Are we playing around or are we ready to get serious about Development in Germantown?
The last public meeting for Germantown High/Fulton Elementary Schools’ Campus Coalition included two pledges for democracy, six calls for applause, three meeting announcements and over 45 minutes of explanation about committee protocol and responsibilities. Holy crap, this project is complicated.
Transcribing the video afterward only underscored our first impressions. And, frankly, made us a little sad to see all this micro-management and meetings on top of meetings filled with familiar faces from local politics. While it’s difficult to believe Germantown’s leaders would waste neighbors’ time on Kabuki theater, the approach laid out seems to invite ambiguity and test people’s patience, comprehension and enthusiasm.
See what you think. We pulled out some quotes to kinda sample the meeting’s vibe but please review the transcripts (below and on youtube.com) for the whole shebang. We’re still puzzling things out – if you’ve got a better take, lay it on us in the comments section (or shoot us an email, we welcome contributors).
Setting the Scene
Monday, July 15; 6pm
First United Methodist Church of Germantown
Reverend Gregory Holston of POWER Philadelphia led the meeting, while representatives with Germantown United CDC did most of the presenting. The Coalition, however, is a collection of like 20 local organizations that make up six different committees. Each committee lists one or two “Point Persons,” and includes an unspecified number of (mostly) unnamed volunteers.
The Steering Committee meets regularly and also holds General Information Meetings every four to six weeks where the other committees present on their progress and field comments/questions from neighbors. “Parallel to the Steering Committee is an Advisory Committee of experts…,” he said, “They will help inform us who don’t know all the details around how you do development…”
On top of Steering and Advisory, there’s also a Negotiations Committee rounding out what appears to be the main body driving the community input process with the Developer. Although none of these presenters could provide any timelines or definitive project details, each “Point Person” took turns sharing their committee’s role and guidelines:
Steering Committee (open to organizational leadership, GHS alumni and near neighbors within 250 feet):
“The Steering Committee represents the community… (and is) also assisted by the Steering Committee chairs that include community organizations. That information goes up and down the chain but ultimately lands with the Negotiating Committee. Once it gets to the Negotiating Committee phase, we… try to look at those questions and those issues, and then offer information back to the Steering Committee chairs to really try to narrow down… what the community needs are and focus our negotiations around those community needs.”
Negotiations Committee (a closed committee):
“(We are) filtering all the info that is coming from the sub-committees as well as from the Advisory Committee. And what we do is try to come up with a common strategy on how we are going to present these ideas to the Developer. And guiding the other smaller committees as well as Steering Committee as to coming up with the Big Ticket items that we want….
“Obviously we want to listen to the community to find out what best you think should be utilized in both these facilities but at the same time also considering that we’re gonna have to be a little give-and-take with the Developer…”
Advisory Committee (appointed experts from the neighborhood):
“What we’re basically trying to do is think about what are some of the detailed questions we need to know for all the various sub-committees and do deeper analysis. And then what are some of the broader questions we would like to ask the Developer with the expectation that they may not answer some of these questions, there are things they may continue to not tell us…
“We also want to dig into their finances… you’ve heard (the Developer) talked a lot about not running the numbers, not knowing what their rents are going to be… which may or may not be true but either way we want to know what are they thinking about as far as their preliminary pro forma.”
Sounds to us like they’re describing three overlapping groups with various degrees of transparency..? Seems noteworthy that the Negotiations Committee is the only group who will be meeting directly with the Developer.
Three other committees focus on distinct tasks the Steering Committee has prioritized:
Housing Committee Organized into four specific areas targeting housing — developer research, project design & management, property management and legal protections.
Education Committee Working to establish a school as an “anchor tenant” for the property; exploring grades K-12, and also workforce development and/or adult learning.
Communications Committee Keeps Steering Committee minutes and informs residents about upcoming GHS/Fulton Campus meetings via Facebook groups, email lists, phone tree, and tabling at community events.
And they’re all having separate meetings, although times/locations for some had not yet been set. Volunteers needed, shoot them an email.
Whew! So much effort and energy – all focused on this one project in Germantown. Obviously, the high school is special to the community, but still. It’s just one small part of a very unique and complicated neighborhood that deserves more thoughtful and holistic consideration.
When it comes to land use, there are two types of planning: piecemeal and comprehensive. Planning project-by-project tends to be reactive, authoritative and arbitrary. This GHS project is a great example. News of planned development leaked this year, GUCDC mobilized a Coalition, which created the song and dance we’re witnessing now.
