Opponents of Chelten Plaza say protests are gaining steam

Over 30 Germantown residents came out to protest the Chelten Plaza development in Germantown in tag-team fashion during evening rush hour yesterday. They crowded each corner of Chelten and Pulaski avenues chanting, yelling and rounding up signatures to mail to public officials.

Organizers boast over 500 signed postcards to state and city politicians and 262 signatures on a petition urging Democratic Nominee for the Eighth District City Council seat, Cindy Bass, to not support the project.

Bass has earlier stated her preference for negotiating with the developer, grocery store owner Pat Burns, on what stores will appear at the site, though she said she would listen to protestors’ concerns.

Most opponents of Chelten Plaza object to the now more that $4 million in state funds associated with the site. Many say that kind of public support should give communities more influence over the project design and the stores that go there. To date, the discount stores Save-A-Lot and Dollar Tree, which are the planned anchors of the site, have been the biggest bones of contention for protestors.

One of the protest organizers, Robyn Tevah, said after three weeks of direct action against Chelten Plaza she is energized but thinks there is more work to do.

“We need to strategize more, get more creative,” she said.

Tevah, who is also a member of the community group Germantown Community Connection, which has taken the point in negotiating with Burns, says since the protests have started, neighbors who only recently learned about the project keep showing up.

“It’s not like the same 30 people get out here every time,” she said.

Tevah says the protests will continue until the zoning hearing appeal filed by West Central Germantown Neighbors, Greater Germantown Business Association, Liberation Fellowship CDC, and Historic Germantown Properties comes before the Zoning Board, most likely in August.

The appeal attempts to enforce a zoning overlay on Chelten Avenue that bans variety stores similar to the Dollar Tree.

Life-long Germantown resident YahNe Ndgo Baker wants to broaden outreach efforts beyond the corner presence of the protest and hold another town hall meeting. (There have been two to date. Both boasted very high attendance and loud opposition to the project.)

“In spite of this protest, a lot of people still don’t know what’s happening, what plans there are in place for the lot, and [they] have a right to speak their opinion even if they are different than mine,” she said.

Baker sees the Chelten and Pulaski site as a potential catalyst for revitalization of the entire business district. She says that many people that she’s talked to aren’t against the discount market Save-A-Lot, which is under construction near Rittenhouse Street, they just don’t want to waste that specific site to build that grocery store.

“It’s such a big lot,” she said. “And we already have a Save-A-Lot up the street, why can’t that stay there?”

Still, Baker says she sees the conflict and uproar over Chelten Plaza as a “gift” because she has gotten to know many of her neighbors she didn’t before.

“It’s really creating another sense of community in Germantown,” she said.

Dave Brodie lives within a block of Chelten Plaza and says this was his second time protesting and he isn’t giving up anytime soon, “It smells like a rat to me,” he said of the development. “The process as much as the outcome.”

Even state Representative Rosita Youngblood (D., 198th) walked down to the protest from her local office to chat with organizers. She has been the most outspoken political figure in the Northwest against Chelten Plaza and vows to stop the development.

“I am very pleased that the community is coming out because you are seeing a lot of faces that weren’t here before, because it means the community is rallying around to stop this project,” she said.

In the meantime Youngblood says she is working to present an alternative plan for the Chelten Plaza site. “We have enough mom and pop stores running up and down the Avenue, I think the community will be very excited,” she said.

Youngblood expects to present her plan to the community in the next month.

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