This week and next, we will look at some of the top stories of 2012. from personal stories of good luck and perseverance to the usual zoning stories that mark significant chnges in the neighborhood, 2012 has not been a a year of stasis.


Lucky Break: How an accident may have saved a shopkeeper’s life

by Lou Mancinelli

A lucky fall sent Carmen Notorianni to the doctor where his lung cancer was spotted and treated. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

A simple accident during the third quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals game on Sunday Nov. 11 may have saved the life of Carmen Notarianni, the second-generation owner of Carman’s Shoe Repair at 8111 Germantown Ave.

Midway through the third quarter, when Notarianni went to sit down after stretching – something he had gotten up to do a few times already since moving to the vacant seats in the aisle behind his original ones – he did not realize that his seat had popped back into the up position. As he went to sit down, he struck his left lower back on the metal part of the seat. He knew he hurt his ribs because in the days that followed it hurt every time he sneezed or coughed.

Nine days later, a sharp pain in his left chest sent the Plymouth Meeting resident and his wife, Patricia, to the emergency room at Mercy Suburban Hospital in East Norriton, minutes away from his home at around 10:30 in the evening. Through the night, doctors began to treat him for a heart attack. Because his oxygen levels were low, the doctors wanted to run a stress test. But Notarianni did not think it was his heart. After all, he does a cardio workout with his wife five times a week and lifts weights three times a week.

“The doctor seemed befuddled,” Notarianni said during a telephone interview last week.


The doctors arranged for a PET Scan to take place the following Friday at Chestnut Hill Hospital. Because of Black Friday they could not get the scan done that week.

“The whole time I’m thinking what are they gonna find?” Notarianni said. “My first reaction was why me, and what did I do in my past years to deserve this? I knew the answer right away. Nothing. I knew it was a part of life.”


The immediate findings confirmed there was indeed a nodule on his lungs that needed to be removed. The test showed the nodule had not spread and only existed on the lung. Still, Notarianni would have to wait until doctors could check his lymph nodes during surgery to know his fate.

Notarianni contacted Dr. Stephen Whitenack, a surgeon who is also a customer of Notarianni’s at Carman’s. Dr. Whitenack confirmed Dr. Rosenberg’s comments about having to wait for a pathological report, which would be produced after the surgery, to see if there was any more cancerous matter. Notarianni went in for surgery on Thursday, Dec. 15, around 1 p.m. He was awake that evening and remained in the hospital until the following Wednesday, Dec. 21.

According to Notarianni, it is Dr. Whitenack’s opinion that the nodule has been successfully removed and that Notarianni does not need further treatment. Still, he has an appointment scheduled for Jan. 12 with an oncologist at Abington Hospital for a second opinion.

“I could not have asked for a better Christmas gift,” said Notarianni.


Residents meet to express dissatisfaction with CHCA, discuss organizing rival association

by Wesley Ratko

Twenty-three members of the Chestnut Hill community turned out Wednesday night at the Chestnut Hill Library to voice their frustrations with the Chestnut Hill Community Association and to organize a counter organization that, as they said, would put residents before business interests.

The meeting was organized by Ron Recko, a Chestnut Hill resident and past president of the CHCA Board,. Recko told those present that he had become disenchanted with the CHCA, saying the group no longer adequately represents the interests of the neighbors.  He blamed “business interests” for taking over the organization.

He called the meeting as a first step toward organizing the various opposition groups that have formed in the last few years in response to several major projects that, according to Recko, have negatively impacted near neighbors.  He referred specifically to the Fresenius Dialysis Center at Winston Road and Moreland Avenue, the forthcoming development of the Magarity Ford site and Chestnut Hill College, among others.

Recko said that any project that requires a variance will inevitably have a negative impact on the quality of life for neighbors.

“I believe that a viable commercial corridor along the Avenue is important,” he said, “but not to the detriment of the residents.”


Montco DA charges suspect with murder of Wyndmoor woman

by Pete Mazzaccaro

The Montgomery County Distirct Attorney’s office announced this morning that it had charged Johnny Fosset, 31, with murdering his girlfriend, Lori Jefferson, 38, of the 1000 block of Mermaid Lane in Wyndmoor, Springfield Township.

According to a release from the District Attorney’s office, Fosset called 911 in Philadelphia to turn himself in on the morning of Sunday, January 15, for murdering Jefferson. When Springfield Police arrived at Jefferson’s home, they found her bound, gagged and lying on the floor, face down, in her bedroom. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The District Attorney’s office release goes on to say that Fossett had met Jefferson in Jacksonville, Florida in 2011 and moved in to Jefferson’s home shortly thereafter. According to the release, Fossett and Jefferson had an argument that escalated until Fossett strangled  Jefferson. After the attack, Fossett fled, taking several items from the home, including a TV, a computer and Jefferson’s car.



