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Chestnut Hill : Development News

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In Chestnut Hill, Germantown Avenue welcomes five new businesses

If you need a sign that Philly's retail infrastructure is getting back on track, look no further than the stretch of Germantown Avenue that runs through the northwestern neighborhood of Chestnut Hill.

In early April, the Chestnut Hill Business Association (CHBA) announced that five new shops have either recently opened on the avenue or will soon, while a sixth shop has moved into a larger location "to accommodate its rapid expansion," according to a release.
 
The avenue's latest addition, the children's boutique Villavillekula (the name is a Pippi Longstocking reference), celebrated its arrival with an opening reception at the end of March. The Chocolate Hill Candy & Fudge Shop, meanwhile, opened in December and has already proven popular with kids and grownups alike.
 
Also new for the toddler set is a youngsters-only version of the popular Greene Street consignment chain. Known as Greene Street Kids, it'll open sometime this month, as will Greenology, a gardening and organic lifestyle store across from the Chestnut Hill Hotel. Newly launched inside the hotel is Paris Bistro & Jazz Café, the third offering from Chef Al Paris, who also runs the acclaimed Heirloom and Green Soul eateries in the neighborhood. 
 
According to CHBA Executive Director Martha Sharkey, the growth of the neighborhood's retail scene owes a large debt to the organization's retail recruitment program, which launched four years ago. The neighborhood has welcomed 15 new shops and eight new restaurants in that time.  
 
"We are very lucky to have this program," says Sharkey. "For a downtown district, it's always challenging -- with malls, and with other places for people to shop -- to really create a vibrant, thriving community. The retail recruitment has really been essential to us."  
 
The retail recruiter position has recently become available; interested candidates can view the job description here.
 
Source: Martha Sharkey, Chestnut Hill Business Association
Writer: Dan Eldridge




City still encouraging homeowners to apply for proposed Homestead Exemption tax break

The City of Philadelphia's Actual Value Initiative (AVI) might be on hold until next fiscal year, but it is still banking on real estate tax relief in the form of proposed Homestead Exemption legislation. Homeowners must apply by July 31, 2012, and the only requirement for acceptance into the program is that the you must own your home and live in it. It's actually a very simple process. On July 1, says Marisa Waxman, Office of Property Assessment, Philadelphia homeowners will receive a pre-printed application, so there's no need to take action until then.

"It's a tax relief program that already exists in every other county in the Commonwealth," says Waxman, who points out that other efforts both statewide and nationwide are often far more complicated.

Age, income and length of homeownership do not figure into eligibility. Here's how it works: you will pay taxes on the value of your home minus $30,000.  For example, if a home is assessed at a value of $100,000 and there is a $30,000 Homestead Exemption,  a homeowner would only pay taxes based on $70,000 compared with the actual value of $100,000.

"The City is currently undertaking a reassessment which will value properties at their market value. For residential properties, the comparable sales method is utilized in most cases. For commercial properties, the income/expense method is utilized in most," explains Waxman. 

It does not matter if your home is worth $1 million or $80,000. You still get that flat $30,000 discount. Waxman says the greatest benefit will be for those with lower value homes. "It's the simplest program on the planet once we get it up and running."

The homestead real estate tax exclusion will be available for properties located within the City of Philadelphia when legislation is passed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a City of Philadelphia ordinance also has to go into effect. But city officials are encouraging residents to apply now, as it can help reduce the taxable assessed value used for calculation of a tax bill by a proposed $30,000. 
 
Even if part of a primary residence is used as a home office or a rental property, a property owner may still be eligible to benefit from the Homestead Exemption for the percentage of the property that functions as the primary residence. 
Following approval, there's no need to reapply unless the deed to the home changes.

Applications received after the deadline for this year will be considered for tax year 2014. Those who are approved in this initial round will be notified in the fall of 2012, pending passage of AVI.

Source: Marisa Waxman, Office of Property Assessment, City of Philadelphia
Writer: Sue Spolan

New pedestrian advocacy group's agenda includes improving intersections

When it comes to sustainable transportation around Philadelphia, pedestrians have been without an active group speaking on their behalf since PhillyWalks ended about a decade ago. While bicyclists have enjoyed advocacy from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and mass transit riders have been represented by the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, pedestrians have not found a similar voice recently. That is, until now. The Clean Air Council has just formed a pedestrian advocacy group, and is in the process of creating an agenda for those who travel with two feet on the pavement.