By contrast, a Comprehensive Community Plan (CCP) considers the community as a whole, and focuses on inclusion, data-collection and an overall plan for land use. According to the American Planning Association, “a CCP is a process that seeks to educate and engage all members of the community to create a more prosperous, convenient, equitable, healthy and attractive place for present and future generations.”
It’s a thing! Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code outlines requirements for preparing and adopting CCPs, which include background research, surveys, public hearings, environmental reports, traffic assessments and more. CCPs usually project 25+ years ahead, and are regularly revised as the community grows.
Neighborhood sites are targeted for expansion, transportation, recreation, commercial enterprise, green space, human services, historic preservation… all kinds of things, depending on needs & wishes. CCPs often include an Official Map, showing where everything is, and how it’s earmarked. Such information is like a Bat Signal calling to Developers that space is ripe for investment.
CCPs can be a monumental undertaking! Putting one together takes years and relies on so much research and documentation, they’re frequently created in partnership with a University. Professional consultants, too, are needed to keep all the moving parts coordinated. All that time and money…
But they work. Around the world — and right here in Philadelphia, where CCPs help guide smart development to create livable, respectful, sustainable communities that reflect residents’ values and history.
Fun Fact! Germantown was working on a CCP last year. GUCDC received a “pre-planning grant” from Wells Fargo to test the waters for a CCP. If GU’s team of seven non-profits could demonstrate key leadership, communication and organizational skills, Germantown would qualify for a million dollar planning grant. Short story: they couldn’t.
But the good news is, neighbors packed the house for the first (and only) public Pre-Planning meeting, and more than a hundred signed up to get in on the process. We have video from that meeting too, showing an engaged audience, eager to dream big for Germantown.
So why are we killing ourselves over this one Germantown High School project? While Maplewood Mall falls apart waiting for its makeover. And Chelten Ave languishes with no strategy for improvement. Historic properties remain vulnerable to demolition.
Public lands like Hamill Mill, the YWCA, Germantown Town Hall, etc are sitting ducks for random development and Councilmanic corruption. Wouldn’t it be helpful to rethink these spaces now and seek out the Developers that can bring our vision to life? Let our District Council member know in no uncertain terms that Germantown has a plan and it’s time to get aboard.
It could happen. Other neighborhoods pull off CCPs all the time. We certainly have the interest and resources – but do we have the leadership? Likely this GHS/Fulton campus development will continue to provide us more clues.
**VIDEO PLAYLIST from GHS/FULTON CAMPUS COALITION’s General Meeting (July 15, 2019)**
Various committees present to the public on their purpose and progress representing what they will have determined to be the community’s best interests. We broke the footage up into five clips you can view & share via Youtube, as well (with transcriptions in the video descriptions).
Also — we did our best to catch every word but some small stretches we found unintelligible, sorry. If you think you can make something out, please chime in!
GHS-Fulton Campus Coalition
July 15, 2019
Reverend Gregory Holston (POWER Philadelphia):
The General Body (will meet back here?) every four to six weeks while we’re going through this process. And underneath the Steering Committee, a variety of other committees that are doing a variety of work around or about the school itself (unintelligible): the School Committee, the Housing Committee, Communications Committee, Negotiating Committee and parallel to the Steering Committee is an Advisory Committee of experts in Housing and probably Negotiations as well who will help inform us who don’t know all the details around how you do development of all the details that we need to know to move forward.
So we are really thankful that so many talented people, so many people who have expertise in development, in legal – some have 20 – 25 years’ background in doing this kind of work are volunteering their time to be with us as we do this work. And so I’m just excited about the expertise that is available to us and will be on display, if not at this meeting at other meetings for you to be able to see. So that’s kind of an overview. So (unintelligible) involved set that structure up so that was much of the work we’ve done since June. And our teams are in place and doing work. You’ll hear reports from each one of the teams as they come forward to share. (turns to meeting co-chairs) Am I missing anything in the overview?
Julie Stapleton Carroll (President, GUCDC and Education Committee point person):
So we want to make this a really broad coalition and already the number of community organizations that are impacted by the neighborhood and by this project have stepped forward. We’re looking, you know, if there’s any other interested people, we want to be as inclusive as possible. Let me read these in alphabetical order:
7G’s, 59th Ward, ENON Tabernacle Baptist Church, EMIR Healing Center/Every Murder is Real, First United Methodist Church of Germantown, GHS Alumni Association – how many alums do we have here in the room? Awesome! – Germantown United CDC, Germantown Life Enrichment Center, Haines St CDC, Janes Memorial Baptist Church, Men Who Care of Germantown, Penn Knox Neighbors Association, Pomona Cherokee Civic Council, POWER Philadelphia, Providence Baptist Church, St. Vincent’s, West Central Germantown Neighbors.
