CHCA delays vote on hyperlocal website

For the last eight months, the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) has debated the idea of creating and partially funding a web portal for Chestnut Hill. This portal would act as an online hub of links to businesses, organizations, information and news about Chestnut Hill. The Board was scheduled to vote on the website last night but ultimately decided it wanted time before voting.

One issue that may sway the Board on the proposed local news and events website is CHCA’s budget. Treasurer David Mansfield stated that if membership and community events continue to be steady then the budget of the CHCA would sustain itself. Mansfield added that though revenue for the CHCA was in decline¬, there are 17 items in the budget that have gone unused, amounting to a nearly $70,000 surplus.

Some feel that surplus could help to launch the proposed web portal.


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The cost of running a web portal

Board Member Rob Remus has spearheaded the web portal efforts for the past eight months, holding task force and public meetings to educate the community on the minutiae of the portal, as well as its relevance in a changing media climate. With other hyper-local sites such as AOL’s Patch, WHYY’s Newsworks and other media operations having recently moved into Chestnut Hill, Remus remained insistent in his push for the portal.

“What I’m asking for is to invest in the future, because what we’re doing isn’t working,” said Remus.

In his proposal, Remus broke down funding options for the portal, allocating roughly $5,000 of the likely $12,000 monthly operating cost to be furnished by the CHCA. Remus stressed that a partnership with the Chestnut Hill Business Association (CHBA) and the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District (BID), as well as other stakeholders in the community, would be necessary to achieve the additional funding for the project.

“It’s an investment, just like it was to hire an associate publisher (for the Chestnut Hill Local newspaper) to protect our asset,” said Remus.

Concerns echoed throughout the room as members probed questions regarding how this new website would be able to compete with larger media operations such as Patch.


Could this hurt the Local?

“This is a superb idea; timely no question, the structure has me puzzled,” said board member Arthur Howe in reference to the affect the website would have on the Local, the newspaper that the CHCA has operated for more than 60 years.

The Local’s Associate Publisher Larry Hochberger and Editor Pete Mazzaccaro offered insight into the concept. Hochberger stated that the Local was able to buy four computers for the price of three. They recently upgraded their layout software to industry standard Adobe InDesign, and created a WordPress blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed and daily email blasts to members in an attempt to revitalize their presence in the community.

“Viewership has doubled,” stated Hochberger, indicating that an online presence has potential upside.

Mazzaccaro was asked to speak further about the Local’s efforts to compete digitally with other local media outlets.

“We have a good blog, but we don’t have what we need and competition is getting stiffer,” he said, “We’re up against a wall of what we’re capable of.”

It was at this point, CHCA Board President Walter Sullivan motioned that the vote be tabled until the next meeting. The next Board meeting is scheduled for February 24.


Other Business

Board members unanimously approved the variance of a beekeeping operation by Benjamin Brown on West Southampton Ave. This vote endorses Brown’s plan to go commercial with his honey-producing operation.

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