GCC appoints vice president with extensive city planning experience

Turnout was light but the news was big at last Thursday’s Germantown Community Connection quarterly membership meeting at First Presbyterian Church.

There, GCC President Betty Turner announced the appointment of recent neighborhood transplant Ernie Freeman as the group’s vice president.

Freeman has lived in Germantown for less than a year, but has worked with the organization for nearly eight months. A board member at Center in the Park, Freeman’s extensive city planning experience begat the invitation to the post. He said his new energy will prove essential to the GCC moving forward.

“One of valuable things that I bring to the table is that I’m new. I don’t come in with a bias or the past hanging over me,” said Freeman, whose three decades of city and regional planning experience came as a senior city planner in New Jersey, San Diego, Baltimore, Cincinnati and as the Redevelopment Authority head in Norfolk, Va.

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Noticeable issues

Freeman said he plans to listen to residents in a neighborhood similar to Portsmouth, Va., where he worked as a city planner. He cited the lack of a merchants’ association as something which keeps the Germantown business corridor down.

“I’m just sick sometimes when I see the abandoned buildings, the trash, and the very limited range of commercial activity,” he said.

Freeman envisioned a Germantown in which neighborhood groups collaborate to help enforce code violations, take charge of blighted properties and do away with the “stockade” feel of fences, gates and chains over store windows.

“People need to see victories,” he said.

Turner says group is growing

Turner said she’s excited about the transition.

“GCC is at a different stage. We are growing,” she said, noting that the 100-plus-member organization is focused on topics ranging from watershed preservation to supporting a new Chelten Avenue mural.

This summer, GCC hopes to share an intern with Historic Germantown to help with research about historic sites in the neighborhood.

Turner was recently appointed as a member for the Philadelphia Historical Commission, a regulatory agency created by City Council to preserve historic landmarks across the city.

What about Chelten Plaza?

She says that GCC hasn’t forgotten about obligations at Chelten Plaza.

Executive board members will meet with site developer Pulaski Partners to review the landscape improvements and local job-creation goals, among other commitments, in early April. The GCC is asking residents to email them written questions and concerns prior to that meeting.

Freeman said that while the site is already built, they will hold the developers to previous commitments. However, the focus is on the entire corridor, not just one site.

“It’s there,” he said. “I mean, what are we going to do about it?”

In other news

Long-time volunteer David Nice was appointed as an advisor to GCC’s finance committee and the position of GCC secretary is open for the second time in the past year.

Malik Boyd, an outspoken supporter of the Chelten Plaza development, has resigned as GCC’s secretary in light of his campaign for the 198th district state-representative seat.

“I will always be supportive of that group, and all the groups looking to make Germantown better,” said Boyd, whose position will be filled on an interim basis by GCC Treasurer Nancy Muth.

Positions are appointed by the executive board until the December elections.

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