If we’ve missed any of you, please let us know in which case we can add you to this list. (unintelligible) … but it’s a wide coalition and we’re gonna send a lot of great positive messages to the Developer(s) that we’re (unintelligible) of Germantown. (hands mic back to Reverend)
Reverend Gregory Holston:
So give yourself a hand for that. (unintelligible) Every time that list is read we recognize all of these organizations coming together to work on this common effort, we send a message to the Developer(s) that he has to deal with us. And nothing will happen in that building if we have not approved of. There is strength in numbers, there is power in numbers and so your presence here and these organizations’ presence in this coalition is gonna make all the difference in building the kind of community we want to have and building this development the way we want it to be. And so give yourself a hand every time, keep giving yourself a hand for the work that’s going on.
NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE REPORT:
Negotiations Committee rep (didn’t use mic when he introduced himself so I missed his name but he mentioned GUCDC):
So part of the what the Negotiating Committee is trying achieve is essentially what we are doing is filtering all the info that is coming from the sub-committees as well as from the Advisory Committee. And what we do is try to come up with a (common something?) strategy on how we are going to present these ideas to the Developer(s). And guiding the other smaller committees as well as Steering Committee as to coming up with, you know, what are the Big Ticket items that we want.
What do we really want to “hard” negotiate, what’s not negotiable for us. As well as considering how we can create leverage with the Developer(s) by trying to find out what it is they want. And in doing so we can create a very effective negotiations process where obviously we want to listen to the community to find out what best you think should be utilized in both these facilities but at the same time also considering that we’re gonna have to be, you know, a little give and take with the Developer(s) to ensure that it’s not only a fair and comprehensive project but we get what we want, and they get what they want.
Reverend Gregory Holston:
Talk a little bit about the meeting we had and the questions we were dealing with last time.
Negotiations Committee rep:
So at our last meeting we were going over some questions that were submitted by the Advisory Committee and – are there any members of the Advisory Committee present? Angela, do you want to come up?
Angela Steele (chair of Advisory & Housing Committees):
The Advisory Committee met a couple of weeks ago and brainstormed some questions. Malcolm’s also on the Advisory Committee (points to audience), also Carla, Meisha and Jeff. And what we want to do is think about what are some of the broader questions as well as specific questions to help guide the Negotiating Committee and some of the other committees in their research and thinking through their tactics.
So, some of the questions focus on specific details about what we need from the Developer in order to do a high level analysis. So in order for, for example, the Housing Committee to figure out what do we think might be feasible we need to know things like what’s the square footage of the building, what’s the load-bearing capacity to think about what could actually fit in there and other types of details to be able to do some type of analysis on the building.
We also want to dig into their finances, I think, if you’ve been to the meetings with the Developer you’ve heard they talked a lot about not running the numbers, not knowing what their rents are going to be, not knowing, you know, not having run the numbers yet which may or may not be true but either way we want to know what are they thinking about as far as their preliminary pro forma, what other types of sources of funds they might be looking at, if they’re looking at City, State or Federal funds because that would also mean that we should be talking to our City, State and Federal representatives if they’re going out for those types of funds.
So we wanted to know some things from the Developer about their plans for including minority workers, women, women owned businesses and minority owned businesses, local businesses in this project. As well as their timeline, that’s another thing a lot of people are concerned about, what is the actual timeline on this project. So there’s some more detailed ones, I think we have to go over all of them but –unless there are questions – what we’re basically trying to do is think about what are some of the detailed questions we need to know for all the various sub-committees and do deeper analysis and then what are some of the broader questions we would like to ask the Developer with the expectation that they may not answer some of these questions, there are things they may continue to not tell us. But we can sure keep pushing to get the information we think we need to make an informed decision.
(Hands mic back to Negotiating Committee rep):
I think that one of the important things that we talked about at our meeting was a timeline. And that timeline was based on the zoning process and trying to get assurances that the Developer will provide to us that timeline in terms of when they are going to submit for zoning, so we can have an opportunity on our regard to prepare ourselves to be at the bargaining table before that happens.
(Hands mic back to Rev. Holston):
Hold a second cause I want to make sure everyone understands what you’re doing. So the Advisory Committee, made up of experts who’ve done a lot of this kind of work, came up with a series of questions that they felt we needed to know before we could really come back to the Developer(s) and say, “This is the thing we want to see differently than in the plan you showed us.” So that means we are really in our “research phase.” We’ll kinda take time to get as much information – we don’t want to run to the Developer(s) and say “We want this, and then that,” we might even be badly negotiating against ourselves.