This new group, dubbed the "Pedestrian Advocacy Project," has met twice so far and has crowdsourced its agenda through the hundreds of people who are on its listserv, according to Dennis Winters, a trails associate at the Council who is leading the project. Winters says e-mail participants indicated the biggest problem facing pedestrians is that "red-green lights (are) not synced right." In other words, traffic lights around the Philadelphia area often favor motorists over pedestrians.

At the project’s second meeting, the 10 or so attendees largely agreed with the e-mail survey. They discussed intersections in Philadelphia, such as 20th and JFK Blvd., that are not as pedestrian-friendly as they believe they should be. Attendees arrived at the conclusion that pedestrian countdown signals and corresponding traffic lights should be re-timed to equalize the playing field between drivers and walkers. By the end of the evening, a committee had formed to study pedestrian countdown signals, and how they could be improved.

One prevailing question for the nascent advocacy group is whether pedestrian countdown signals themselves are to blame for diminishing the pedestrian experience, or whether bad behavior on the part of motorists is to blame. Deborah Schaaf, an employee of the City Planning Commission and a walker herself, says that police enforcement of aggressive driving had to be cut short due to lack of funds. In fact, police overtime money that was supposed to go to the "Give respect, get respect" campaign targeting vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian infractions instead went to Occupy Philly coverage.

The Pedestrian Advocacy Project’s online members also indicated that the presence of outdoor seating and other obstructions blocking sidewalks, traffic laws not being adequately enforced, and aggressive drivers turning left were other impediments for pedestrians. Most members of the listserv attended the Academy of Natural Sciences forum "Walkability: Philadelphia Strides into the Future," which was where the pedestrian advocacy group was unveiled. Given that just about everyone in Philadelphia walks, even if it is just to get to their car or train, this group could help a lot of people.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dennis Winters

Philly has 2,500 acres for urban farming, crop value of $10M-plus, says Green Space Alliance study

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Annex was filled with the redolent scents of artisanal cheese, creamy gelato, freshly-baked bread and biscotti, and premium steeped tea last Sunday. These scents formed the aromatic calling card for the Philly Farm and Food Fest, which was co-organized by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). One of the highlights of the convention was a panel discussion on the Green Space Alliance’s recent study “Transforming open space to sustainable farm enterprises.”

The panel discussion started with an outline of Green Space Alliance’s (GSA’s) findings, which include recommendations on public outreach, zoning and planning, and urban areas. One of the chief findings is that GSA should extend an arm to local governments, land trusts, and conservancies to generate knowledge about sustainable farming. Under zoning, the study concludes that specific ordinance definitions should be drafted, says Justin Keller, an architect with Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, which prepared the study for GSA. 

Finally, the study advises that incentives be created for urban farms that bolster stormwater management through the elimination of impervious surfaces. It specifically pinpoints urban farms as sources of sorely-needed nourishment in food deserts and job creators in neighborhoods with rampant unemployment. GSA found that the city of Philadelphia has nearly 2,500 acres that can be used for farming, which could yield a crop value between $6.4 and $10.8 million, says Peter Simone, also an architect with Simone Collins.

After Simone Collins presented the study, three panelists offered conference-goers some feedback. Nic Esposito, who farms at East Kensington’s Emerald St. Urban Farm, is interested in the study’s examination of municipal land, as his farm is owned by three different city agencies. While the study looks at both CSAs and farms that donate food, Esposito makes sure to mention that Emerald St. donates all the food it generates from chickens and bees. He also adds that Councilwoman Sanchez and Councilman Green’s land bank resolution in City Council would be an asset for urban farming on vacant land.

