Tracy McNeil, an energetic woman with wisps of gray hair and bright blue glasses, said curiosity brought her to the first Germantown Cares meeting last Thursday night at the Germantown Y.
The loosely knit community group was formed by mostly Germantown Community Connection members anxious for action against the Chelten Plaza development. Their website features an inventory of news articles relating to Chelten Plaza and commentary hoping to spur community action against the proposed Save-A-Lot and Dollar Tree being built at Chelten and Pulaski avenues.
Despite the public meeting about Chelten Plaza in April, when over 100 community members came together and expressed overwhelming dissatisfaction with the planned development, McNeil said she and her neighbors thought Chelten Plaza was a “done deal.”
“All of them were really dismissive,” she said of the Pulaski Partners development team, which is responsible for Chelten Plaza.
The head of Pulaski Partners, Patrick Burns, is also the president of the supermarket chain called Fresh Grocer, which used to operate on the site and has made a name for itself by locating in mostly urban neighborhoods. McNeil said Burns’ decision to vacate the site and bring in a limited service market like Save-A-Lot makes it clear what he thinks about the neighborhood.
“He obviously thinks it’s a ghetto,” she said. “Germantown deserves better.”
Then McNeil noticed the Germantown Cares website and hoped the group would be a way to harness some of the energy released at that earlier meeting.
Kristin Haskins-Simms, who is spearheading the Germantown Cares site, says within the past few days about a dozen residents signed up for email updates from the site.
At the Germantown Cares meeting, participants laid out some of the more controversial details about Chelten Plaza: Zoning, funding, environmental concerns, political influence and future development, and they strategized about ways to take action against the development.
While individuals promised to dedicate time to research the details, some voiced concern about being able to explain the complexity of the situation at Chelten Plaza to the larger community.
“When I mention this [the zoning and state funding issues surrounding Chelten Plaza] to my neighbors, sometimes their eyes glaze over because it’s so complicated,” said Germantown resident Kristin Athrens.
The group seemed to agree the goal would be to keep the message simple and action oriented.
Some ideas included passing out flyers with simple chronological information about Chelten Plaza, hanging a banner on a building across the street, and starting a mass call-in to Trader Joe’s, a store many have said they would like to see on the site.
The group took up more involved strategies too, like lobbying City Council members about zoning overlays that would be discontinued if the city adopted the new universal zoning code, which will be considered by Council soon. Chelten Avenue has an overlay apparently prohibiting variety stores similar to the Dollar Tree.
Participants also decided to take a closer look at the $3 million in state funds planned for the site by contacting state elected officials
James Jackson, president of the Price-Knox Neighborhood Association, lives in the neighborhood that is literally right next door to the existing Save-A-Lot on Wayne Avenue. Despite that, he said he travels the extra block to the larger Pathmark to do most of his shopping.
Jackson said he doesn’t want to see Germantown miss the opportunity for a new development, and he does not support a Save-A-Lot on the Chelten Plaza site. Still, he worries that all the work residents are putting in will not be able to impact the plans there.
Correction: The original version of this article misidentified a member of Germantown Cares as also being a member of Germantown Community Connection. NewsWorks regrets the error.