Nascent Germantown CDC seeks to start turning dreams into realities at Wednesday night event

Late last year, the Germantown United CDC was founded around the idea of a re-imagining — of people coming together and, through collaborative work, dreaming big, new dreams for the neighborhood’s commercial corridor. But, dreams and imagining are only where a new future begins.

It takes knowledge and expertise to create plans and put them into action. To that end, Germantown United is seeking advice from those who have been there and done that.

Wednesday evening, Germantown United will host a panel discussion on best practices for community development corporations, including representatives of already established CDCs, including the nation’s first.

Earlier in the day, members will lead a tour with one of the panelists, Colvin W. Grannum, current president of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in New York, of several significant Germantown sites, including the Johnson House, Grumblethorpe and Stenton.

The organization’s roots

Germantown United was born, in part, out of issues that emerged during last year’s struggle over the Chelten Plaza shopping center. That process — sometimes, the lack of it — revealed the absence of a united community effort to collaborate on, if not control, the quality and type of development coming into Germantown.

But the group’s first board president, John Churchville, wants to make clear that Germantown United isn’t meant to be an antagonistic, reactionary group organized around preventing things.

Instead, he said, the goal is to put plans in place — things like design guidelines and a localized development-review process — that developers can work within, not against.

With a new representative in City Council, a community energized by the recent controversy and the dissolution of Germantown Settlement bringing many properties back into play, Germantown United’s organizers sense a moment to be seized.

“One of the things we learned from the Chelten [Plaza] struggle is that if we had a concept, or a plan, that people — that neighborhood folks and community folks — had input in, it would be a situation in which we were not responding to somebody coming in, but saying ‘Hey, this is what we’d like to see,'” Churchville said.

Cooperative goals

One tangible goal is the eventual creation of a master plan for the area from Wayne Junction to Johnson Street, from Chew Avenue to Wissahickon Avenue, Churchville said. The panel discussion will be a chance to hear from people who have the right experience.

“We need to hear from experts that have done stuff,” Churchville said. “We need to start from the inside out, and to build community while we’re building the corridor.”

Germantown United isn’t meant to displace or undermine existing local civic groups, organizers say. The nine initial members of the group’s board of directors include some who are also active in Germantown Community Connection and West Central Germantown Neighbors.

Churchville said the group’s bylaws call for a board of directors with anywhere from nine to 21 members. There are seats on the board allotted for representatives of civic groups, skilled professionals such as lawyers and architects, members of the Greater Germantown Business Association, and even for developers.

The panel of experts expected to participate in Wednesday night’s event includes representatives of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Historic Germantown, and the Local Intiatives Support Corportion.

The panel will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Germantown Friends School’s Yarnell Auditorium, 31 W. Coulter St.

****

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.