Another panelist was Joan Blaustein, chair of the Philadelphia Food Policy Council and a director in the city’s department of Parks and Recreation. Blaustein, who grows food in her own backyard garden, emphasizes the practical nature of urban gardening. Urban gardens “should satisfy the social needs of people in the city,” says Blaustein. She proceeds to give the city a pat on the back for emphasizing urban farms in its Greenworks plan and mentioning it in its new zoning code

The third panelist was Fred DeLong, a project director at the Willistown Conservation Trust and Rushton Farm in Chester County. DeLong differs from the other panelists in that his farm certainly isn’t urban. Nonetheless, he has a similar goal to the study and his fellow panelists. “Willistown Conservation Trust wants to connect people to the land,” says DeLong. He adds that within the trust is the Rushton Farm, which is a natural community-supported agriculture (CSA) within an 80-acre nature preserve.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Justin Keller, Peter Simone, Nic Esposito, Joan Blaustein, and Fred DeLong, panelists at Philly Farm and Food Fest

Illustration courtesy of Philly Farm and Food Fest   

Greene Street Consignment to open its seventh location in Chestnut Hill

Greene Street Consignment has been a fixture among those looking to purchase designer clothing labels at cheap prices. So much so that they have branched out from their original location on South Street and opened six locations, ranging from Princeton to West Chester. It’s soon to be seven locations, as Greene Street will become the latest business to set up shop along Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill by the end of the month.

The consignment store will open on the 8500-block of Germantown Ave., near Penzeys Spices, The Paperia gift store, and Chestnut Hill West Station. It wasn’t hard for Greene Street to decide to open in the Northwest Philly enclave.

"Chestnut Hill is such a great community of families, shops and new shops that are opening,” says Casey Drucquer, a marketing director at the consignment shop. Drucquer quickly adds that Greene Street’s owner recently moved back to Chestnut Hill herself.

While Greene Street Consignment is a used clothing store, it’s one with exacting standards. Drucquer reports that her store won’t accept any articles of clothing that are older than two years, and demands that everything sold be in immaculate condition. The store carries adult’s clothing in every size from small to extra large. Drucquer says that the store typically offers Gap, Gucci, Prada, and Anthropologie clothes. For those looking to sell clothes, Greene Street doesn’t require appointments and rewards a 40% commission on items that are sold.  

Drucquer emphasizes that a portion of Greene St.’s proceeds go to a good cause. As a matter of fact, the owner of the store's sister recently founded a fourteen-acre farm in Chester County, called the Greene Street Animal Rescue, dedicated to sick pets.

"Since the opening a few months ago, they have taken in eleven dogs which normally would have been euthanized,” she says. Part of the consignment shop’s profit goes to this, and the store also solicits tax-deductible donations. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Casey Drucquer, Greene St. Consignment  

Photo courtesy of Greene Street Consignment 

Lovett Library bookmarked for Mt. Airy's next public space

2011 was the year for public space and parks in Philadelphia, with the opening of Penn Park, The Porch at 30th St. Station, and the Race St. Pier. Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA) is looking to bring that trend northwest for 2012. MAUSA, in conjunction with community groups and other stakeholders, has been studying what to do with the open space next to the Lovett Library for months. They have formulated a "conceptual plan" for an open, child-friendly performance space that will complement their efforts to transform Germantown Ave. into a more livable and walkable corridor.

The community made it clear during three public meetings that any outdoor area at Lovett should preserve the open space and support performances, according to Anuj Gupta, the Executive Director at MAUSA. Locals were also quite passionate about maintaining "the green orientation of this space," says Gupta. He says more trees will be planted, but the space as planned will function as an open amphitheater. MAUSA has reached out to the Curtis Institute of Music to see if they'd be interested in allowing their students to perform outside Lovett. 

Gupta says the proposed park will be tyke-friendly and sustainable, accommodating a story-time circle and nature play for young children. MAUSA may partner with a local arboretum on the nature play. Gupta hopes to better control the stormwater that flows off Lovett's roof through use of a rain garden. Along with the rain garden, native plant species will be used.

This public space proposal comes on the heels of a successful summer movie series on the grounds of the Lovett. Gupta brags that 130 to 150 people coalesced at the library during the course of the eight-week movie series. Trolley Car Diner provided concessions, and all movies were family-friendly. Gupta foresees the upcoming public space making this a tradition. 

A number of community and city groups have been involved in the planning for Mt. Airy's newest public space. The Community Design Collaborative (CDC) provided complimentary design services. The Free Library of Philadelphia has provided its support and assistance. East and West Mt. Airy Neighbors (EMAN and WMAN) have both been intimately involved in the community engagement process. Even the local religious community hasn't been left out, as Gupta lauds the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement for being a partner.

MAUSA hopes that this public space jibes with corridor improvements along Germantown Ave. People should "have an incentive to walk from Cresheim Valley [Drive] to Washington Lane," says Gupta with hopeful inflection. He says there is currently little activity on the stretch of the Avenue around the library. Gupta also states that there is no designed park in Northwest Philadelphia, although he says Chestnut Hill's Pastorius Park comes close. He says Lovett can hold the area's first designed park. 

