Protests continue at Chelten Plaza

Nearly twenty Germantown residents protested the new development called Chelten Plaza June 29. The organizers, Germantown Cares and West Central Germantown Neighbors, in partnership with other Germantown residents, have been picketing Chelten Plaza for nearly two weeks now.

Danny Rodriguez wrote out his own protest flyer that evening. It read, “NO to Dollar Tree, NO to Sav-A-Lot = YES to Germantown.”

The shy young boy came with his father, Pedro Rodriguez, to the corner of Chelten and Pulaski avenues to protest the development. The site is located within a few blocks of their home.

The battle for the future of Chelten Plaza has been racking the Germantown community for months. Developer Pulaski Partners, run by Patrick Burns, plans to erect a Save-A-Lot and Dollar Tree combination in a lot that used to house a full service grocery store, which was also run by Burns.  Opponents who came out by the hundreds in two community meetings over the last few months have called the plan a disservice to Germantown, not just because it focusses on low priced merchandise with a limited selection, but because it plans to do so using $3 million in public funds for economic development.

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There has also been a set of dueling petitions over the $14 million project: A list of over 1000 opponents to Chelten Plaza from Germantown, which was put together by the Greater Germantown Business Association, and a Save-A-Lot commissioned survey of its shoppers from the existing store on Wayne Avenue in Germantown that garnered over 2000 signatures in favor of the project.

The protest is also a response to a recent resolution by Germantown Community Connection, a community group that has taken on the responsibility of representing the community to the developer. Opponents see that resolution as weakening an earlier stance by GCC to oppose the development.  In the new resolution there is a call to negotiate with the developer and an apparent capitulation to one of the major sticking points – the replacement of the full service Fresh Grocer supermarket with the limited service Save-A-Lot.

GCC president Betty Turner has previously denied the new resolution signifies a change.

The protest

Some of the protestors in the ongoing effort are new to the fight, while others have direct links to GCC.

Paula Paul, longtime activist and GCC member said she has counted eleven dollar stores in Germantown, and doesn’t want to wake up to another. “I’m out today because there’s a property in my community that is about to be abused,” she said.

Donna Uettwiller, one of the protest organizers said she has been pleased with the community response.

“At first people are like, ‘oh no,’” she said. “But then when people hear about the issue they immediately agree with us.”

She said she only had one person express support for the development all day on that late June day.

“Do you want a Dollar Store?” Michele Dixon crooned to each car that stopped at the nearby traffic light. If the driver shook her head no, another person would run up to the car to chat in hopes of a signature.

Mariam Dangerfield, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years said the Save-A-Lot will bring loiterers. “If you go up to the Save-A-Lot up the street, they’re hanging on the front [of the building] they’re smoking, they’re drinking, and cursing,” she said, pointing up to the Wayne Avenue store. “We shouldn’t be subjected to that.”

Construction continued across the street from the protesters as they picketed.

Many paths forward

Despite recent criticism linked to GCC, Paula Paul says she still believes in the organization. The problem, she says, is communication.

“They don’t reach out to the community very well,” she said. “They’re not communicating in an ongoing way about this property.”

Paul said she was ready to fight against the development, but if things got down to the wire, she would compromise as long as it resulted in something respectful of the community.

After an hour standing on the corner with his sign, Pedro Rodriguez said he was still hopeful for the future.

“If it’s well organized, you can tilt the windmill,” he said as cars honked loudly at the protestors’ signs. “It’s a long fight, but it’s possible, even winnable.”

Rodriguez said he will support Germantown Cares and West Central Germantown Neighbors with their planed zoning appeal to the developers’ permit.

After two weeks of direct action, organizers say they have submitted over 200 individually signed postcards to public officials in hopes of stopping the development.

Most of the postcards were sent to governor Tom Corbett because the $3 million grant  for the project is funded by the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). On Wednesday members of Germantown Cares started sending postcards to state Rep. Dwight Evans (D., 203rd) office. On Friday all petitions collected were mailed directly to Mayor Michael Nutter.

Editor’s note: the original version of this story had incorrect information about a zoning appeal to Chelten Plaza. NewsWorks regrets the error.

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