Rita’s is coming to town, perhaps

To follow the conversation online at the Local you can get quite a few perspectives. A “chain” – even one founded in the Philadelphia area and headquartered 20 miles away – is a four letter word despite the extra letter, it’s just that bad.

There should be no competition in water ice because, number one, it is an unhealthy goulash of all that defiles, while two, it is also being well supplied by local businesses where the nature of the desert transmogrifies into a local delicacy when prepared at the right street address.

Also “fast-food chain” is taking on a new meaning. Water ice is now fast food because water ice itself is … food? Sort of, but that’s OK – it has to be to fit this emerging narrative. You eat the stuff, like getting reading materials at the newsstand at the top of the hill makes it akin to the Library of Congress. It’s the same thing.

Worst of all, straw men everywhere are running to the hills because they are being ruthlessly pursued in 19118. How did this all happen?

In the fall, at the CHCA meetings and in the Local – Rita’s is looking to move into the spot where the TLA Video store chain was for years. (“chain,” four letter word, located right next to the CVS, which is right next to Staples – Ann Rand wannabes everywhere are writing about these chain contagions emerging).

In December someone thought it was a brilliant idea to have a zoning meeting on a Thursday when the Eagles were playing. The Rita’s proposal was discussed and approved unanimously.

Last week Mr. Thain was in the Local with a complaint. He said that Mr. Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner was trying to block Rita’s. Asked why and on the record, Mr. Weinstein said this is not about competition, not about his self-interest – neighbors feel Rita’s is fast food and as such is precluded from that space via a zoning covenant – plain and simple. It is not about competition.

The ensuing melee online then became people supporting Mr. Weinstein by taking a position 100 percent at odds with what he said was his concern. He objects to fast food chains violating the zoning covenant. He thinks the CHCA called it wrong and the neighbors need advocacy. The neighbors largely chiming in, however, seem to feel that the Trolley Car needs the advocacy.

Unnecessarily, people were performing a living beatification of this great diner nobody dislikes while calling for the defense/exultation of the owner, whom likewise, nobody holds in anything other than high esteem. He specifically says this is not about competition while those singing his praises the most call for – no competitors.

Chains are especially good villains, as they bring nothing to the neighborhood, like those silent-film, mustache-twirling carpetbaggers that opened Iron Hill, Mica, Heirloom, CinCin, to name but a few – all of whom have multiple locations.

Then the calls for tranquility, buying only local, only supporting places that are civic minded, albeit in a small arena of only a zip code and a half as counting. To patronize the Trolley Car is not enough: Draw up the bridge and no more feeding the alligators in the moat – keep everyone else out.

This is surreal, not what Mr. Weinstein argued for and not what building a community is all about. Fairness is not about picking winners and losers in a free market by zoning tricks. I hope Rita’s comes – I wouldn’t blame them for pulling out after seeing this debate online.

Gerald Tracy
Water ice fan of Roanoke Street

Rita’s doesn’t belong

Ever since I was president of West Mt. Airy Neighbors, I’ve been determined to stay out of disputes in the lovely community northwest of us. For better or worse, communities have their own way of dealing with public issues and generally don’t want or need outside help.

But the dispute about the proposal to place a Rita’s franchise in the old TLA site just above the dividing line between our communities is one on which I must speak.

I was very disappointed to see the Chestnut Hill Community Association, which for years has insisted on following rules of community development to a “T,” overlook a deed restriction it insisted on in 1980, in supporting a fast-food chain restaurant opening at Chestnut Hill Plaza.

The only reason to doubt that Rita’s serves fast food is that, having tasted its product, I’m dubious about calling it “food.”.

I was also disappointed that  the CHCA failed to follow its own rules for notifying neighbors of its decisions.

It is bad policy to override one’s own rules and legal requirements. It’s even worse to support a seasonal, chain fast-food restaurant in one’s community. Good development – the kind of that has made both Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy so strong – is rooted in locally owned, independent small businesses that take pride in and contribute to its neighbors and that reinvest its profits in the community.

Ken Weinstein, the owner of the Trolley Car Diner, is the epitome of that kind of small business owner. In an ideal world, the CHCA would reconsider its position. Because it hasn’t Ken has, as is his right under the law, objected to this use of Chestnut Hill Plaza. In doing so he is acting not just on behalf of his own interests but those of the near neighbors who object to a Rita’s at this location, and on behalf of the regular process of community development in Chestnut Hill.

To avoid a long legal dispute, Ken has agreed to subject his complaint to arbitration. The proposed owner of the Rita’s, John Thain, having agreed to arbitration, now seems to be retreating from that commitment.

I urge the CHCA to reconsider its decision. And failing that, I urge Mr. Thain to settle this through arbitration.

And let me offer one more word of advice directly to Mr. Thain, who has been quoted saying “it seems as if Mt. Airy is trying to tell Chestnut Hill how to run their businesses.”  I would be careful what you say, Mr. Thain. The site at which you want to open is next door to Mt. Airy. I was in TLA often and half the customers were from Mt. Airy. If your business should open, you are going to need those customers. And in Mt. Airy we don’t take kindly to business people who insult us.

Marc Stier
Mt. Airy

Editor’s note: To be clear, the zoning meetings about Rita’s Water Ice were publicized in the Local and the decisions of every committee were immediately reported in this paper and in other online media outlets.

A good blood drive

A special thank you to Jann Mylet and the administration of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Carol Graves of Miller-Keystone Blood Center and dozens of generous individual donors for making this year’s annual Chestnut Hill Community Association blood drive a success!

On Saturday we were host to 71 prospective donors throughout the morning and collected 52 units of blood. This blood will be used by Chestnut Hill Hospital and other area hospitals.

Thanks to the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop, Top of the Hill Market, Bredenbecks Bakery, Baker Street Bread Co., Balance Chestnut Hill and Indigo Schuy for their support and generous donations of food and marketing to the event.

Thanks also to Tom Hemphill, Marilyn Paucker, and everyone else who helped out on Saturday as well as to Noreen Spota and Celeste Hardester at the CHCA office.

Jay Valinis and Liz Bales
CHCA Blood Drive
Co-Chairs Community

Neighborhood concerns are important

Our community, as is any other, made up of different neighborhoods, each having its own distinctive character which contributes to the well-being, the interest and the beauty of the community as a whole.

No single area is more or less valuable than another.

No single individual or group, can assess more accurately than those living in a given area what impacts the quality of their lives and the environment around them.

The concerns of our neighbors are important not only to them but to us as well.

The CHCA has trivialized these concerns to its own detriment and to that of the larger community. This was evidenced most recently by the summary dismissal of over 1,400 signatures by the co-chair of a committee.

Each neighborhood needs and deserves our support. They should not have to do our work by themselves. They are seeking to preserve that which was created for our well-being years ago and which is now being threatened.

Come to the meeting of the Chestnut Hill Residents’ Association on Feb. 22 at the Chestnut Hill Library at 7 p.m. Learn what is being done and add your support. Help create “com-unity.”

Ann Ward Spaeth
Chestnut Hill