So we want to make sure we get all the facts we need to have to be able to present our response to the proposal. (unintelligible) I’m glad to call you all experts, you all know what you’re doing. So, they made their recommendations to the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee looked at those questions, added one or two, and sent it onto the Negotiating Team because the Negotiating Team is the one who will talk directly with the Developers about what we want down the road.
All right? Do you see a process we’re trying to make? You all see? I’m trying to make you understand there’s democracy here and there’s a process happening and people – a lot of people are having a say in even the questions that we ask the Developer(s). You hear what I’m saying? (turns to Negotiating Team co-chairs) Now is that pretty much – y’all… Can you comment a little bit about the process so people understand what we’re doing?
Negotiating Committee rep:
So, the process is the Steering Committee represents the community, so most of the information if not all of the information as it relates to the community (unintelligible) the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee is also assisted by the Steering Committee chairs that (unintelligible) community organizations. That information goes up and down the chain but ultimately lands with the Negotiating Committee. Once it gets to the Negotiating Committee phase, we just essentially try to look at those questions and those issues, and then offer information back to the Steering Committee chairs to really try to narrow down so that we can streamline what the community needs are and focus our negotiations around those community needs.
(hands mic back to Reverend Holston):
So thank you both. Those questions will be going to the Developer(s) and they will return back to the Negotiating Team which will share those answers with the Advisory Team and so this whole process of just sharing information in the beginning is a very good part of the process. (turns to Negotiating Team chairs again) Do you want to share anything? About the Advisory Team? Anything else? (they shake their heads) All right. Give them both a hand here… (applause)
We need our experts and our negotiators that really work for us. I want to make sure you know that nothing will finally be negotiated without this body knowing. All right? We’re not doing stuff in secret. We’re gonna do things in public so you can trust with confidence when we come back here, we’ll lay out exactly all the things that we’ve been working on and give those proposals to you.
HOUSING COMMITTEE REPORT
Angela Steele (Housing Committee point person):
We have some really great people working on the Housing Committee, we met for the first time on the 11th and we’ll have another meeting on the 18th and our goal is to respond to some of the questions we received from the Negotiation Committee with regards to housing so we’ll be working through those questions. We organized ourselves to look a four areas of housing:
Project design/Project management — what are they actually going to build (unintelligible) to propose
And the reason we’re doing that is to really think through the whole process of not only providing affordable housing but also being able to keep that affordable housing. If someone goes into a unit, how we can make sure there are protections so they can actually stay there, that their rent doesn’t go up 50% in one year, or there are unfair house rules, those sorts of things. We’re going to (unintelligible) the whole process of providing housing and preserving that housing.
We’re also listening to community feedback, what you would like to see – if anything. So Margaret’s gonna help us with that. (Passes the mic to, I assume, Margaret (?), whose name was not included in the handout)
Margaret: (unintelligible) was repeated many times, people want housing for families, for seniors….
(hands mic back to Angela):
We also got feedback that people wanted no housing, that’s also important to know. This is from the cookout. Thanks to everyone who came to the cookout and organized it and gave us your feedback. We are trying to collect and aggregate all of that.
(hands mic to Margaret)
Some people mentioned condominiums condos as an idea and I myself wanted to mention co-operative housing. I have experience living in Tulpehocken Apartments and I think became a co-op, we have two other co-ops in Germantown so we’re kind of leaders in the city (unintelligible).
Julie Stapleton Carroll (President, GUCDC and Education Committee point person):
One of the main interests of the community is to have an educational use come back to that facility, it’s something we’ve been trying to get throughout the years. We had a really strong run in 2014, we pulled together a concept for an educational use for that facility and a bunch of us came together (points to crowd) and you see some of the green t-shirts. We went down to the School Board and tried to convince them to give us a school back in there.
Ultimately for political reasons we weren’t successful but we want to revitalize that group and look at not only K-12 education but workforce development and adult learning etc. There’s a ton of things we could be doing in that building. It’s also an advantage to us in negotiations with the Developer(s) because if we promise to use a large square footage in the building, that’s guaranteeing them an anchor tenant. That gives them better ability to get financing and gives them more confidence investing in the community, into the building, into the development.
So we have not yet met. Our first meeting will be 6pm Wednesday July 31st at GU’s office (5320 Germantown Ave). And if you want to become a part of that committee, see me I will take your email address, your phone number. And if you want to join any of the other committees – I think the negotiations committee is a closed committee at this point – but if you want to join any of the other committees, just see one of the other co-whatever we are. Directors. Or Emaleigh Doley who’s here from GU (waves), we can get you on our list.
