The sultry sound of jazz filled the air as local musicians Lenny Belasco and Victor Puentes wailed back and forth on trumpet and drums for nearly two hours. THe concert was a musical protest against the proposed Chelten Plaza development. The duo played a famous Charles Mingus tune entitled Fables of Faubus, a controversial song written to protest Governor Orval E. Faubus of Arkansas who sent the National Guard to prevent racially integrated schools in the late 1950s. “Charles Mingus would be here with us,” said drummer Lenny Belasco. “In the song he’s complaining about the corruption of city government and how you can’t trust what politicians tell you. “It’s very fitting for this particular moment,” he added.
The proposed development by Pulaski Partners has caused quite a stir in Germantown for over six months. Pulaski Partners is run by Patrick Burns, who also owns Fresh Grocer, the previous store at this site.
Funding for the project came from $4 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program money that was presented by former Governor Rendell to the developer to help with development costs for the planned $14 million dollar project. Accusations of political corruption have landed squarely at the feet of Representative Dwight Evans and Eighth District Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller for supporting the project money allocations.
To date, the development will include a Sav-A-Lot and Dollar Tree combination along with Anna’s Linens. There is also space for more retail tenants on the property.
Since late June organizers have created a scene on various corners along Chelten avenue trying to drum up petition signatures in opposition to Chelten Plaza. In particular, organizers have targeted the Dollar Tree store, complaining that Germantown doesn’t need another low-end store and that the zoning overlay against variety stores prohibits the Dollar Tree.
Yvonne Haskins, a local attorney representing West Central Germantown Neighbors (WCGN) and a coalition of three other Germantown organizations and three businesses will put the variety store zoning prohibition to the test at a September 21 zoning appeal hearing. The appeal contests the permit granted by Licenses and Inspections to Pulaski Partners for the proposed Dollar Tree location.
Germantown Community Connection is conducting its own negotiations with Pulaski Partners and has refused to join the zoning appeal. In a recent interview with Gtown radio’s Jim Bear, general council for GCC Irv Ackelsberg said that joining the zoning appeal would be like dropping a “bomb” on negotiations with the developer.
Organizers against Chelten Plaza will continue their efforts to push the GCC leadership to allow the membership to vote on whether or not to join the zoning appeal. Some of the protestors are also voting GCC members.
West Central Germantown Neighbors memberl Luke Russell compared GCC’s negotiation with the developer to “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” during the Wednesday night meeting.
Protestors estimate that they’ve collected about 2000 signatures in opposition to Chelten Plaza and plan to ramp up their efforts to gain more community wide support. They expect lawn signs to arrive soon to accompany the yellow T-shirts that decry the Sav-A-Lot and Dollar Tree stores. Protestors plan on wearing the t-shirts to the zoning hearing en masse. A school bus to shuttle supporters from Germantown is planned.