An open letter to the Chestnut Hill Community Assn.

I live at 26 W. Southampton Ave. I am one of the near-neighbors of the Magarity site at 8200 Germantown Ave.  My wife, Terry Halbert, presented the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee a petition last Wednesday evening with over 600 signatures of people from Chestnut Hill opposed to the developer’s plan. Chairman Larry McEwen response indicated that he had little interest in these people, since they weren’t sitting in front of him and since they didn’t understand the CHCA process.

At this point, the 600 Chestnut Hill residents who signed the petition do understand the CHCA process, and it is deeply flawed.  They know, for example, that the Development Review Committee’s process requires all developers to seek and to document the approval of near neighbors.  And they know that this never happened.

The negotiating committee had a total of seven members.  By what democratic process were they chosen?  My understanding is that the three near neighbors on this committee could tell, from the outset, that they would be outvoted.  And everyone on the committee knew there was not sufficient time for a good faith negotiation.  The developer had promised that he would wait until the CHCA had completed its process.

But the developer did not do this.  He caused three zoning ordinances to be placed on City Council’s calendar in such a way that he was able to force CHCA to force its various committees to rush their vote.  This is why, in desperation, the negotiating committee voted 4-2 in favor of the project.  They knew that unless an agreement of some kind was reached immediately, the rezoning which the developer had already lined up with City Council would permit a building up to 70 feet tall on an even larger commercial footprint, eliminating setbacks and buffers entirely.

The petition my wife presented last Wednesday indicates that 73 percent of the near neighbors are opposed to the developer’s plan.

By the time you read this, the CHCA will have approved the creation of a titanic building, a Goliath, in the middle of Chestnut Hill.  It is true that the developer agreed to a 3-foot setback on Hartwell Lane.  He may even permit CHCA to discuss with him a few ideas regarding transparent vs. solid railings on the fourth floor.

What else?  Oh yes, there is the Community Development Agreement.  CHCA has told the developer what hours it hopes his new supermarket will operate, and the developer promises that he really will ask Fresh Market not to be too noisy in the middle of the night.

Most of the near neighbors, and a great number of Chestnut Hill residents are disappointed with this outcome.  The only thing the CHCA can do now is to make certain that the developer and his commercial tenants honor the Community Development Agreement.

Bill Coleman
Chestnut Hill

What can we do now?

Last week I presented the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee our petition, with your signature on it, opposing the rezoning by ordinance of the Magarity site at 8200 Germantown Ave. In essence, the chair of the DRC dismissed the petition and its nearly 600 Chestnut Hill signers, saying if we really cared about the process we would all have been present at the meeting.

The CHCA’s Development Review Committee’s own rules require a developer to poll the near neighbors. No poll was taken by Bowman Properties for the Magarity site. Our petition demonstrates that 73 percent of the near neighbors are opposed. The DRC approved Bowman’s plan anyway.

This week, I am sorry to report, the CHCA’s flawed process is likely to complete itself, with its board approving an agreement with the developer allowing the construction of a 5-story building with more condos than the original drawings.

There have been a few minor concessions. For example, there will be a 3-foot buffer along Hartwell Lane, and eight instead of nine townhouses on Shawnee, but the look and feel of the Avenue will be changed for good, and a terrible precedent will have been set.

We believe that, with this agreement having been reached, there will be no impediment to City Council moving ahead to rezone the Magarity site on Thursday.

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board also opposes spot zoning, as quoted on Dec. 11:

“Council should open a new era by passing the updated zoning code, and rejecting Miller’s zoning changes.”

At this point, I urge you write to Mayor Nutter requesting that he veto the legislation.

Thomas Beck
Chestnut Hill

Not the right headline

I was very disappointed that the letter that I sent last week stating very clearly my concerns about the probable negative effect on local businesses of the Bowman Properties plans for the Magarity site received the heading “Not All Businesses are Against Fresh Market.” That may indeed be true, but it was completely opposite to the point of my letter. I believe that there is the potential that many will be  impacted adversely.

Deborah Cooper
Chestnut Hill

Watch out for Cuban propaganda

Thank you, Lou Mancinelli, for posing important questions at the end of your article (“Local women travel to Cuba and discover two worlds,” Nov 24).

It is sadly ironic that the tour was sponsored by a business that describes itself on its website as “an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world.” Don’t they know about political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died last year after a hunger strike in jail (BBC News, Feb. 26, 2010 online), or the Ladies in White, or Yoani Sánchez? Global Exchange’s “reality tour” presents only the Cuban government’s official version of “reality.” If they don’t want to seem hypocritical, they should learn a few things.

Over the past 52 years, thousands of people have died for speaking out against the Castros’ dictatorship or for trying to leave the island; in 2009, Human Rights Watch published “New Castro, Same Cuba,” documenting the plight of political prisoners in Cuba. Dissidents continue to be regularly harassed, beaten and imprisoned, not least of whom are women.

According to Amnesty International, “A group of female relatives of prisoners of conscience in Cuba and their supporters were again prevented from organizing a peaceful protest on August 28, 2011. They have been harassed and intimidated by state officials since mid-July for their peaceful activities.

The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), a group of female relatives of former prisoners of conscience and current political prisoners, have since mid-July faced arbitrary arrest and physical assault from members of the security forces and government supporters in the south-eastern city of Santiago de Cuba and surrounding towns” (Amnesty International, online).

Another important source of information regarding the hardships of daily life, censorship and the violation of human rights in Cuba may be found at blogger Yoani Sánchez’s website, “Generación Y” (translated into twenty languages). The government’s fear of free speech is such that in 2010 Sánchez “was denied an exit visa by the Cuban authorities … to travel to the USA to receive the Maria Moors Cabot prize for journalism at Columbia University. She was also denied an exit visa to travel to Brazil following an invitation from the Brazilian Senate to present her book at a conference and address the legislature.

In November 2011, Yoani Sánchez and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo were forced into a car by state security agents and beaten and threatened before being released” (Amnesty International’s Annual Report, Cuba: 2010, online).

The great majority of Cubans are not allowed to travel, and thus they yearn for contact with people from other countries. I agree that Americans should go to Cuba. However, it would be wise for those who do so to find out not only what might be right in Cuba, but also what is most definitely wrong and to not be fooled by the relentless stream of misinformation and propaganda that continues to flow from one of the world’s longest dictatorships.

Gabriella Ibieta
Chestnut Hill

(A long-time resident of Chestnut Hill, the writer is associate professor of Latin American and Comparative Literature at Drexel University).