So we want people to be active and involved so please sign up.
COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE REPORT:
Emaleigh Doley (Deputy Director, GUCDC although the “point person” for this committee is technically Jill Saull):
The goal of the Outreach Committee is two-fold. One of the main things is to share info between Steering Committee of the coalition and the various committees and the general public. So we’re trying to make sure that the flow of information about what’s happening continues to improve, that near neighbors are being notified adequately about public meetings and that we’re reaching people in a variety of ways.
So, not just online – although we do have a Facebook page and an email list now. We also are doing flyering for every community meeting. We have a street team of volunteers to do the flyering to all types of properties that are within 4 blocks of the buildings that are gonna be developed in a radius around. So the street team will be putting out hundreds of flyers out in advance of each community meeting. That is a heavy lift! Lots of folks walking around, talking to people.
Thanks to… If you flyer, thank you so much for getting the word out cause it’s been really really important to make sure we’re notifying people accurately and meeting people where they are at.
In addition to paper flyering and online, we also have a phone bank where anyone who provided a phone number when they signed into a GHS meeting gets a phone call letting them know about upcoming public meetings. And that’s again thanks to a big team of volunteers that is working to collect that information and helping get the word out.
Something the Communications & Outreach Committee hasn’t done yet but that is on the agenda, we have a meeting next week. The date has not yet been set but I will get that information out there as soon as possible, if anyone else wants to join the committee. There’ll be some smaller public engagement opportunities around this issue where instead of inviting everyone to come to these big community meetings, we’re gonna have an information table set up at various gathering spaces in Germantown and at other public events that have been scheduled, like the upcoming concert series in Vernon Park and some other hot spots in our neighborhood.
So that’s gonna be an effort, we’ll have a whole schedule of spaces that we’re gonna have this information table at. And we’ll be looking for more volunteers to help us with that. And to also help kinda craft what it is that we’re gonna be talking about, and presenting and the way we’ll be collecting information at those pop-ups.
AUDIENCE QUESTIONS CONCERNS
Edited for brevity — no video here, we caught the back of a lot of people’s heads & also, we’re more about featuring the presenters. Not everyone who comes to a meeting wants to be videoed, but the people presenting need to accept it as a part of public process. So we’ve summarized comments/concerns from neighbors.
One woman didn’t think the plans presented provided enough parking. Housing Committee answered they will find out what the City requires and then they’ll make a recommendation for the total number of spots they feel the community really needs. Also it’s important to understand about parking, the more spots are provided, the more traffic and congestion it leads to. (Also fyi parking also tends to raise the cost of the project)
Audience member mentioned how Developer hasn’t paid up on real estate taxes on the property. Negotiating Committee needs to be on top of this. They have a Real Estate team and a Research Team that was not introduced earlier but they were singled out as “the person you need to contact” with these sorts of questions.
(No answer provided)
Another lady feels Developers are focusing on one and two bedroom units. She wants more variety. Feels that’s the only way to really fight gentrification. Suggests we consider this property a community in and of itself. How will it fit into our neighborhood?
(No response from co-chairs)
Another mentioned all the various committees they heard about in previous meetings, what has happened to them? Also has the near neighbor situation improved?
Emaleigh said there are other committees they haven’t really discussed or activated yet. Some have been combined. Near neighbors are now prioritized in the Steering Committee. None of their lists of committees and members are complete or up to date yet. But all the info gathered will come back to the Steering Committee and be presented the community.
What’s up with the Morton playground behind Fulton? Developers need to consider that “more comprehensively” Emaleigh said.
Audience member requested the Education Committee consider working with the School District, which has been providing funds for new schools recently. Julie said the committee will be investigating other school opportunities and funding. The School District eliminated their Office of Innovative Schools so they need to research contacts & process.
Another: “What is a near neighbor? How many people here know what a near neighbor is?”
Anyone living within 250 feet of the Germantown/Fulton Campus. The importance of Near Neighbors is that in the zoning process, near neighbors get more of a say.
Another – a near neighbor announced this is her first meeting, she asked for some way for her to catch up on what’s been proposed. Also, what’s the time frame?
(ed) View the plans with meeting video & recap from the 1st meeting with Developer (May 2019)
Emaleigh: Background info the Communications Committee is working on a 4-page up-to-date timeline they will be printing copies and posting online & thru email. Takes you back to the closing of GHS to the various owners the property has had. Also there are three versions of possible plans based on community suggestions so far. They have them in pdf but they’re trying to get the Developer(s) to pay for color print up. They’re not final, they’re just ideas.
There has been no time frame set for the project.