GCC addresses Chelten Plaza tension amid plans to move forward

Though the Chelten Plaza saga has dominated Germantown Community Connection membership meetings for the past nine months,  only a dozen neighbors came out to at last Thursday night’s meeting. Half of them have been openly criticizing GCC – which claimed membership of nearly 100 households – for weeks.

The Chelten Plaza development – Fresh Grocer CEO Patrick Burns and his business partner Shawn Rinnier want to put a Save-A-Lot, Dollar Tree, Anna’s Linens and more on the former site of a Fresh Grocer at Chelten and Pulaski avenues – was the focus of a recent Zoning Board decision. It sent the matter of whether the Dollar Tree is allowable under current zoning rules back to the License & Inspections to decide.

Political support for the project, namely that of City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller and Mayor Michael Nutter, has angered protesters, as did a community cooperation agreement between GCC and the developers.

West Central Germantown Neighbors President Luke Russell brought those concerns to GCC leadership at the meeting. Pulaski Partners’s community cooperation agreement has what he calls “serious problems.” That includes only offering locals work like snow removal and maintenance.

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The agreement states that Pulaski Partners will “solicit qualified local minority firms” for maintenance of the site and building, and estimates that each year, those contracts will offer $100,000 locally.

“This low-level work is clearly not an economic benefit,” Russell said, who also questions the developer’s promise to invest in the community through philanthropic and social organizations. “This smells of pay-to-play.”

GCC president Betty Turner denied that any money will be taken by the developer and pointed out that the cooperation agreement was not actually a community benefit agreement anyway.

The community cooperation commitment agreement “does not require a signature, GCC has not signed anything,” Turner said. She also noted that a formal agreement will be sent to an ad hoc committee and then decided by the group’s board.

When asked about releasing contact information for ad-hoc committee members so general membership could lobby for support, Turner said that’s not possible.

“Because the ad-hoc committee is negotiating, it’s irresponsible to have everyone talking to the ad-hoc committee and details getting out publicly,” she said.

Instead, Turner said member concerns should be emailed to her.

The developer document’s executive summary states that the second step is to “move forward with the development of a legally binding community benefit agreement that is a win-win-win for community, developer, and government.”

Despite criticizing GCC strategy, Russell said the organization is important. He’s just wary of recent decisions.

“I want it to be clear, WCGN is not packing up their marbles and going home,” he said.

On the other hand, dedicated GCC member Pamela Bracey expressed her frustrations about the whole neighborhood getting stuck talking about Chelten Plaza.

“We need a Germantown plan,” she said. “We are sitting here fussing and fighting. They’ll divide us more.”

Tonight, the GCC and the Chew and Belfield Avenue Neighbors will host a meeting about an unnamed developer’s project along the 600 block of Chelten Ave. in East Germantown. It will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 35 W. Chelten Ave.

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