As Germantown residents gathered Thursday night to pore over proposed improvements to the Chelten Avenue commercial corridor, one of its major problems stared them right in their faces.
Inside the historic First Presbyterian Church, city planning staff held an open house to share drafts of the Central Germantown Beautification Plan, and dozens of residents and business owners stopped by to get details and give input.
In another room, the Germantown Artists Roundtable had its own lively discussion going, and there was singing in the air from the Keystone State Boychoir upstairs.
Scrap the metal
But across the street from the church, the blocks-long wall of solid metal security gates that secure storefronts along Chelten Avenue made the area look bleak, even abandoned, a mere hour after many businesses had closed for the day.
Paring away at least some of that metal is one of the major recommendations of the draft plan, which calls for a range of tactics from painting murals of jazz legends over the solid panels to replacing them with open-mesh style pulldown grates.
Also included are recommendations for dealing with trash, poor lighting and streetscape improvements, public space and art, facade improvements and future zoning and development approaches.
Isaac Lucas and Marcus von Heppinstall, who both own properties in Maplewood Mall, were especially interested a panel that showed various possible streetscape improvements including stamped concrete and overhead lighting strung across the street.
What they really wanted to see is more parking, possibly reconfigured to allow some angled spaces, and the removal of some dead trees, and some traffic enforcement.
Von Heppinstall poked his finger at an image on the display board that showed a picture of actual cars and buildings overlaid with sketched-in improvements. He shook his head.
“You see that SUV right there, it’s been sitting there for three months now,” he said. “That parking ticket is starting to fade.”
That kind of inattention, where things look bad for so long people stop seeing them, is what von Heppinstall and other said the neighborhood has to fight. But he’s hopeful.
“There are people that are starting to wake up and realize that Germantown is valuable,” he said.
The drafts shared Thursday night are the result of research and community input that included an inventory of existing businesses and a meeting held in November where residents created a wish list of improvements they’d like to see.
Many of their suggestions, from adding public art to improving lighting in key areas, are reflected in the draft plan.
Matt Wysong, the city’s Northwest community planner, is coordinating the Central Germantown effort. Input gathered from feedback on the draft will be included in a final plan that would be presented to the Planning Commission for acceptance. Then, the effort will begin seeking grants or other funding to pay for the work.
In a larger sense, the Central Germantown plan would join other area planning documents to create a master-plan vision for the area.
As part of the Philadelphia 2035 initiative, the city is creating plans for 18 districts citywide, but the Upper Northwest’s turn won’t come for a year or more.
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