Rita’s owner claims diner is trying to derail his business

by Pete Mazzaccaro

John Thain was all set to begin work on a new Rita’s Water Ice franchise at Chestnut Hill Plaza, 7630 Germantown Ave., the former location of TLA Video.

He had received approval from the Chestnut Hill Community Association, the nearby neighbors of the plaza and had even agreed to a detailed covenant with the CHCA to be sure that litter was dutifully swept from the plaza’s lot.

But on Dec. 19, Thain said he received a letter from the Trolley Car Diner informing him that the business’ owners planned to enforce a deed restriction for the property that had been established many years ago to prevent a fast-food franchise from opening in the property.

That covenant was struck between the plaza’s owners and neighbors and contains language that gives any neighbor within 750 feet of the property the right to object to the opening of a fast-food franchise.

“This covenant was written to the benefit of home owners, “Thain said in an interview with the Local. “It was so they wouldn’t have to endure smell or noise. It’s not for the benefit of a commercial enterprise, certainly not one in Mt. Airy.”

Thain said he had agreed to go into arbitration with the Trolley Car Diner but that he is running out of time. If he’s not able to open in time to start the season in April, the business won’t be able to stay open at all. It’s the nature of a seasonal business.

“At a certain point, if we don’t open by a certain date, we won’t be able to open at all,” Thain said, “The landlord has a right to get a tenant in there. “

Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner, denied that pursuing the deed restriction was anticompetitive. He said he believed the CHCA should have enforced the deed restriction.

“We’re doing the neighbors and the landlord a favor,” he said. “If they won’t enforce the deed restriction, we will.”


Prudential Fox & Roach acquires Eichler & Moffly Realtors

by Barbara Sherf

For years, the national realty firm Prudential Fox & Roach (PFR) and the local company Eichler & Moffly have been competitors in Chestnut Hill. All of that changed on Feb. 1, however, when Prudential bought Eichler Moffly for an undisclosed price.

William Lee Morse, who purchased Eichler & Moffly 12 years ago, confirmed the sale was effective Feb. 1. Morse, 67, would not disclose details of the deal but did explain his reasons for selling the business.

“For health reasons it became apparent it was time for me to retire and that that the best thing would be to sell the company,” Morse said in a raspy voice.

He did not want to share details of his health issues.

“After conferring with family and friends, I felt that the best company to merge with was PruFoxRoach,” he said. “They are the largest company in the area, and it seemed like a good fit to sell to them.  I think the combined forces can dominate the local market and best serve the local clients in the area.”


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, that’s a wind turbine on Kilian’s roof

by Casey Cappello

If you’ve looked up at the corner of Germantown and Highland avenues, you’ve likely seen the large wind turbine that appeared on the roof of Kilian Hardware, 8450 Germantown Ave., in late December.

The turbine has been operational since Jan. 20, and with its installation, Kilian Hardware joins an increasingly large group of small businesses and homeowners throughout the United States that are turning to wind power as a means of deferring utility costs.

The turbine, manufactured by WindTronics, is 6 feet in diameter and weighs about 241 pounds. Kilian’s Hardware hired local contractors to install the equipment. The total cost of the turbine, including installation, was about $15,000.

According to Kilian’s owner Russell Goudy Jr., the elevation on the shop’s roof is within 10 feet of the Chestnut Hill ridgeline that runs across Summit Avenue – one of the highest points in Philadelphia. Also, there are no significant tall trees or buildings surrounding the store, which makes Kilian Hardware one of the best locations in Philadelphia for a wind turbine.

The location made it attractive for a wind turbine installation, but the practical considerations were not the primary reason for installing the turbine.

“I view it as more of a novelty and as an advertising agent than as something motivated by reducing overhead,” Goudy said.


Daycare center talks plans with DRC

by Wesley Ratko

Signs at the old Borders Books property alerted the neighborhood that Children of America, a national childcare chain, was moving into the location.

Representatives from Children of America, the new daycare center now setting up shop in the old Borders building at Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike, appeared before the Development Review Committee Tuesday night, Feb. 21, to introduce themselves and talk about their business.  The meeting was informational only because the  day care center is allowed by right under the city’s current zoning and is not seeking approval for a variance

Project manager Brad Parks answered questions from the committee on topics ranging from traffic and parking to building aesthetics and paint color, all in an informal setting.  Parks told the committee he was curious to get input on these and other issues.

