by Wesley Ratko

Celeste Hardester, of Roxborough, a freelance photographer, has been hired as the new Community Manager for the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

Hardester, who replaces Philip LeCalsey, was unanimously approved by the CHCA board at its July 28 meeting and will begin work in September.

Robert Rossman, vice president for operations, told the board that the search committee didn’t look too far from Chestnut Hill.

“We felt it was important that the newly hired community manager be familiar with Chestnut Hill,” he said.

The board reviewed dozens of applications, invited “a number of people” for a first set of interviews and selected three candidates to bring back for second interviews. Hardester was one of the three.

“It actually felt like serendipity when I saw the ad for community manager,” she told the board.

Having spent the last few years as a freelance photographer, specializing in subjects like portraiture, fine art, architecture and fashion, Hardester told the board the decision to seek full-time employment came from a desire to have a regular activity with a steady income.”

Hardester spent 20 years with the Hal Lewis Group, a small Center City marketing and advertising firm serving the pharmaceutical industry. During her tenure there, the business grew from a small boutique firm of 10 employees and $1 million in annual revenue to its current size of 120 employees and $15 million in annual revenue.

She “wore a lot of hats in this position,” doing editorial work, event planning, account management, even overseeing an office build-out into a new 40,000 square-foot space.

“Small business is a wonderful thing,” she said. “You learn so many aspects of things you might never get the chance to learn in a larger company – as the company grew, I grew with it.”

In addition to all this, she said she also gained insight into principles of creative problem solving.

In addition to her professional credentials, Hardester has, for the last five years, also been involved with the Roxborough Civic Association. While she conceded that that community group is “small in comparison” to the CHCA, her work there has exposed her to the city’s zoning process.

Hardester described her experience becoming civically active in response to a developer proposing to build homes on an undeveloped area of her neighborhood in Roxborough. She told the board that she worked to spearhead an effort in the neighborhood to negotiate with the developer who was operating under by-right circumstances and wasn’t seeking any variances.

“Our goal was to get him to listen to our concerns and get him to build something that would be in consideration of the context that would take place,” she said. “We succeeded in getting our city councilman to listen to us and support us.”

The issue, she said, has yet to be resolved, but communication with the developer is good and a good outcome is hoped for.

In her comments, Hardester repeated her answers to two questions posed by the search committee between the first and second interview. Those questions were: “What are the three most important characteristics of a successful community association, and how would you implement them”?

Hardester said that a successful community association should be “a guardian for the values of a community,” a credible participant in the changes that affect a community and one that provides creative leadership to its community. She expressed an interest in looking beyond the area to “Chestnut Hills in other places” for opportunities to reach out and learn from one another.

“So much of this can be problem-oriented,” she said of any community association’s work, “but I think it’s also a great opportunity … to maintain a focus on the creative good things that can really get people energized around and … interact with each other in ways that are enjoyable.”

Search committee member Mike Chomentowsky told Hardester and the board that he wasn’t looking for someone with a 30-year career in nonprofit, but instead someone who could be a facilitator.

“I hope through your management experience – the ability to look at things creatively and see them differently – you’ll be more of a leader than someone who simply supports us,” he told her.

Rossman said Hardester’s salary would be slightly higher than that paid to LeCalsey but will not impact the budget in a negative way – the CHCA budget was made with the intention that the new community manager would not start until September.

Fresh Market

Rossman reported that all of the Physical Division committees received presentations from Bowman Properties on the new Fresh Market development proposed for 8200 Germantown Ave.

“They were very professionally done with lots of lavish displays,” he said.

Rossman said that a small working group coming out of the individual committees was working with neighbors to try to get “everything resolved” before the proposal to change the zoning goes before City Council, which is now in recess for the summer.

“The earliest the legislative changes could take place is in September, and then there are a number of city committees that it has to go to,” he said. “It’s not as though anything has to happen immediately.”

He added that the committees are taking the matter seriously and looking into the various options presented by the proposals.

“There’s time to look at it and hash out the things that have to be hashed out,” Rossman said.