had touched the past and now would go on.

Except ... except ... what the heck did that darned agent mean? What does “ kept me interested, but I did not jump out of my chair with super enthusiasm” mean? Gosh, all this beauty surrounding my mind and me, and I couldn’t get past that statement of his.

Is that what it takes? I must write my stories hoping to make someone “jump out of his chair with super enthusiasm”? I’ve always aimed to make people sink lower into their cushions. Or curl up in nervous suspense. Or cry. Or say, “yes!” I don’t know if I’ve ever jumped out of my chair while reading. Maybe I stink as a reader also.

What did I do the morning after the night before? I arose early, determined to give the book another month of dedicated work. Add some plot twists, eliminate some distractions. Streamline it. Unite some disparate elements. Then query some more. And possibly self-publish a small edition for all those of you who have followed me through this long ordeal.

If it were my life-statement novel, I’d work for another ten years, but gee whiz, it started out just to be an entertainment. Now, like Tar Baby, I’m stuck to it.

Hugh Gilmore at



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