Parks said he was very impressed with neighborhood.

“It’s just a beautiful little town, I love it,” said Parks.  He received a packet from Community Manager Celeste Hardester with the Germantown Avenue design guidelines.

Parks told the committee that there is a 14-week schedule to complete the work on the building, plus an additional 30 to 60 days past that for additional prep work.  He said the business should be open in mid-June.

The building offers 16,000 square feet of space and will be, according to Parks, the largest facility of the company’s 47 schools.  This will be their 9th Pennsylvania location.


Mica named one of 10 best new restaurants in America by GQ

by Pete Mazzaccaro

Mica, 8609 Germantown Ave., was named one of 10 best new restaurants in the country by GQ magazine. See story online, here.

The restaurant, opened by former Le Bec Fin chef, Chip Roman, earned the eight spot. It was reviewed by veteran food writer Alan Richman, who was struck not only by the charm of  Chestnut Hill (“a cobblestone street of gingerbread houses and trolley tracks “) and the quality of Mica’s food, but the stark interior of the restaurant.

He writes: ” Roman reminded me of the young Parisian chefs cooking in stark surroundings, thinking about nothing but their stoves. Maybe he’s better than they are, considering the lusciousness of his Manjari-chocolate dessert. Did I mention that he’s Mica’s pastry chef, too?”

Does this put Chestnut Hill on the foodie map? I think so.


Bredenbeck’s Bakery to get mural

by Wesley Ratko

Jane Golden, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, showed the CHCA Board of Directors a concept for a mural planned for the side of Bredenbeck’s Bakery at 8126 Germantown Ave. Her presentation, which was intended to answer questions and receive feedback from the oard, received a mostly favorable reception, though some members expressed reservations.

“We’re really excited, but we want to make sure that we have community buy in,” Golden said.

Golden, whose work arranging for murals to be painted on the sides of Philadelphia buildings has attracted international attention, said that places all over the city request murals from the Mural Arts Program. She said she was in Chestnut Hill because of the efforts of Karen Boyd, the owner of Bredenbeck’s, who started a petition in her store last year asking for a mural on the east-facing wall of her building.



Chestnut Hill Dental moving to Whitemarsh

by Pete Mazzaccaro

For Dr. Robin Gallagher, his office is more than just an office. It’s actually his family home. His father, Dr. Robert Gallagher, moved his family to the large, green stone house at 2 E. Chestnut Hill Ave. and opened a small practice in his home when Robin was only 10.

Robin joined his father at the practice in 1980 and has known no other professional home since then.

But last year, after the death of his father, Robin’s stepmother Lynn Gallagher inherited the property and decided to sell it. She didn’t accept Robin’s offer so, so he began “plan B.”

Plan B is a move to a brand-new structure being built at 825 Bethlehem Pike in Whitemarsh. It’s on the site of the former Magarity Chevrolet dealership, which is now a Planet Fitness center. The approval process in Whitemarsh lasted for eight months, Gallagher said. He was able to sign a lease to begin construction last week.

Though he’s moving, Gallagher said he thinks the move will be an advantage for his practice and his patients.

“I had a list of pros and cons, and the list of pros for moving quadrupled the cons,” he said in an interview at his office Monday morning. “Everybody’s excited about the move, from family to patients. The move will allow us to modernize and provide much better service and care for our patients.”


Hill parking lots to get PPA kiosks in April

by Pete Mazzaccaro

Installation of the long-promised pay kiosks for the six lots maintained by the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation will begin this week with the kiosks expected to be up and running by the beginning of April. The new system, according to foundation president John Ingersoll, is expected to go live on April 15.

“Things are moving right along,” Ingersoll said.

The introduction of kiosks – the same as those found throughout the City of Philadelphia – represent a change from other systems used by the foundation, which has run the lots in Chestnut Hill for more than 50 years. The Parking Foundation had long been funded by Hill merchants, first in the purchase of stickers that were given to motorists and then to a voluntary annual assessment method in which merchants paid an annual fee to cover the expenses of maintaining and insuring the lots.

Last year, the foundation decided that the assessment model was not working – nearly 25 percent of merchants on the Avenue did not participate – so it decided to install the kiosks, switching the costs of lot maintenance to the shoppers and others who park on the lots. The lots will be patrolled by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Ingersoll said that once the Kiosks are up, parking foundation employees would be available to show users how to use them. They will be up and running for approximately two weeks before enforcement begins on April 15.



O’Doodles to move and change retail format

by Paula M. Riley

At the old O’Donnell’s store (from left) Fran O’Donnell, brother Hank O’Donnell Jr. and their father, the Late Hank O’Donnell Sr., were in charge of the venerable family stationary business. The new family business, O’Doodles, moved to a new location in May.

