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1000 (and counting) say no to Chelten Plaza

A business group has taken aim at one of its own in Germantown. By collecting more than 1000 signatures of people who oppose a new development plan the group hopes it can help shape what new businesses come into the community.

More than 100 people attended a meeting last week to express their opinion on the plan to build a Save-A-Lot and Dollar Tree on the corner of Pulaski and Chelten avenues in the Chelten Plaza project. No community member spoke in support of the project.

Premier zoning lawyer Carl Primavera took a mocking tone with those present saying Germantown’s apparent opposition to the state subsidized development could make it the only community he knows of that wants to turn down state development grants.

Chelten Plaza, which is already under construction, uses $3 million in tax-payer subsidy meant to encourage economic development in low-income communities.

Many Germantown residents have been opposed to the plan since it came to light two months ago because they feel a dollar store and a discount food store with limited selection – the two anchor tenants of the project – would underserve the neighborhood.

The Greater Germantown Business Association decided the best way to respond to scoffs like Primavera’s was to show how widespread the feelings about Chelten Plaza really are.

“There’s a lot of concern in our neighborhood,” said GGBA’s interim president John Churchville. “And we got that in our petition.”

The GGBA’s mission is to encourage a strong, inclusive and culturally diverse business corridor. While stable businesses at Chelten Plaza is a good thing, at least 1000 local neighbors and business owners believe the type of business matters too.

Through the help of four student interns from Germantown High School, the petition started going around about three weeks ago. Churchville quickly learned that people were very interested in helping the group meet its goal.

Dana Scherer, a Germantown resident, suggested the petition be placed online to reach people easier. The mother of four has never participated in the community in this way before, but she knows that if Germantown improves it’s commercial stock, which right now is dominated by dollar stores and discount retailers, it will benefit her children.

Save-A-Lot is not appealing to her because of the processed foods.

When the Fresh Grocer came to the space at Chelten and Pulaski in 2006, she thought it would have a positive impact. But not much was ever done with the store, and it wasn’t easy to shop there because security measures kept shoppers from taking the carts to their cars.

“You leave your kids at the front, or you leave your groceries at the front,” she said of the experience.

As a result Scherer, like most people she knows, shops for her groceries outside of Germantown because there isn’t a suitable full-service grocery store nearer to home.

She set up the online petition April 20. Within the first day, it had 200 signatures.

After the paper and online signatures reached the goal of 1000, she stopped pushing it as hard, but she finds that the number keeps growing. Just last week there were 522 signatures online and as of Wednesday night there are 583.

The supporters are also able to share their opinions about the project. The majority of responses are strongly against more discount stores in the area.

“We need another discount store like we need a hole in the head,” wrote Heather Leigh-Sheridan in the petition’s comments. “I have lived in Germantown for most of my life. If we had upper level shopping (above the dollar store/discount type), our neighborhood would thrive and grow instead of deteriorate.”

Many complained about the lack of healthy food options and wished for a grocery store like Trader Joe’s.

For the most part, Scherer has seen that people are supportive of the petition. Though there have been a few that have been indifferent, and she can only remember two people who were against it. One woman, Scherer said, didn’t sign the petition because she supported Save-A-Lot’s low prices.

While John Churchville hopes the Chelten Plaza businesses will eventually become GGBA members, he first wants to see the business types fall more in line with local needs and desires.

The plan for the petition has always been to send it to elected officials to make a point about what that state subsidy is doing in Germantown, but Churchville said the very next step is to talk to community stakeholders to figure out what the different community groups would like to do now.

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