by Wesley Ratko
The board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association unanimously adopted a statement of purpose Thursday night to apply to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission as a Registered Community Organization or RCO.
When Philadelphia implemented its new zoning code in August of 2012, one of the key features of the legislation was its mandate to standardize the way neighbors are notified about pending developments in their communities. The mechanism the code instituted centered on a registry, maintained by the Planning Commission, of registered community organizations.
New rules that went into effect on March 1 require all existing RCOs to re-register with the planning commission. The new rules include revised criteria for what constitutes an RCO, which include an established geographic boundary, regularly scheduled meetings that are open to the public, leadership that is chosen through an election process and, notably, an adopted statement of purpose.
The measure also includes standards for becoming a “coordinating RCO,” which will interface with an applicant to schedule a public meeting that should include other RCOs. This coordinating RCO is intended to solve the problem of overlap where a development impacts more than one RCO.
The coordinating RCO will be chosen after consultation between the Planning Commission and the district councilperson’s office.
In Chestnut Hill, other RCOs include the Friends of The Wissahickon and the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, among others. After any meeting, the coordinating RCO must also provide a written summary of the meeting to the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the district councilperson’s office. Each RCO can provide its own summary.
Once accepted, the RCO status will be valid for two years.
Joyce Lenhardt, vice president of the CHCA’s Physical Division, spoke about her meeting last month with Councilwoman Cindy Bass and reported that Bass suggested there could be different coordinating RCOs for different projects, depending on the circumstances.
Community Manager Celeste Hardester read from the CHCA statement of purpose, which stressed the CHCA’s “active stewardship of land use, planning, and zoning issues within the community, and effective communication with Philadelphia’s City Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment.”
Bylaws Committee member Julie Byrne introduced a recommendation to remove several provisions from the CHCA’s bylaws, which was met with resistance from many board members.
The proposed changes were the result of an evaluation of the organization’s bylaws and possibly modifying them so they will by compliant for transforming the CHCA into a 501(c)(3) organization. The evaluation, Byrne said, had determined that the current bylaws are too complex and that passages – particularly ones that define individual CHCA committees – are unnecessary.
“There is more information in the bylaws than there needs to be,” said board member Stephanie Chomentowski, who suggested that a lot of what was excessive could be moved into a guidance or policy document separate from the bylaws themselves.
Chestnut Hill Community Association is a Delaware corporation. As part of the 501(c)(3) process, the new CHCA will have to be incorporated in Pennsylvania. That incorporation will require changes to the current bylaws, though the specifics and the purpose behind those changes were never made clear.
Board member Richard Snowden felt nothing should be removed.
“I think it’s ironic that an organization that is trying to build its membership is taking something away from its awards committee,” Snowden said. “Let’s not do any of this.”
“Brevity is wonderful, but this is part of who we are,” said board member Mike Chomentowski.
“I may be progressive, but I see no reason to change the bylaws beyond what is needed for the 501(c)(3) process,” said board member Walter Sullivan.
Discussion turned repeatedly toward asking whether the suggested changes were coming from the bylaws committee or from the attorneys overseeing the 501(c)(3) process.
“I think the take away here is to leave the committee language in,” said board president Brien Tilley.
“We are wasting our time,” said board member Art Howe. “We need a lawyer to make some suggestions here.”
“It would be darned nice to have that [501(c)(3)] status in the fall,” Howe said, adding that the IRS has been pushing these things through and that it wasn’t that hard to accomplish.
The board took no formal action on this issue.
Celeste Hardester said she continues to work on IRS form 1023, the application for 501(c)(3) status, which she says is three-quarters complete. She has questions that Pepper Hamilton is addressing. Hardester also noted that the application to establish the new Chestnut Hill Community Association as a Pennsylvania corporation was filed on Thursday, Feb. 27.
Tilley said he would provide board members with a flow chart that illustrates the progress made in the 501(c)(3) application process and detail the work remaining. He added that attorneys from Pepper Hamilton will address the board at its March meeting on the status of their work.
Laura Lucas reported that as the Community Fund Drive enters its final two weeks it has raised an estimated $62,000 from 512 donors. She said the fund drive committee is hoping to hit the $100,000 mark before the end of the drive on March 14.