by Linda Baldwin

I have been a resident of Chestnut Hill for many years and, although I’m not politically active, I interact daily with most of my Chestnut Hill friends and neighbors as I help them solve their hardware problems at Kilian’s, where I’ve worked for the past seven years. I am one of many Hillers who have elected not to join the CHCA, and I’ll tell you why.

I lived in Chestnut Hill in the ‘70s, back when this corner of the city was almost exclusively white, in fact WASP. Oh, there were a few “token Jews” like myself, but there were few – if any – African Americans, Asians, Latinos or other minorities living in Chestnut Hill. In other words, Chestnut Hill was a homogeneous community.

I moved out of state for 20 years (to North Carolina and then to Indiana). When I returned, I was delighted to find that this community had become noticeably more diverse. Chestnut Hill today is more representative of the diversity of the city (and the country) now than it was in the ‘70s. And yet, I don’t see such representation on the CHCA board. In fact, I see some members trying desperately to keep Chestnut Hill as “lily white” as it has been in the past.

Case in point: When many neighbors were expressing an interest in making the old Border’s building into an arts theater, I heard one CHCA board member say, in so many words, “Oh no, that would bring too many ‘outsiders’ into our community.” Now, what kind of a comment is that, if not discriminatory?

I wonder why our community rejected the prospect of having a wonderful environmental charter school take over a large vacant property on Chestnut Hill Avenue. Just over a year ago, the Green Woods Charter School proposed to purchase a property on Chestnut Hill Avenue to move its environment-oriented school to this beautiful property on the border of Fairmount Park.

Nearby neighbors were outraged, expressing concerns that this would affect their property values and that the traffic on their street would become untenable. Many of us near neighbors, however, signed a petition welcoming this school into our neighborhood.

Yet the Chestnut Hill Historical Society voted down this proposal. Why? Was this in the best interest of the entire community? Or were they simply deferring to the demands of the few affluent neighbors who were selfishly, and unnecessarily, concerned about their own personal welfare?
What is interesting to me is that this issue was aired long before the deal was sealed, giving neighbors plenty of time to air their objections. Several months ago, however, we read in the Local that the former Border’s Books building was about to be leased to Children of America, a franchise of a nationwide daycare center, and that the deal was sealed and ready to go.

If the neighbors on Chestnut Hill Avenue were concerned about traffic on their street, just wait until they try to navigate the traffic jams at the top of Germantown Avenue during rush hour, with parents dropping their tots off at the new daycare center.

That corner is already congested, with cars backed up for two blocks in every direction. This choice was a very poor one for our community.

Yet, was the community notified in advance of this decision so that we could express our feelings? No! Did anyone poll the parents of small children to find out if they felt a need for alternatives to the existing daycare centers? I very much doubt it. Personally, I’d rather see a Walgreen’s go into Borders than a business that will serve only a small segment of the population and that will worsen the traffic congestion during rush hour.

I won’t even go into the whole business of Chestnut Hill College’s use of the Sugar Loaf property on the corner of Germantown and Bells Mill Road because it would take up too much space. But this was just another example of “the powerful elite” in Chestnut Hill being afraid to allow positive growth in our community because some influential nearby neighbors fear that their “insulated” lifestyles might be disrupted by “outsiders” (i.e., college students).

I applaud the relatively new organization, Chestnut Hill Residents Association, a group with no membership fees, no fundraisers, no gala events, no street fairs and no self-interested members. The Chestnut Hill Residents Association was formed by members of the community to serve the interests of all the members of this community to take actions that will benefit all the people who live in Chestnut Hill.

Having vacant shops in Chestnut Hill will decrease homeowners’ property values far more than the presence of an environmental charter school would. What are we doing about all these vacancies? Has anyone in the CHCA bothered to take a poll to find out what types of businesses residents would like to see in Chestnut Hill? I haven’t seen one.

We sit by helplessly watching our community flounder. OK, so the development at the Magarity site may boost that part of the Avenue. But, Richard Snowden, how about filling your other vacant properties with locally owned businesses, to help restore Chestnut Hill to its former glory – as a unique community in which to live, shop and do business?

Linda Baldwin is a longtime Chestnut Hill Resident and a fixture at Kilian’s Hardware, where she has worked for seven years.

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