Anuj Gupta estimates that MAUSA's "final conceptual plan" will be ready for public consumption in May. He hopes to hold a ceremony replete with performances at Lovett's grounds to present the plan. While the community has been split on what to do with the space, it looks like MAUSA worked hard to run with the local consensus views. It might just be a few months until Mt. Airy proves that 2012 is the year of the public space in the Northwest.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Anuj Gupta, Mt. Airy USA

Roxborough emerging from Northwest's shadows with new businesses, preservation and improvements

For decades, Manayunk and Chestnut Hill have dominated Northwest Philly’s business development scene with their vibrant commercial corridors. However, a new player is emerging as a destination for shoppers and diners: Roxborough, and the burgeoning Ridge Ave. corridor, is seeing an influx of new businesses, streetscape improvements, and historic preservation in its surrounding neighborhood.

The Roxborough Development Corporation (RDC) has played a vital role in the resurgence of Ridge Ave. James Calamia, the operations manager at the RDC, is excited about the new businesses that are slated to open this year. Most notably, the popular beer distributor and gourmet deli The Foodery just purchased the RDC’s erstwhile office on the avenue west of Green Lane. Calamia is proud to report that this will be The Foodery’s largest location yet. He says the current drawings, which are always subject to change, have fridges filled with beer wrapping around the entire store and plentiful seating.

While The Foodery won’t open until May at the earliest, a number of new businesses have opened in the past three months or will be opening shortly. Calamia says that Blackbird House Antiques at Ridge and Shawmont, Giovanni’s Child Care at Ridge and Leverington, and TD Bank at Ridge and Hermit have all opened in the past three months. Another new business, Kitch-N Collectibles, is planning on opening very shortly across from RDC’s old office. Kitch-N Collectibles is actually re-locating to Roxborough from Manayunk.

While business development is a massive part of the equation in Roxborough, the RDC points out that the neighborhood is also benefitting from historic preservation efforts. Calamia relays that the community was just awarded a $30,000 grant from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to rehabilitate “gothic houses” on Lyceum Ave. and Green Ln, only a block away from the Ridge corridor. This is a means to “help build and grow Roxborough’s unique persona,” says Calamia.

Roxborough is also benefiting from a $2.2 million grant from the city to make streetscape enhancements along Ridge Ave. According to Calamia, this will result in smoother sidewalks, better lighting, and new planters. He believes these improvements will lead to a “new foundation for Roxborough and the whole area.” “It will make the area more walkable and improve aesthetics,” Calamia adds. Depending on weather conditions, he anticipates the streetscape enhancements will be finished during the summer.

The RDC alludes to more exciting development along Ridge Ave. in the years to come. Calamia says Planet Fitness has expressed interest in the shuttered Golden Chrysler dealership, which would be the discount gym’s first location in Northwest Philadelphia. He also says the RDC might be looking to add a park around the intersection of Ridge and Leverington Aves. Finally, the operations director intimates that the former bank at Ridge and Green Ln. might soon be re-developed. He says someone just purchased the historic building, which is known for the sculpted owls on its roof. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: James Calamia, Roxborough Development Corporation

New Year's resolution: Connecting the city and its suburbs with a trail

As we stare at a new year, it looks like one of the hottest trends in recreation and transportation will continue. Yes, we're talking about a new trail. Specifically, trail advocates are looking at a labyrinth of rights-of-way through Northwest Philadelphia and southeastern Montgomery County as fertile ground for bicyclists and pedestrians. The Friends of the Cresheim Trail, which is the advocacy group behind this trail, is planning a big year.

The proposed trail begins in Mount Airy, runs along the border of Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill, and then meanders through Springfield, Cheltenham, and Whitemarsh Townships in Montgomery County, explains Susan Dannenberg, the chair of the Friends of Cresheim Trail. One of the primary hurdles to sculpting the trail is that different proposed segments are currently owned by varying entities. For example, Dannenberg confirms that the desired beginning of the trail in Mount Airy is owned by Fairmount Park, while PECO Energy has control of other parts of the route.

