New lighting for historic Cliveden block

by Patrick Cobbs
Posted 9/29/21

With better lighting, the hope is customers and residents will use the 6400 block of Germantown Avenue more freely and will be more likely to patronize new businesses.. Victorian lamps will improve pedestrian experience.

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New lighting for historic Cliveden block

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Victorian lamps to improve pedestrian experience

 Walk along Germantown Avenue from South Germantown to Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill, and you’ll pass under attractive, Victorian style sidewalk lighting. Lampposts, like from a storybook – 289 of them. 

The whole stretch of the avenue in Mt. Airy has the good-looking lighting,  which the Business Improvement District there uses to hang signs and flowering plants. (Chestnut Hill has lamps of a different design) That is, the whole stretch except the 6400 block between Upsal and Johnson Streets. 

Now, the Mt. Airy BID is making a move to finally rectify this because development booming near there demands it.

 This block is the home of Cliveden, the 18th Century house museum and site of the Battle of Germantown reenactment each October, plus Caring Heart Long Term Care, and 19 single family homes.

“We sort of see [the block] as the gateway from Mt. Airy to Germantown,” said Janis Risch, the BID’s executive director. Yet, without this lighting at night,“it’s a pretty dark block.”

 Manon Allen, a 6400 block resident, described it the same way, recalling the time he once awoke to find his car on blocks, all four tires gone. He said vandalism and auto-related theft is common because of the low light, and even though he does not love the idea of the development-related parking pinch to come, he’ll take it for the new lighting.

“[Parking] might be a little headache, but the lighting is compensation,” he said.

In the last two years, the 6500 block, just north, has seen over 100 new apartments added by Main Street Development of Blue Bell.

By sometime next year, the 6300 block will see a total of 115 new units. This includes 75 units under construction now, plus 40 completed in 2020 by TierView Development of Philadelphia.

Both of these projects also include significant new commercial operations, yet a bit less than half as many parking spaces are being added as the number of units.

Some worry bad parking could hurt businesses.

"If there is one thing people are not going to do, they are not going to drive around and around to spend their money,” said Kim Gray, a 6300 block resident and owner of the well-known Rib Crib.

Lighting and parking on 6400 could be a needed relief valve.

“There’s a lot of parking on the 6400 block that’s available, but it needs to feel safer. It needs better lighting,” said Michael Schweisheimer, also a resident and business owner on the 6300 block and a BID board member.

With better lighting, the hope is customers and residents will use 6400 more freely and will be more likely to patronize new businesses.

The BID will hire Gannett Fleming, Inc. to develop an engineering plan and budget for the lighting, and will shop the plan around for grants to fund the work. They’ll go to the city, to PennDOT, and the federal government, all of which missed the opportunity to bring lighting to the block a bit more than ten years ago.

“We’ve been waiting for that forever,” recalled Manon Allen.

The story of how this particular block missed out on the lighting project starts with Donna Reed Miller, former eighth district councilwoman. 

For about two years beginning in 2009, the city, state, and federally funded reconstruction of segments of Germantown Avenue was a bane to many a frustrated driver and area business owner. For those blocks that it impacted, road construction kept customers away from businesses for months.

Developer and BID Board President, Ken Weinstein, recalls that Miller was also frustrated with the slow pace of lighting installation and instructed PennDOT to quit the lighting job at Upsal. She said at the time that the city would take over lighting installation south of there. (PennDOT construction projects leave lighting plans in the authority of local governments.)

But through some miscommunication, the 6400 block never got its lights, along with four other blocks spread through Germantown, including the two blocks below 6300.

 Miller recalled the frustration surrounding all the work on the avenue. “There was a lot of commotion,” she said, and she acknowledged that some opportunities were missed: “We were just trying to do what we could with improvements.”

 Risch and the BID think, with new federal infrastructure dollars in the offing, now is a prime moment for this fix. And, even if that wasn’t the case, Risch says, the pace of development in the area requires it.

“There are going to be a lot of new residents in the 6300 block and the 6500 block and a lot more commercial activity, and we want it to be a seamless experience so that people will be comfortable going from one block to the other,” Risch said.

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