by Wesley Ratko

Mike Chomentowski, vice president for operations of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, presented the CHCA board with an overview of his three-point plan for increasing membership in the association. He identified the three elements of that strategy as what he termed “smart recruitment” — strengthened institutional partnership, and a renewal of the community association’s brand.

Chomentowski began by reporting his finding that the community association had lost 40 percent of its membership over the 10-year period from 2002 to 2012. He attributed that loss to three factors: financial hardship due to the economic downturn of 2008, a lack of interest from the community association in pursuing new members and retaining existing members, and an environment that he referred to as “hostile and dysfunctional.”

“The picture is brighter now,” he said, adding that the current board has done a better job of promoting itself to the community and healing that environment.

Chomentowski explained “smart recruitment” as a collection of several strategies that include reaching out to new Chestnut Hill homeowners, contacting former CHCA members who have let their memberships lapse, and offering individualized incentives customized for each targeted group.

Chomentowski said renewing the CHCA brand will require better self-promotion by the organization and the creation of new events, such as this year’s holiday parade (now scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 14) in addition to community favorites like the Holiday House Tour and the summer concert series in Pastorius Park.

Board member Elizabeth Bales suggested a more effective use of social media to keep current members updated about community association activities would help retain current members and help them to feel more involved in CHCA activities. She also recommended updating the CHCA logo and putting it on T-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers for sale and distribution.

Another suggestion was putting an information table outside of the Starbucks on Germantown Avenue on Saturday mornings to catch people walking by.

Board member Richard Snowden said the board should take more aggressive steps, reaching out to members of the community who individually benefit from the activities of the physical division committees like LUPZ and DRC?

“I think a lot of people wrap themselves in our flag when they need us,” Snowden said. “Are we actively soliciting new members at LUPZ and DRC meetings”?

LUPZ co-chair Larry McEwen assured him that the mission and activities of the CHCA are discussed at every meeting.

“We always talk up the organization,” McEwen said.

Many complemented Chomentowski on his persistence and applauded his efforts to boost membership in the community. The board took no formal action on his presentation.

Front yard parking

McEwen told the board about a proposed amendment to Philadelphia’s zoning code that surfaced last week that would relax the standards that prohibit parking in front yards. If approved by City Council, zoning citywide would change to allow people to pave their front yards and park their cars.

“We’ve long resisted curb cuts here in Chestnut Hill,” McEwen said.

The loss of on-street parking, conflicts with pedestrians and vehicle, and the programs implemented by the Philadelphia Water Department would all be affected by this proposal, which emerged from City Council’s Rules Committee and was sponsored by two Council members representing Northeast and South Philadelphia.

A letter from Chestnut Hill Community Manager Celeste Hardester to Councilwoman Cindy Bass is credited with having prevented the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from voting on the measure Tuesday.

The proposed amendment was tabled instead, pending “further discussion.” It is unclear, however, whether this means simply a one-month delay before it is put up for a vote again or whether the planning commission will seek out additional information.

“This bill is the worst thing to come to Chestnut Hill,” said Snowden. “We’ve got to kill this thing.”

The board voted unanimously to issue an additional letter stating opposition to the amendment.

501(c)(3) status

Finally, the board voted unanimously to approve moving forward with reviewing and submitting documents required by the state and IRS to become a 501(c)(3).

“This just formalizes the process that we’ve already been pursuing,” board member Laura Lucas said.

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