Dannenberg prognosticates that the eight-mile Cresheim Trail will get built one mile at a time. "Trails take a long time to get built," recognizes Dannenberg. She wants to see the Mount Airy segment go into operation first, which begins at the intersection of Allens Lane and Lincoln Drive, near the Allen Lane Train Station. Next, Dannenberg wants to see the portion along well-traveled Cresheim Valley Drive. This would provide access to Germantown Ave., the incoming Chestnut Hill Quaker meetinghouse, and the suburbs.

In order to accomplish anything, the Friends of Cresheim Trail has its work cut out for itself. Dannenberg hopes to apply for tax-exempt non-profit status this year, at which point they can start applying for grants. She would also like to throw house parties at residences near the proposed trail, which would be aimed at offsetting skepticism from trail neighbors. "There are a couple of places where people are concerned about a trail near their houses," admits Dannenberg. Much of the criticism has come from residents of Springfield and Cheltenham Townships.

On the other side of the coin, the proposed trail has an impressive array of supporters. Dannenberg says that the Chestnut Hill Rotary Club and Mt. Airy USA have been vocal supporters in the city. Local Rotarians went so far as to hold an art competition to raise money for the Cresheim Trail. Yet, the trail also has considerable support among Montgomery County institutions, including Cheltenham Township, the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners, and the School District of Springfield Township, which the trail would run through.   

Source: Susan Dannenberg, Friends of Cresheim Trail
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Kensington Community Food Co-op working hard to expand influence of co-ops around Philadelphia

Food and energy cooperatives have certainly gained steam in the Delaware Valley in the past few years. Odds are you’ve heard of Weaver’s Way Co-op in Northwest Philadelphia, and you may have even heard of Mariposa and the Energy Co-op. Yet, there’s one you may not have heard of that’s working with federal and city lawmakers to pump up the clout of local co-ops. This co-op is the Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC), which was founded in 2008.

One of KCFC’s top priorities is to get the United States House of Representatives to pass the National Cooperative Development Act, according to Peter Frank, the vice president of KCFC and the campaign coordinator of the movement to pass the act. While this is national legislation, Frank is unequivocal that the passage would be a great thing for the Philadelphia-area. “Philadelphia also has a good 'co-op infrastructure' in place to support further co-op development,” says Frank.

This would explain the November launch of the Philadelphia-area Cooperative Alliance (PACA). Along with KCFC, the Alliance counts members from Weaver’s Way, Mariposa, the Energy Co-op, and credit unions. Frank says PACA is orchestrating a cooperative conference at Drexel University in June, which is being organized by the grandson of former mayor Richardson Dilworth on Drexel’s behalf. One of PACA’s first tasks will be to work with Philadelphia City Council to pass a resolution recognizing the social and economic windfalls of cooperatives in the city. 

KCFC’s Vice President is so passionate about the National Cooperative Development Act and PACA because of the positive impact they can have on Kensington. For one thing, KCFC has been looking to open up its own grocery store for some time now, but has not had the funds to do so. The proposed bill could turn the key for this grocery store. Going beyond just KCFC, Frank lauds cooperatives as a chance for decent jobs, vital grocery and banking services, and a means of keeping money in and around Kensington.  

The myriad local benefits of cooperatives justifies why local representative Chaka Fattah wrote the Act, while fellow local Reps. Allyson Schwartz and Bob Brady co-sponsored. Specifically, the bill would provide capital funding for co-ops, along with free technical assistance and training, says Frank. The bill was officially introduced to the U.S. House as H.R. 3677 a couple of weeks ago. No word on when it will go up for vote.

Source: Peter Frank, Kensington Community Food Co-op
Writer: Andy Sharpe

SEPTA's bus fleet to become more eco-friendly thanks to two grants

Despite a budget shortfall, SEPTA will be able to resume purchasing hybrid diesel-electric buses thanks to two grants from the US Department of Transportation. For the first time ever, SEPTA will purchase hybrid 60-foot accordion buses, which are the longest buses in the system. SEPTA’s current assortment of hybrid buses is about 30 percent more fuel efficient than equivalent clean diesel buses.

SEPTA is the beneficiary of $15 million in federal funds to cover the difference in cost between hybrid and clean diesel 60-foot buses. Luther Diggs, who’s in charge of operations at SEPTA, says it will stretch out the acquisition of these longer buses over four years, with the first year’s purchase entirely hybrid. Over the four years, SEPTA will be replacing 155 longer buses, with an option for 65 more. The percent of these that are hybrid will depend on how much more grant money becomes available. 

