by Wesley Ratko

A tense discussion of the Chestnut Hill Local’s fiscal future – whether the focus should be on investing in new technology or increasing savings – arose after Treasurer Tony Reilly presented a revised 2012 budget for the newspaper at the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s board meeting on Aug. 25.

“We have $62,000 in obligations and $37,000 in cash,” Reilly said. “We’re short about $25,000.” He added that there is no room for future investment when there is more money going out than is coming in.

“This is a budget of extreme caution,” said Associate Publisher Larry Hochberger. “At a time when people who compete with us are investing money in a long-range plan for the future, this budget does not do that.”

Hochberger added that the caution reflected in the revised budget stems from the priority that the Local needs to set aside money “for a rainy day.” Hochberger said that the newspaper business is one that requires investment in the future and technology, but the resources for doing so have been diluted.

Reilly explained that the lack of money in the rainy day fund was preventing the community association from borrowing any more from the bank, a situation that puts the CHCA at risk of not being able to meet its most basic obligations.

According to Reilly, when the Budget and Finance Committee presented these facts to the Executive Committee, it decided to reverse course from investing in the future to saving.

Art Howe, a board member who is a former newspaper publisher and a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, took issue with this new savings policy, saying the decision to manage the Local by “putting money aside and saving it in the face of horrific change in our industry and competition” was wrong and not a decision made by the entire board.

“Somebody made the decision that now is the time to do this,” he said, asking who had decided this was a good idea. He objected that the board as a whole was not a part of the decision-making process that led to a change in direction from previously stated goals of the CHCA.
“We have made a 180-degree turn in what we’ve talked about in the last year or year-and-a-half that I’ve been on this board,” Howe said.

He added that paying down a debt that has only recently come to light is a strategy that contradicts the board’s stated intention to develop a Web portal for Chestnut Hill and grow the online capabilities of the Local with investments in new technology.
“We just need to understand as a board that it is this humble board member’s opinion that this is the stupidest thing we could possibly do,” Howe said.

Reilly told the board that a formal balance sheet had not been available since December and that an accurate accounting of the full debt carried by the CHCA would not be available for another month.

The board voted to adopt the budget with all but two against.

Bowman project update

The board heard a report from Joyce Lenhardt, chair of a subcommittee working group formed at the July meeting of the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee. The subcommittee has been working with Bowman Properties to refine Bowman’s proposal to construct a mixed-use development anchored by a Fresh Market grocery store at 8200 Germantown Ave. on the site of the former Magarity Ford dealership.

Lenhardt said her group of various professionals was strongly supportive of the land uses being proposed by Bowman Properties.

“We don’t all agree, but we’re working together with Bowman Properties and Richard Snowden to come up with a plan we all like,” Lenhardt said.

Lenhardt identified eight areas of concern the subcommittee identified in its discussions, which include the proposed rezoning of the site, the intention to route all exiting traffic off the site onto Hartwell Lane, the proposed height of the building, a lack of setbacks and buffers in the design, the lack of community amenities or park linkages, operational issues relating to the grocery store itself, and the process Bowman intends to pursue to rezone the property – legislatively, as opposed to the pursuit of a variance.

Concern about Bowman Properties’ intention to change the zoning on the site legislatively prompted some discussion about whether the decision to do so was intended to circumvent the development review process of the CHCA.

A letter from Snowden to President Jane Piotrowski dated Aug. 22 and made public at the meeting reiterated Bowman Properties’ “commitment to engaging the community through the CHCA land development process.” In his letter, Snowden pledged his continued commitment to that process, which he called “viable and expeditious.”

“Our company will not seek final adjudication from the City of Philadelphia on our proposal for the 8200 Germantown Ave. site without first bringing that proposal to the CHCA board for consideration,” Snowden wrote.

The board took no formal action on this report.

Additional Items

A presentation of recommendations from Mel Taylor, the Web portal consultant hired by the board earlier this year, was postponed until next month.

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