GCC’s Ackelsberg defends negotiations with Chelten Plaza developer

A plan to build a Save-A-Lot and a Dollar Tree store in Germantown has divided local community activists. One side is negotiating with the developer seeking to improve the existing plan while others feel the plan by developer Pat Burns is unacceptable and illegal.

On Sunday Irv Ackelsberg, the attorney with Germantown Community Connection, defended GCC’s negotiations with developer Pat Burns of Pulaski Partners saying its important that the community have a place at the table.

“The stakes here – go way beyond Chelten Plaza, the stakes here are how we as a community in Germantown want to go forward. Do we want to try to act in an organized fashion, to exercise our values and our aspirations for development for with those who want to do development? That’s kind what we set out do with GCC. And this formative moment (for GCC), this cheltan plaza thing exploded,” he said.

Ackelsberg made his comments on G-Town Radio in an interview with Jim Bear.

The Save-A-Lot and a Dollar Tree store would be built at Chelten and Pulaski Avenues.

Some of GCC’s own members are the ones critisizing GCC role. They say Ackelsberg and other members of an ad-hoc negotiating team are not doing its job of representing an earlier vote by members that showed overwhelming opposition to project, which they view as bringing in “substandard retail options.”

Acklesberg defended the negotiations yesterday by saying that progress is being made on design issues.

“We’re actually encouraged. It appears that on the Chelten Ave. side of the development it’s looking to us like there in fact may be design changes that we’ve been advocating. We’re not at a point where we can announce them because, as we’ve learned in this process, that until you see the actual architectural drawings and actually see that the commitment is there on the paper we’re not prepared to (announce the changes),” he said.

Those opposed to Chelten Plaza plan have set up the website Germantown Cares with updates on efforts to block the project.

One effort being spearheaded by West Central Germantown Neighbors hopes to block it by opposing a permit that would allow what the developer is calling a “Retail Grocery Store,” which WCGN members say is being used by Burns to sneak in The Dollar Tree store.

Ackelsberg said at this time GCC will not join those efforts because it wouldn’t be helpful in trying to convince Burns to make improvements to his project.

“We made the determination that right now given that we’re in these discussions that it wouldn’t be helpful to those discussions of us to effectively to sue him,’ he said.

Opponents to Chelten Plaza have also launched a writing campaign to lawmakers in an effort to block state funds that were set aside for Burn’s to bring healthy food options to underserved communities.

Ackelsberg said GCC wouldn’t back this tactic either saying it would be like throwing “a bomb” into the negotiations.

“If we are trying to get him to do some positive things at Pulaski I don’t see how it’s helpful to deny him money that he’s budgeting for the project,” Ackelsberg said

At the core of the debate has been whether GCC should be opposed to the project or use its community leverage to win concessions to improve the Chelten Plaza project.

To give you a sense of how Ackelsberg views this, We’ll leave you with this transcript of an exchange between host Jim Bear and Acklesburg from Sunday’s G-Town Radio interview


Jim Bear: What are the elements of this that GCC is actively opposing, is or what are they digging their heels in and saying this is a point we cannot accept?

Irv Ackelsberg: There are a lot of issues. As we all know The proposal calls for a Dollar Tree to be one of the tenants. There was a lot of discussion at these community meetings that these variety stores – a category of store that is prohibited use.

Bear: Because of the zoning overlay (that places restrictions on variety stores).

Ackelsberg: Yeah, there is a zoning overlay that nobody even knew about. That was one of the other things that happened at the neighborhood meetings was that, I believe it was employees of the city that brought that to our attention, we started thinking about that well nobody wanted a Dollar Tree, Gosh, that may not even be legal. There was concern that the developers follow the law. If that’s not legal we wanted the law to be followed

I think the design issues. They are huge. Just the fact that this is totally inappropriate, putting aside who the tenants are, just a completely inappropriate design for an urban space. Basically a parking lot.

There are all sorts of issues. This is all laid out in the resolution (of what) we wanted to negotiate about.

Bear: So, There is this overall. Are there any actions that GCC has taken to see that this doesn’t get put in place. What is this conversation like? What actions are they taking now?

Ackelsberg: When we discovered the overlay – there were some concerns that the overlay is going to disappear in the zoning reform and new legislation (Philadelphia is rewriting its zoning laws) and we investigated that. Came to the conclusion that It’s true that (a limit on variety stores) is going to disappear. But we think that’s in the future after Chelten Plaza is already built.

GCC appeared at the Zoning Commission and expressed concern about the loss of the overlay would disappear.

Bear: They spoke about this overlay disappearing.

Yeah, it’s come up in the course of discussions with Burns and we’ve basically agreed to disagree. He thinks it’s legal. We think it’s not legal. We’ve basically left it, Licenses and Inspections and Zoning Board will decide that. So we’re negotiating with Burns on other issues he’s willing to talk about since he’s not willing to talk about the Dollar Tree.

Click here for G-Town’s website where you can listen to the full interview

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