BigBelly solar compactors and recycling receptacles, like this pair, are coming soon to Germantown Avenue.

by Wesley Ratko

BigBelly solar compactors are coming to Chestnut Hill.

The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s board of directors voted Thursday night to accept 15 solar compactors and seven recycle bins from the city for placement along Germantown Avenue.

The vote was met by cheers and applause from members of the public in attendance to support the measure. Specific locations for the BigBellies will be determined by a special committee within 45 days.

The approved motion accepts the Streets Department’s offer to place the BigBellies along Germantown Avenue, from south of Southampton Avenue down to the bottom of the hill, with the exception of one receptacle placed in front of the J.S. Jenks Elementary School.

Exact locations of the BigBellies will be determined by a committee whose membership will consist of two members of the board of directors appointed by the CHCA president (appointees Richard Snowden and Jennifer Hawk) and two members of the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee. The committee is directed to report its recommendations to the Streets Department within 45 days.

The motion also prohibits either advertising or decorative wraps on any of the BigBellies.

Support for the receptacles was not unanimous. Vocal opposition came from representatives of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society and Bowman Properties president Richard Snowden.

“My concern was less about their being ugly – they are – and more concern about the scale of them relative to our buildings,” Snowden said.

He said he had observed BigBelly units in Center City that appeared smaller than the unit placed in front of the Night Kitchen Bakery last winter and wondered why Chestnut Hill couldn’t have smaller ones.

“I would be completely opposed to them if they appeared above the John Jenks School,” he added.

Frank Niepold, a representative from the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, read from a prepared statement that expressed concern that the impact of the BigBellies on the streetscape – the size and scale of them – would be detrimental to the historic character of the Avenue. He stressed that “the small-scale streets, unique architecture, and natural environment make it different than other parts of the city.”

His statement acknowledged that the goals of the BigBelly receptacles are laudable and that they supported any strategy that lowers costs to the city.

“We’re excited by it – we all pay taxes,” he said.

“The idea of it being the basis of billboards sends a chill right up my back,” he told the board. “The flat surfaces will attract graffiti and posters. Our position is the size and scale of the receptacles are not appropriate for the Avenue.”

Historical Society president Jennifer Hawk has presented similar arguments before.

The validity of those arguments came into question when Amy Edelman, president and co-founder of Green in Chestnut Hill, introduced a memo from Walter Gallas, Northeast Field Office Director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

While the Gallas memo stated that the National Trust for Historic Preservation “has no official position specific to BigBelly solar trash compactors,” it noted that the receptacles were not affixed to buildings and were not permanently anchored, allowing for their removal at any time in the future. The memo also indicated that clean streets and sidewalks is in the interest of the entire community and that “this solution seems to be a reasonable one that ties nicely with the city’s efforts to encourage and model sustainable practices.”

Edelman also indicated that she had collected more than 400 signatures over the course of five weeks from business owners up and down the hill in favor of the BigBellies.

Scott McGrath, representing the Philadelphia Streets Department, took questions from board members about the useful life of the cans, who would be responsible for replacing them should they break down and the extent to which people were using them in other areas of the city in which they are deployed. McGrath told the committee that the service life of the cans is approximately six years, that the city will replace them should they break and that they are being used all over the city.

Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner, at 7916 Germantown Ave., praised the cans. He explained that two employees who used to collect trash along the Avenue in front of the diner could now be redeployed for other work, such as maintenance of the planters outside the diner. He added that he’s had no issues with graffiti or other defacement.

“People are very happy with these cans,” he told the board.

CHCA board president Jane Piotrowski asked the public whether anyone present was against the cans, she received no response.

Physical Division

Bob Rossman, a representative of the Chestnut Hill Business Association, was confirmed as the new vice president of the Physical Division, correcting a previous oversight that elected the former vice president Lou Aiello to more terms than permitted by the by-laws. Rossman said he was looking forward to serving.

“The Physical Division is vital to what we do as an organization,” he said.

He added his recommendation that board members make an effort to attend one of the CHCA subcommittees from time to time to remain informed about major projects coming before the board. He lauded the process of the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee, praising the professional efforts of its membership and the work they do.