For the second time in its 60-year history, the retail store owned by the O’Donnell family is transforming itself.

O’Doodles – the toy store that promises to deliver “unplugged fun” for kids – will move in May from its current location at 8335 Germantown Ave. to the southwest corner of Germantown and West Evergreen avenues. It will continue to offer unique toys at the new location, but is planning to expand its product offering to include children’s apparel and décor.

“With the closing of Seedlings, Lemons ‘n Limes and others, there is a real retail void on the Hill,” said Fran O’Donnell, owner of O’Doodles. “We heard our customers tell us repeatedly that they were looking for more children’s items than simply toys. We are excited to tell them, ‘We have listened to you and we are bringing you just what you asked for.’”


O’Donnell said that the same atmosphere he’s developed at the old store will be maintained when it moves. The new location will offer all the elements most loved by O’Doodles’ customers – knowledgeable, fun staff, gift-wrapping and the popular ceiling train.

“Everything you love about O’Doodles is going to be at the new location,” O’Donnell said. “My dad taught me that we can’t be everything to everybody but we can be the best at what we do.”


Former ‘Lost Boy of the Sudan’ speaks for unheard children

by Sue Ann Rybak

Ayuen Garang Ajok, who is dedicated to fighting for human rights, knows firsthand the atrocities and inhumanity of war and persecution. He is one of the “Lost Boys of the Sudan,” a name given to groups of more than 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005).

Ajok was only 5 years old when his village, Bor, in South Sudan, was attacked by an insurgent group under the command of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 1987 (al-Bashir currently is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes of humanity and genocide).

The government-sponsored militia slaughtered innocent civilians and burned everything in its path.

“I still recall the gunshots and the distraught sounds of people screaming for help,” Ajok said. “I remember thinking I would return home once the attackers left. Unfortunately, home is still a far off place that I have not been able to go back to yet. I fled my village like others and thus began my journey as a refugee.”

Ajok was one of the survivors who walked 1,200 miles to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The Second Sudanese Civil War lasted from 1983 to 2005. Almost two million people died when the government troops systematically slaughtered civilians. They walked at night in the vast and barren desert to escape the burning sun and scorching winds of the dry season.

Many watched in horror as the boys were devoured by lions and other wild animals. They walked in bare feet for months and, according to Ajok, “without food or water and witnessed thousands of people suffering and dying from disease or dehydration.”

Ajok was one of the lucky ones. He lived for four years as a refugee in Ethiopia. On his way back to the Sudan he experienced one of the most traumatic and horrific incidents in his life.



CH Friends break ground for new meetinghouse

by Barbara Sherf

On Tuesday morning, more than 150 Quakers, area art leaders, city officials and Congressman Chaka Fattah gathered in the 80-year-old Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse to listen to speakers before venturing out into the pouring rain to break ground for a new Friends meetinghouse to open in early 2013.

Jon Laudau, co-chair of the New Meetinghouse Campaign Committee, opened the program by pointing out the need for more space.

“Welcome – I guess you can all see why we need a new meetinghouse,” Landau quipped before turning to the numbers the committee has reached after four years of fundraising. “We are nearly at our goal for this $6.3 million project, and it should be noted that two thirds of the funding came from within the Quaker meeting.


Cresheim Trail Project moves forward … slowly

by Casey Cappello

In the fall of 2004, the Chestnut Hill Rotary Club organized an initiative to paint the railroad trestle that crosses over Germantown Avenue near Cresheim Valley Drive. The simple goal of repainting the abandoned trestle turned into an art contest, which turned into the Cresheim Trail Project.

Nearly 10 years later, the Cresheim Trail Project is now a formal committee, working toward the goal of opening a seven-mile trail that spans two counties. Nearly 10 years later, however, the train trestle remains unpainted.

“Mt Airy USA decided to hold a contest to pick the artwork for the bridge – I just wanted it painted,” said Carl Shaifer, a longtime Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill resident and Rotary Club member.


According to members of the Cresheim Trail Committee, PECO has been hesitant to relinquish authority over the trail because it requires a reliable and stable entity to accept liability regarding use of the trail by the general public.

“To my knowledge, PECO has not had any recent contact with the Cresheim Trail Committee,” said Liz Williamson, a senior communications specialist at PECO. “I spoke with the legal department, external affairs, and the real estate department – no one in any of those departments is aware of any recent discussions between PECO and the Cresheim Trail Committee.”