This opens the possibility that additional bus routes might see these longer buses. "We have some additional need for 60-foot buses," confirms Diggs. He suggests that the Route 47 bus, which was the subject of the failed skip-stop pilot and more successful attempts to speed it up, might end up seeing longer buses. Also, he hints that the extremely well-traveled Route 17 bus, which runs up and down 19th and 20th Sts. in South Philadelphia and across Center City, might be another new candidate for the 60-footers.

Shortly after the $15 million grant was announced, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced another grant of $5 million to pay for additional hybrid 40-foot buses, the most prevalent of SEPTA's fleet. This is welcome news for many local environmentalists, who earlier this year were dismayed to hear that funding difficulties meant SEPTA would cease acquiring standard-size hybrid buses. According to Diggs, SEPTA will resume purchasing these hybrid buses in 2013, and only purchase hybrid 40-foot buses in 2014. 

Diggs is convinced that hybrid buses represent the most financially sensible way for SEPTA to green its bus fleet. Diggs says SEPTA did examine running buses using compressed natural gas (CNG) in the mid-1990s. However, hybrid buses were ruled more effective than their CNG counterparts because of "infrastructure, residential neighborhoods, and cost," says Diggs. While some transit agencies in California and Texas use CNG, there are legitimate concerns about the cost of putting in CNG infrastructure and the health risks associated with natural gas.  

Source: Luther Diggs, SEPTA
Writer: Andy Sharpe 

First Quaker meetinghouse in 80 years set for Chestnut Hill-Mt. Airy border

Philadelphia will be getting its first new Quaker meetinghouse in 80 years. Members of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting (CHFM) have outgrown their current meetinghouse, and want to create a new one that better reflects eco-friendly Quaker values. The new meetinghouse also promises to be a place of tranquility and beauty for everyone across Northwest Philadelphia, regardless of religious affiliation.

The new meetinghouse is intended as a multi-purpose building for Quakers and non-Quakers. Signe Wilkinson, co-chair of fundraising for CHFM, says the building will fulfill all spiritual purposes, but will be suitable for so much more. "It will be a place of contemplation and reflection and peace" for everyone, imagines Wilkinson. Wilkinson also foresees humanitarian uses for the building, which include caring for Nepalese refugees and working with the Northwest Interfaith Hospitality Network to care for the homeless.

The new location will be "a football field and a half" away from the current meetinghouse, according to Wilkinson. It will be constructed behind Mermaid Lane in an oft-ignored part of the Wissahickon Valley by Cresheim Valley Drive. One reason why the Friends decided to build here is because it is convenient to mass transit, vehicles, and pedestrians along Germantown Ave. Also, it is beside a proposed bicycle trail along Cresheim Valley Drive.

Members of CHFM are especially proud of the art installation that will be built within their meetinghouse. They’ve sought out James Turrell, a fellow Quaker, to create a Skyspace light installation, which will allow skylight to illuminate the meeting space. Wilkinson says her brethren was inspired by a similar Turrell Skyspace in Houston, Texas. Realizing that the Skyspace allowed Houstonians to better contemplate, CHFM got to know Turrell about seven years ago.

The Friends are also seeking to hold true to environmentally-friendly tenets of Quakerism with the new meetinghouse. Wilkinson says that they’re striving to conform to LEED Platinum standards, although they don’t actually have the resources to apply for LEED certification. To do this, members are hoping to recycle the asphalt left over from when the site was a quarry. They’re also considering installing solar panels, although that is dependent on how much money they raise.

The funds for construction of the new building have mostly been raised, although supporters estimate that they still need to come up with the remaining 10 percent of the cost. Wilkinson says that members of the meetinghouse have donated during meetings, and neighbors and fans of Turrell have also given munificently. In addition, CHFM was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the new space. The first shovel is expected to hit dirt in March 2012, while the completion date is forecast for July 2013.

Source: Signe Wilkinson, Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting
Writer: Andy Sharpe

From housedresses to seafood to lamps, Chestnut Hill sees a rash of new business development

After seeing a good deal of businesses close, and an influx of banks open, it looks like the Chestnut Hill section of the city is back on the road to retail and dining diversity. In fact, a number of new businesses have opened along Germantown Ave. so far this year, with many more planned. It even looks like the crown jewel at the top of the Hill, the former Borders Books, might soon open a new chapter.

