The Germantown Community Connection (GCC) seems to have found itself in the midst of a crisis as it deliberates its position regarding the proposed Chelten Plaza development on the former Fresh Grocer site at Chelten and Pulaski. I’ve been told the word for “crisis” in a particular dialect of Chinese is the combination of the words meaning “danger” and “opportunity.” Although I don’t know if this is true linguistically, I believe it is an accurate description of GCC’s situation.
How GCC got involved
When it was learned the Fresh Grocer would be closing and developer Pat Burns intended to bring the Sav-a-Lot (currently on Wayne Ave.) to Chelten Plaza along with a Dollar Tree, GCC was instrumental in engaging the developer and his partners to voice the opposition of a segment of the community to the proposal. The major points of dissention seemed to be the plan’s perpetuation of a business corridor with only perceived “low end” merchandise, and concerns that the plan’s design would stifle further Germantown development and be incompatible with the architectural character of the community.
GCC members with architectural, city planning, and landscape design expertise developed alternative proposals pro-bono. Others advocated for Weavers Way Co-op to be a tenant at the site. At the same time, the new management of the current Sav-a-Lot (who is slated to be managing the proposed Sav-a-Lot) reports having collected thousands of signatures from customers in support of the discount grocer’s move to the new site.
GCC’s vision for Chelten Plaza
As I write this, GCC is on the verge of voting on a modified proposal negotiated by an ad hoc committee and the development group which would, among other things:
• seek to organize a co-op modeled after and managed by Weavers Way (although it would be a separate financial entity with its own board, different name, etc.).
• also have the Sav-a-Lot in the same complex.
• include as many of the green-space and design elements of the pro-bono designers as possible, given cost and topography constraints.
As is so often the case with compromises, the modified plan may not completely satisfy everyone. For example, the co-op would have to organize, develop bylaws, secure funding and recruit enough members to show viability by October—a very short time for such an enterprise. But that’s where Germantown’s wealth of hyper-local organizations gives us a leg up—the infrastructure is already there and if there’s one thing we know how to do, it is organize! Moreover, if it is successful, the co-op could attract other types of businesses not currently in the neighborhood, thereby revitalizing our business corridor and stopping the flow of dollars out of Germantown from our own residents who shop elsewhere.
Most importantly to me, the modified proposal offers an opportunity for a shopping complex that embodies the diversity that makes Germantown unique. It makes a statement that our community consists of folks from all walks of life, side by side. Just as northwest Philadelphia took a stand against block-busting when “white flight” was the norm, the modified proposal can show that “revitalization” does not have to mean elimination of businesses catering to those of modest means.
Critics must also offer solutions
Which brings me back to GCC’s “crisis”: Does the organization oppose the modified plan because it doesn’t satisfy the wishes of the most passionate detractors and risk the danger of there being no development at the site, or does it embrace the opportunity to show Philadelphia that in Germantown, diversity can work in business as well as on the block? GCC got its wish that it would be able to be effective in saying “no” to something undesirable in the community. Now it has to find a way to build consensus around what, if anything, Germantown can say “yes” to with one voice.
GCC was formed after community meetings were held at The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown (FPCG) to gather residents’ input on SEPTA projects several years ago.
Reverend Kevin L. Porter is a member of GCC and lives in southwestern Germantown. He is also the Director of Adult Education and Community Life at The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown.