July 22, 2010

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It’s always a shotgun wedding

The dust has nearly settled at 10 E. Moreland Ave. But there are a few questions still hanging over the old brick building as it awaits its $2 million makeover into a state-of-the -art dialysis center.

As we reported last week, Fresenius Medical Care and Delaware Valley Nephrology, operators of a proposed dialysis center at the old Kurtz construction facility, won a zoning reversal by the City’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. You see, the ZBA had granted near neighbors a proviso that would have forced the facility to close no later than 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The ZBA assumed at the time of the vote that all parties could live with the outcome. They were wrong.

Shortly after that decision, Fresenius hired zoning lawyer Carl Primavera who requested the ZBA to look at the decision again and reconsider. Primavera said the ZBA didn’t have all the information when it made its initial decision. Fresenius, it turns out, could not live with the proviso limiting hours on those days. If it didn’t get the rights to those hours, it was going to pull out of the project, probably to Montgomery County.

The ZBA hastily reversed its decision and removed the proviso limiting the center’s hours. In the wake of that decision, many have been left scratching their heads and wondering how such an outcome was possible.

Neighbors of the site have told me they couldn’t understand why the Chestnut Hill Community Association sided with Fresenius and company. Now they were left wondering how the ZBA could just issue a reversal with no hearing?

Both are interesting questions, but the answers are not difficult to fathom. The CHCA believed – right or wrong – that the dialysis center was a much-needed improvement of the block. The ZBA’s reversal was unusual but not outside the realm of law. The two real questions in the case are these:

First:  Why did Fresenius get away with misrepresenting its position? Fresenius said that a proviso limiting those hours on those days was a potential deal breaker, but in numerous instances before the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s zoning committees and its board of directors, its representatives said that a so-called “third shift” had not been required in something close to 30 years of operation. Now, Fresenius believes the extra hours – the same it hasn’t needed in 30 years – are essential for ongoing operations.

Second, and this applies to any number of zoning issues that come before the CHCA on a regular basis: Why are communities and residents often forced to accept major changes to zoning to accommodate a non-conforming use. When Fresenius bought the old Kurtz site for a great sum of money, the company knew that it was not zoned for the intended use.

Yet, developers manage to successfully leverage a hardship into which they knowingly walked and create a false all-or-nothing choice for the community: Give us the zoning we need or who knows what will come along and set up shop? Often, communities will opt for known development. It’s a logical choice. Many on the CHCA board admitted to similar motivations when they voted. And who could blame them?

These are questions the community needs to consider the next time a large development comes to town. What does the community really want? We don’t want to chase away development, but it would be nice to have some say in what sort of development we get. What we have now feels a lot like a shotgun wedding.

Pete Mazzaccaro


When the sky falls: A new Chicken Little story

Everyone knows the story of Chicken Little – a.k.a. Chicken Licken or Henny Penny – and his famous warning: “The sky is falling!”

This expression has been used to imply that a certain imminent disaster is based upon sheer histrionics or erroneous information. There are many versions of this story told around the world, and the moral of the story shifts as the endings change. In most cases, Chicken Little gets eaten by Foxy Loxy, teaching us, “Don’t believe everything you are told.”

It’s plain good sense to be skeptical when those around us make far-fetched assertions. So when someone says, “We are entering into an era which is the end of life as we know it,” we are required, as cautious, prudent people, to investigate these claims.

Even before the BP oil disaster, we humans – with our insatiable lust for more, better, faster, bigger – have been pushing the earth to its limits, perhaps perilously past a point of no return. Peak oil and climate change loom on the horizon creating a catastrophic situation unprecedented in human history.

You can choose to dismiss this statement, refute it, ignore it or just believe it, but mostly what I want you to do is investigate it. Why? Because it’s time to start preparing for it.

It’s hard to imagine, with gas prices actually dropping, that our consumption-based lives won’t go on like this forever. But they won’t, and there’s plenty of information out there to prove it. This is when we have to wake up and take the blue pill.

There are many books available on the topic of peak oil and climate change, but I highly recommend “The Long Emergency” by James Howard Kunstler, “Peak Everything” by Richard Heinberg, and “The Long Descent” by John Michael Greer to get you good and terrified of the future that we’re heading into at full speed.

After reading the books listed above, which outline the current crises and why technology won’t save us, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and defeated before you’ve even begun your most important tasks, preparing yourself and your family. I urge you to also read books like “Blessed Unrest” by Paul Hawken and The “Transition Handbook” by Rob Hopkins. Both show a positive, uplifting path through these difficult times.

As Hawken says, “If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

Social scientist and visionary Willis Harman wrote, “Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societies have come about, not from the dictates of governments and the results of battles, but through vast numbers of people changing their minds sometimes only a little bit.

So let’s just assume if you’ve made it this far down the page that you are not in denial and you feel the need to start changing, even just a little bit. Every journey starts with just one step, which I intend to highlight in a series of articles. These articles are meant to help us, as friends, neighbors and community members, prepare for this new era in human history.

This week will be our first step and it’s a big one: Reduce energy consumption as much as possible, with our goal being 50 percent. At the end of this year, the electrical rate caps will come off, with no way of knowing the exact size of the increase. So this will be excellent practice to keep your bills down and save the earth at the same time.

Here are 12 ways to reduce your energy consumption right away from and www.o-

1. Turn down your AC to around 78 degrees. Get a programmable thermostat to coordinate cooling times with the times your actually home. Remember to clean your filters – cleaning saves 5 percent of energy.

2. Install ceiling fans instead of AC. They use much less electricity, especially if they are energy star rated. A whole house fan sucks all the hot air out at night keeping the house quite pleasant.

3. Insulate walls and ceilings saving 20-30 percent of home heating bills.

4. Choose high efficiency appliances as you replace worn out ones.

5. Air dry your laundry. Buy a retractable line for your yard, collapsible ones for your laundry area or run a line in your basement.

6. Replace all your standard light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs, both indoors and out. One compact fluorescent bulb can save 260 pounds of CO­2 a year and lasts 8-12 times longer. Your outside lights should be on motion detectors instead of run

ning all night. And, for goodness

sake, turn out the lights when you leave a room.

7. Compost your kitchen and yard waste.

8. Install a solar hot water heater. Good bang for your investment buck.

9. Use cold water setting on clothes washer. Switching from just hot to warm for two loads per week can save nearly 500 pounds of CO2 a year for an electric water heater.

10. Turn down your water heater from 140 degrees F to 120F. Each 10 degrees saves 600 pounds of CO2 per year for an electric water heater.

11. Plant shade trees. Each tree absorbs about 25 pounds of CO2 from the air annually in addition to reductions in energy use.

12. Buy minimally packaged goods. For every pound of waste you eliminate or recycle, you save energy and reduce emissions of CO2 by at least 1 pound!

You can calculate your environmental impact at and sign up to keep track of the changes you’ve made.

FYI: In one of the Chicken Little endings, the sky actually fell and killed Foxy Loxy. Contact me at






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