According to Williamson, PECO only has one concern regarding ownership of the bridge over Germantown Ave. She said PECO wants to be sure that any organization that takes over responsibility for the bridge will be able to properly and safely manage the structure.

“PECO is open to having a conversation with interested parties, whether that results in some sort of leasing agreement, or actual ownership through sale, or PECO donating the bridge,” Williamson said. “In general, we are open to conversations with any organizations or municipalities.”


CHCA, Bowman reach agreement on Magarity site

by Wesley Ratko

The Chestnut Hill Community Association board has unanimously adopted the community development agreement for the former Magarity Ford site at 8200 Germantown Ave. that was created after negotiations between Bowman Properties, the developer, and a “negotiating subcommittee” led by Joyce Lenhardt, vice president of the CHCA’s physical division. That agreement, formally titled the “Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions,” is a carefully crafted, binding legal document that took months to produce. The board approved and ratified the CHCA’s entry into the agreement with Bowman Properties at its May 24 meeting. A complete copy of the agreement was made available to board members but not the public.

The new agreement includes a number of negotiated concessions, including an enhanced setback from Hartwell Lane, an increased setback of upper residential stories from the Avenue and others regarding parking, hours of operation and design elements of a row of homes on Shawnee Street. It also includes language that will allow nearby residents to form an organization to enforce the agreement in the event that the CHCA does not. A number of nearby residents promised to challenge Bowman and the City of Philadelphia over special zoning legislation the developer received for the parcel. Those neighbors agreed not to file suit under the new agreement.



For Hill homes, taxes likely to rise in new assessment system

by Pete Mazzaccaro

As Hill families settle into summer months – planning and going on vacations, sending kids to summer camp – Philadelphia is poised to increase property taxes under a new assessment system, hoping to raise more than $94 million to patch a shortfall in the Philadelphia Public School budget.

The new system is currently called the Actual Value Initiative. Under the new system, the city will reassess all Philadelphia properties and determine taxes based on what should represent an actual market value for the home.

The idea is not a new one. A similar proposal was made by former City Controller Jonathan Saidel 10 years ago. Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration is pushing AVI for the same reasons Saidel did: The current system is out of compliance with Pennsylvania state law that requires property taxes to be based on actual home values. And numerous studies have shown that the current system has taxed properties with low values at a disproportionately higher rate than more expensive homes.

Also, according to the administration, the city faces immediate challenges to its current system, including a state board assessment that found the city’s current system flawed and a threat that property owners could file a class-action suit against the city over the current system’s inequities.

City Council is currently wrestling with a number of budget bills and a number of different proposals to raise taxes because it seems that – no matter what happens – taxes will again have to be raised. Council has until June 30 to pass a budget, meaning those proposals will be front and center for the next month.


Volunteers, customers upset as Monkey Business prepares to close after 57 years

by Joe Trinacria

Monkey Business volunteer Lyn Stepnick (left) and store manager, Rose Malley. Both women have been at the thrift shop for more than 12 years. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

According to Green Tree executive director Susan Hansen, Monkey Business had been struggling over the past few years, even though it relies on volunteers. While costs have gone up, she said, the amount of money coming in the door has decreased.

“The board made the decision to close Monkey Business three years ago, based on losses, but held off at the request of its volunteers,” Hansen told the Local in an email. “The board suggested a goal of an annual margin of $4,000 to keep it open, but Monkey Business has not been able to achieve that.”

Store manager Rose Malley acknowledged that the shop was just not able to meet Green Tree’s financial goals anymore.

“Since Borders closed, there has not been as much foot traffic on the top of the Hill,” she said. “And to most people who park in our parking lot, Monkey Business has become an afterthought.”

To the many who have felt a close connection with Monkey Business over the years, Green Tree’s explanation was not enough.

“I don’t understand how a benefit shop closes, especially in these economic times,” customer Ricki Sanders said.

“This is the type of store that should be opening up, not closing,” echoed volunteer Abigail Ray.


Council passes budget, raises taxes and punts on AVI

by Pete Mazzaccaro

City Council passed a budget this afternoon that does not include Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposal to raise an additional $94 million in a broad change in city property tax assessment called Actual Value Initiative. That initiative would have changed the way property taxes are assessed by moving from the current system, which is based on a formula, to a system based on real market values.

In Chestnut Hill, AVI promised to raise taxes  for nearly every home owner.  a look at potential scenarios showed annual tax bills rising as much as 100 percent.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Council did, however, increase property taxes 3.6 percent to raise $20 million and increased the Use and Occupancy taxes for businesses to raise another $20 million. The total additional revenue amounts to $40 million, much less than the $94 million Nutter was looking for.