By Wesley Ratko
Twenty-three members of the Chestnut Hill community turned out Wednesday night at the Chestnut Hill Library to voice their frustrations with the Chestnut Hill Community Association and to organize a counter organization that, as they said, would put residents before business interests.
The meeting was organized by Ron Recko, a Chestnut Hill resident and past president of the CHCA Board,. Recko told those present that he had become disenchanted with the CHCA, saying the group no longer adequately represents the interests of the neighbors. He blamed “business interests” for taking over the organization.
He called the meeting as a first step toward organizing the various opposition groups that have formed in the last few years in response to several major projects that, according to Recko, have negatively impacted near neighbors. He referred specifically to the Fresenius Dialysis Center at Winston Road and Moreland Avenue, the forthcoming development of the Magarity Ford site and Chestnut Hill College, among others.
Recko said that any project that requires a variance will inevitably have a negative impact on the quality of life for neighbors.
“I believe that a viable commercial corridor along the Avenue is important,” he said, “but not to the detriment of the residents.”
Resident Joe Pizzano reinforced Recko’s comments, saying there is a need to create a new organization that truly represents the interests of the community.
“We can become the new RCO,” he said, referring to an element in Philadelphia’s new zoning code that would recognize a single community organization as the point of contact between the city and any developer looking to build in the neighborhood.
“What we don’t seem to understand is that what happens in one part of Chestnut Hill affects us all,” said George Spaeth. Spaeth, a hill resident and also a former president of th CHCA board, said he believes the CHCA is a deeply flawed organization.
“You can purchase it,” he added.
Stacy Mogul, a resident, lawyer, and representative of the Northwest Wissahickon Conservancy, talked at length about his organization’s efforts against Chestnut Hill College and its development of the Sugarloaf property. He said his group has a single covenant action pending against the college to force it to honor the existing deed restrictions on the property. The funding for this effort, he said, is running out. He urged the group to contribute to the legal fund.
“We are beating the path that will make it easier for future groups,” he said.
Mogul was accompanied by George Thomas, a historic preservation specialist who echoed the majority opinion of those present about the CHCA and its committees.
“The Development Review Committee is an arm of Richard Snowden, [CHCA board member andmanaging partner of Bowman Properties, which is developing the Magarity Ford site]” Thomas said, adding that the organization as a whole is “hopelessly corrupt.”
The overall discussion returned repeatedly to how additional residents might be recruited to join the cause of making the Chestnut Hill Residents Association a significant counter-organization to the CHCA.
An hour into the meeting, Noreen Spota, administrative assistant to the CHCA, addressed the group, saying it was good to see such commitment to the community. She said that one-third of the board turns over every year and that those who are dissatisfied with the direction the board has taken should endeavor to get involved.
“The board isn’t as big as it once was,” Spota said, “Individuals have more of a say.”
She also offered to present anything that the group might want the Board to see, such as a petition.
Recko ended the proceedings by saying that the majority of the residents are unhappy with the direction the community, but they need to come out and make more of an effort.
“Chestnut Hill is, unfortunately, a lazy community,” he said. “The people have to come.”
He said that the library meeting room has been reserved for two hours every 4th Wednesday and he hopes the turnout will be better for future meetings.