Eileen Reilly, the Chestnut Hill Business Association's retail recruiter, is pumped to talk about the new businesses opening along the avenue. Earth, an eclectic store that sells garden-infused jewelry, candles, and even garden supplies tilled the soil when it opened in March. The owner of Earth, Doug Reinke, proceeded to open Linen, a bedding, bath and baby supply store in May. Not satisfied, Reinke opened a rug and lighting store called "Room Service" earlier this month, a few blocks away from the other two stores.

Reilly also boasts about a couple of "pop-up" stores that will set up shop at the old Magarity Ford dealership in time for the holiday season. One such store is Fete Noel, which is a one-of-a-kind store that vends everything from antique furniture, to toys, to prestigious jewelry, to photography. This "pop-up" store will be open for six days, beginning on Nov. 10th. Another "pop-up" store is Bali to Bala, which returns after an ultra successful debut in Chestnut Hill last year. Bali to Bala features Indonesian arts and crafts, and aims to spread awareness about Indonesian culture.

Yet, according to Reilly the list of stores and restaurants slated to open in Chestnut Hill in the next few months is even more comprehensive. The Iron Hill Brewery is currently being built where clothing stores used to be, with Reilly saying it will open right before New Year's Eve. With this in mind, the big story in Chestnut Hill will continue to be the local independent stores that are opening. A woman's apparel store called Indigo Schuy is expected to open within the next few months, while a locally themed fine dining establishment called Heirloom will begin serving up duck, seafood, and other items.

What many are anxiously looking at is the old Border's Books site at the intersection of Germantown Ave. and Bethlehem Pike. Reilly reveals that a deal is close to being reached between the seller and a client of this parcel, and that it will have an institutional use. Greg Welsh, the owner of the Chestnut Grill and a loud voice on the Business Association, went a step further and said the building will soon become a childcare center for Children of America.

For residents, shoppers, and diners in Chestnut Hill, this new flurry of business openings is surely welcome news. This is remarkable because of the lower sales tax in the surrounding suburbs. "Even though the climate is tough, the energy has changed," says Eileen Reilly. "We're on entrepreneurs brainwaves." While main streets across the region are still mired in a recession, Chestnut Hill's main street seems to have emerged from it.

Source: Eileen Reilly, Chestnut Hill Business Association
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Friends of the Wissahickon help heal parklands, trails from weatherís wrath

While a number of communities in the Delaware Valley were affected by flooding from Hurricane Irene and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, Fairmount Park’s Wissahickon Valley saw some of the worst flooding. Yet, for as ferocious as the flooding was in the valley, the efforts to clean up flood damage have been just as intense. Friends of the Wissahickon, a mostly volunteer group, has been instrumental in the quick, yet toilsome clean-up.

Because of the lack of homes in Fairmount Park, the Wissahickon’s serious flooding didn’t garner as much media attention as other local flood spots. However, Kevin Groves, the volunteer coordinator at Friends of the Wissahickon, makes it clear that the park’s landscape was altered from the flooding.

"There was really serious erosion all over the park, and areas of Forbidden Dr. close to the (Wissahickon) creek were under water," reports Groves. Groves elaborates by saying that some segments of the popular hiking trail Forbidden Dr. actually caved in from the strength of the water. Also, Bell’s Mill Rd., a well-traveled artery between Chestnut Hill and Andorra, sustained some damage.

The sheer extent of the damage has failed to deter over a hundred people who have volunteered with Friends of the Wissahickon to help clean up the valley. Groves is clearly proud when he lauds the hundred or so volunteers who showed up for emergency repairs in the famous Valley Green section. In addition, individual dedicated volunteers with the Friends have taken the initiative to go out and conduct their own trail maintenance. 

Even a few weeks after the storms, there is still plenty of damage and plenty of interest in volunteering to fix the damage. This past weekend, about a dozen volunteers labored to take a trail that had partially washed away out of service in the vicinity of the Andorra Tree House on the western rim of the park. This included digging the trail up, mixing the dirt, and placing branches across the path to make it difficult to walk along. The volunteers were an interesting mix of park experts with Friends of the Wissahickon, Chestnut Hill College students, and one reporter.

