Double Take

Community process for Germantown High building quickens with two meetings in June — with reporting by Joshua Kellem

When we last left Germantown High School planning on June 3rd, developers Jack Azran and Eli Alon – or, more accurately, their lawyers & architect – reviewed the same three plans they’d presented a month earlier, but now with some extra discussion based on feedback they’d received from the neighborhood.

Once again, neighbors lined up to ask questions, to which the answer was almost always “Great idea! We’ll have to look at the numbers and see how the plan might support that.”

Really, guys? You got the property for a song, you’ve been working on plans for two years now. Seems weird that you can’t commit to simple asks like building more affordable housing or training now to certify local tradesmen so they qualify for good jobs when construction starts.

The developers agreed to sign a Community Benefits Agreement, and it looks like POWER Philadelphia is stepping up to take the lead. The Reverend Gregory Holston wrapped up the meeting by suggesting some framework for neighbors moving forward:

“What are our next steps? We have another meeting like this that is scheduled for the first Monday in July. Before that we have a steering committee that will be meeting on June 10th. Now this is an important meeting. And we have about twenty organizations already involved in the Coalition. But we want to make sure we have every voice that’s available. So if there are block captains, community organizations, near neighbors all around the site, if you can’t be a part of this Coalition yourself, make sure you find a Block Captain or someone in the area to recommend on various issues.

 “Now we put out enough of these meetings, and enough of these flyers so that everyone should know enough about this coalition that’s come together to address this. We need everyone to participate. These are public meetings. If you just want to come and hear what’s going on, you can do that as well. We’re going to try to keep this as open a process as we possibly can. We have a lot of work to do… Now we have to get into specifics. We have to be very clear about what we will take and what we will not take at these campus buildings….

 “They (the developers) need us for zoning and variances – so we will have voice! Let’s make sure we speak as one voice. … We are a very diverse community with a lot of differences. We need to put these differences aside to make sure this project is done in a way that everyone can benefit.”

Reverend Gregory Holston, POWER Philadelphia

Steering Committee Meeting

On June 10, a second meeting was held to set up a formal governance structure for the Germantown Fulton Campus Coalition, the GUCDC-facilitated group tasked with holding the developers’ feet to the fire. About 25 attendees came together to organize an advisory committee, working committees, and six or seven subcommittees all reporting to the steering committee, which runs the coalition and is made up only of near neighbors & alumni.

To qualify for the steering committee, you must live within 250 feet of Germantown High, at Germantown Avenue & High Street, or be affiliated with an organization located within that 250-foot radius (this final condition allows all Germantown High alumni to serve on the steering committee even if they do not live nearby).

The working subcommittees though, are wide open for any resident to join! Volunteers needed for:

1. Communications and marketing
2. Research
3. Outreach to near neighbors
4. Cleanliness
5. Safety and design of the site, and
6. Fundraising and development

The group also agreed to consider forming two more: Parking (7) and Sustainability (8) at the next steering committee meeting.

Subcommittees will be supervised by the Advisory Committee, which will consist of industry professionals belonging to each of the six (or eight) working committees. Everybody got that?! (If not, they may need to add another committee, ha.)

The plan is that from this kinda elaborate structure the community can begin sketching out a Community Benefits Agreement to help the whole neighborhood benefit from the developers’ investment. For example, affordable housing. Right now, the minimum requirement for Azran & Alon’s project is 10% – roughly 24 units out of 236 units. And guess how they define affordable? Apparently, they can rent for 30% of the median annual income of about $29,000 (about $740/month – pretty tight on a limited income).

Nevertheless, people seem optimistic. We want to support that. We’re hoping all these committees and subcommittees can come together and have real influence with the developers to create a fair CBA and respectful design and smart urban planning.

Come out for the Community Cookout on the lawn on GHS (5901-13 Germantown Avenue) on Saturday July 13th (3 – 7pm). Next meeting 6:30 pm July 15th at Janes Memorial UMC (map).

**LOCATION CHANGE** On July 9th, the meeting’s location was changed from Janes Memorial to First United Methodist Church of Germantown, 6001 Germantown Avenue (map).

To stay up on all the GHS news, follow Germantown Fulton Campus Coalition on Facebook or join their “Real Talk” group

About Sandy Smith 2 Articles
Sandy’s interest in journalism stretches all the way back to high school, and he’s been scribbling away ever since then, either in the field or in its hired-gun cousin, media relations. He currently runs the Real Estate & Home channel at Philadelphia magazine's website, phillymag.com. You'll find his column on trends in real estate and design in the print edition. Cities and the built environment float his boat, as does rail transportation, and he’s written about all of the above for Philadelphia-area media and beyond. His work has also appeared in Next City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Hidden City Daily and several other regional publications. Sandy is a Kansas City native who currently lives in East Germantown. Follow Sandy on nwlocalpaper.com and social media -- Twitter: @MarketStEl Facebook: WriterSandySmith

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