Community input sought for Chelten Avenue corridor improvements

If you know only one thing going in about the upcoming meetings on a streetscape plan for Chelten Avenue, let it be this: It’s not just about Chelten Plaza.

Matt Wysong, the Northwest community planner for the city Planning Commission, is starting work on an improvement effort for the commercial stretch of Chelten between Morris and Baynton streets — including the intersection with Pulaski Avenue, where the currently most-discussed development in Germantown is happening.

Wysong is looking for community input on future improvement to the street-level features and physical improvements, and will hold meetings tonight and Tuesday night to gather ideas from anyone with an interest in Germantown. He’s also issued a survey seeking feedback on cleanliness, brand identity, walkability and retail mix along the strip.

No commerical district

Last week, the New York Times featured Chelten Avenue in a story as an example of a growing wealth disparity in cities and its effect on local commercial districts. The east and west sides of Germantown play that out in some ways, but Wysong said the idea is to use Chelten Avenue, which slices right through both areas, as unifying corridor.

“Germantown lacks a commercial district where all people in Germantown can go and spend their money,” he said. “We’ll try to humanize some of the auto-oriented development that exists along the corridor, especially down near Wayne and Chelten. If we’re going to do improvements, it’d be nice to have a plan to see what the community wants.”

After both meetings are held, and community input collected, a plan could be finished by spring, Wysong said. Sometime after that, he added, future plans for things like community design standards — something Germantown lacks, and which could prevent future planning debacles like the one playing out with Chelten Plaza — for the shopping district could result.

While there have been some larger community development studies done in recent years, this would be the first targeted specifically at Chelten Avenue retail corridor, said Richard Redding, director of community planning.

The 2009 Germantown and Nicetown Transit Oriented plan (a PDF of which can be found via this link), designed to guide future development around five local train stations. It offered little guidance on the area around Chelten Station, and recommended “upzoning,” or allowing for more density and mixed uses for Chelten Avenue to “reinforce this area as ‘downtown’ Germantown.”

Wysong said that most of the implementation of the TOD plan’s goals to date has centered around Wayne Junction Station, which is getting a multimillion-dollar makeover. It’s by far the busiest of the stations in terms of daily passenger use, followed by Queen Lane, Chelten Avenue, Germantown and Wister stations.

Spotlight on civic relationships

One thing the Chelten Plaza situation has shown is how the lack of a unified civic association and a community development corporation can work against residents, the planners said. That absence gives neighbors less negotiating leverage with developers and little access to grant money for improvement projects.

“A planning process like this could make community organizations more cohesive,” Redding said.

A new community development corporation in the early stages of formation will seek to represent West Germantown, while Germantown Community Connection’s core support rests more on the neighborhood’s east side.

“We’re very much committed to one Germantown here,” Wysong said. “We recognize that different parts of [the neighborhood] are inherently different, and a lot of the community sees it that way, but we’re trying to take a unifying effort to it.”

The meetings will take place at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 35 W. Chelten Ave., and at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Germantown YMCA, 5722 Greene St.

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Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

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