The effects of tropical systems Irene and Lee have taught the Friends of Wissahickon and the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation one big lesson, which is that trails in the valley can and should be designed to better withstand stormwater. Groves says it’s noticeable how much better the trails that were re-designed to handle flooding held up after the storms. As flooding will never cease to be a threat through the Wissahickon Valley, this is an important lesson to grasp.  

Source: Kevin Groves, Friends of the Wissahickon
Writer: Andy Sharpe


Still hope for City Council passage of zoning code re-write by year's end

Philadelphia’s Zoning Code Commission unveiled a new timeline that they hope will lead to a modernized zoning code during a six-hour public hearing in front of City Council. The public certainly got to weigh in, as 40 different people signed up to testify, split into thirteen panels of three or more people at a time.

The barrage of public comment not withstanding, the Zoning Code Commission (ZCC) announced its strong desire to pass a new zoning code in City Council by the end of the year. Perhaps no one is more eager to see a new zoning code before the year’s end than Eva Gladstein, the Executive Director of the ZCC. Gladstein is cautiously optimistic about the odds of success. "A number of members of City Council expressed their interest in passing a new zoning code before the end of the year, and we believe that while the timeline is tight, it is achievable," says Gladstein.

From the look and sound of the hearing, City Council members and public testifiers -- including community group leaders, developers, and environmentalists -- support most parts of the zoning code update. However, there are a few sticking points among City Council and the public that might impede the ZCC deadline.

Councilman Bill Green, who many believe may run for mayor some time in the next decade, has raised many of the questions and concerns on City Council. He clarified his concerns by releasing a set of 10 amendments that he feels are necessary for the proposed zoning code re-write. At the hearing, Green complained that his office had not received a revisable copy of the zoning code proposal. Both Gladstein and Alan Greenberger, Acting Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and a member of the ZCC, claimed they did send the document. 

One of Green’s concerns is that the proposed zoning code does not adequately restrict potentially harmful industry from going into residential neighborhoods. Some of the community groups present seemed to agree with this, as well as other aspects of Green’s amendments. Another complaint, voiced by the East Falls Community Council, was that there was insufficient, albeit improved, participation from community groups in the re-write.

With this in mind, the politicians and the public seemed ready to proceed with an improved zoning code. Speaker after speaker seemed to delight in commending the ZCC for its hard work in drafting sorely needed zoning reform. Even hesitant City Council members, like Green and Brian O’Neill, acknowledged that the zoning code needed to be modernized. Thus, it's not if, but when the zoning code reform will pass. Many hope it will be by year’s end, but that’s not a guarantee.

Source: Eva Gladstein, Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Germantown Regional Rail station finally treated to historic preservation

Thanks to the enthusiasm and financial support of West Central Germantown residents, commuters using the Tulpehocken Station can now feel the decades fly backwards as they wait for their train. That's because SEPTA finished the historical renovation of Tulpehocken Station, on the Chestnut Hill West Regional Rail line this summer.

With this in mind, it was not an easy process. From 1978 until recent years, SEPTA constantly told community groups that there was not enough money to repair the station. "From 1978 and on, the building was basically abandoned," says Jeffrey Smith, a man on a mission to preserve Germantown's history. In 1982, SEPTA even tried to demolish the building, although neighbors succeeded in thwarting that.

However, things began to look up in 2007, when the West Central Germantown Neighbors established a committee to salvage the building. This spurred the National Trust for Historical Preservation to come up with a grant to rehabilitate the station. The problem was the grant required a local match. However, "I raised $5,500 from neighbors and apartment owners," says a very proud Smith.

The final step that put the wheels to the rail of the Tulpehocken preservation was SEPTA's federal stimulus funds, of which SEPTA allocated $700,000 to the dated station. This enabled SEPTA to install 2 heavy-duty plywood floors using 60 percent of the structure's existing lumber, according to Smith. In addition, the station received a brand new roof. At this point, "the building was restored to historic standards," boasted Smith, who cited the station shell's approval by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

With this long fought preservation, Smith is not quite satisfied. After all, it is hard for the man who bought the rights to Germantown's famed historic logo to rest on his laurels. "I'm trying to get a lease from SEPTA to make the building commercially viable," said Smith. Smith hastened to add that SEPTA has been a supportive partner throughout the recent process, pointing out the meetings he had with top SEPTA officials.   

Source:
Jeff Smith
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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