This week we continue our look back at 2012’s most memorable stories.


After 40 years, an OMC teaching institution retires

by Paula M. Riley

When William Brennan started teaching social studies at Our Mother of Consolation Parish School, President Nixon was in the White House. Four decades and seven presidents later, Brennan is retiring from teaching U.S. history and current events to OMC’s seventh and eighth graders.

Brennan admits that his favorite period in history is the Civil War, but said he finds interesting aspects about each era and believes it is important to teach them all.

“I have always felt it was important to give students a strong foundation in American History before they go to high school,” Brennan said.

Brennan taught about the past as well as the present.

“For 40 years, Mr. Brennan has been devoted to the idea that every student needs to understand both the past and the present,” said Bruce Hagy, principal of OMC’s parish school. “His social studies lessons not only spanned the breadth of past human events but examined the daily events of today’s world. Student interaction, discussion, and Socratic questioning are staples of his pedagogy.”



House burns on Southampton Avenue Neighbors have raised $1,000 for displaced homeowners.

by Pete Mazzaccaro

Neighbors watch as firefighters attempt to control a fire on Southampton Avenue on Saturday, June 30. (Photo by Jane Piotrowski)

Early in the evening of Saturday, June 30, at just around 5 p.m., Jane Piotrowski thought she smelled something strange.

I wasn’t sure what was going on,” Piotrowski said. She was in her backyard at the time. “I thought someone was burning paper.”

When she got to the front of her house, she noticed smoke billowing from the home across the street, owned by her neighbors Robert and Annette Murray.

The home, 29 W. Southampton Ave., was empty — the Murrays having recently left for a graduation party.

Some neighbors aware that two cats and a dog were still in the home tried to break in to let the animals out, Piotroski said.

But within minutes, fire trucks were on the scene and firefighters entered the home, rescuing all three animals as they battled back the flames. According to Piotrowski, there were soon seven to eight fire trucks in total.

As of Monday afternoon, the Philadelphia Fire Department still had not made a ruling as to what had caused the fire.

Piotrowski said neighbors had raised $1,000 for the Murrays, who were staying with friends and relatives.


SCH asked to discuss tree removal as DRC recommends athletic field improvements

by Wesley Ratko

Tree removal along Willow Grove Avenue at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in preparation of a remake of the school’s athletic fields angered some neighbors. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee agreed last night to recommend supporting three variance requests made by Springside Chestnut Hill Academy to improve its athletic field but only after a discussion around the school’s removal of trees on its campus. The DRC’s recommendation will be considered by the CHCA board at it’s next meeting, Thursday, July 26.

The conversation on trees began when a Chestnut Hill resident who refused to give her name for attribution told the committee that the sight of so many trees gone missing from her block surprised her and caused her to question whether she was on the right street.

“I became so disoriented that I pulled my car over, because I thought I had made a wrong turn,” she said.

She told the committee that, according to her count, 50 trees had been cut down.

“These were healthy, mature trees,” she said. “Such a lack of creativity that they couldn’t get what they wanted without cutting down these trees. It’s staggering to me.”

Springside Board of Trustee member Henry O’Reilly responded by saying that some of the trees they cut down were not healthy and that as a part of their master plan would plant more trees than have been taken down.

“The number of trees that we’ve taken down and the condition of those trees and what was required for maintenance and safety, we’re putting back much more than we took down,” O’Reilly said . “What’s on the plan will be the minimum of what we do,” he added, “and we just keep adding as we go along.” He said replacement trees will be selected by a landscape architecture subcommittee and will include only native species. Once the types of trees are chosen, the information will be forwarded on to members of the committee.


City Controller: AVI could drive residents from Philadelphia’s best neighborhoods

by Wesley Ratko

In an appearance Thursday night at the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s board of directors meeting, City Controller Alan Butkovitz laid out a case against the proposed Actual Value Initiative that would transform Philadelphia real estate, arguing the change could very well raise taxes so much that it would drive residents out of the city’s best and growing neighborhoods.

Butkowitz distributed a table that compared three different scenarios of real estate taxes in Chestnut Hill under AVI to the taxes in other comparable suburban communities where “Chestnut Hill residents might choose to relocate.” Under the city’s proposed 1.8 percent tax rate, Jenkintown Borough, Hatfield Township, and Whitpain Township all had lower taxes than the city.

Currently, Philadelphia real estate taxes are a 9.2 percent payment of one-third of the assessed value of a property. The AVI proposal would restructure city tax policy to consider 100 percent (or actual value) of a property’s market value, with a lowered tax rate to compensate. That rate, lowered to 1 percent, would result in “a bell-shaped curve of assessment,” Butkowitz said.

According to Butkovitz, the impact of an AVI tax structure would be a minor reduction on property in certain parts of the city, but for the growth areas like Center City, South Philadelphia, Northern Liberties, “the sky’s the limit.” Butkowitz warned that, in some cases, property owners could see their property taxes double or even triple. He said he’s concerned with the social impact of that kind of change.

“What the proponents of this [measure] have done is myopically seized on the fact that there is a deviation between the values assigned to certain properties in terms of the percentage by which that property is being taxed,” he said.



Delphine Gallery owner recalls harrowing gunpoint robbery

by Pete Mazzaccaro

For Vickie Spangler, owning a store in Chestnut Hill was a dream that came true 16 years ago when she and co-owner Deborah Weiner opened the tiny Delphine Gallery at 8435 Germantown Ave.

It was a dream that she thought just might end on Thursday, Aug. 2, when a man in drag repeatedly pointed a gun at her chest as he emptied “the good case” of its jewelry.

“I’ll shoot you,” he said.

“I just kept telling him, ‘You don’t have to shoot me. I’m not going to do anything,’” Spangler said in an interview in her shop the next day.

“But there was a moment when I realized this is when he’s either going to shoot me or leave,” she said. “And I was suddenly overwhelmed with thinking what it would be like to be shot. And then he left.”

The man came into the gallery at approximately 5:10 p.m. on the warm evening – a time when Germantown Avenue was still crowded with shoppers and commuters. So when the man first appeared at the door, wearing a dress and wig, Spangler thought it was a disoriented, older woman.

“My thought was that I needed to help her out,” Spangler said.

When she approached, the man removed the wig and immediately pulled a gray gun out of his shopping bag and ordered her to get down on the ground.


Hill named best main street shopping destination by Philly Mag

by Pete Mazzaccaro

A screen capture from

Philadelphia Magazine named Chestnut Hill the best main street shopping destination in its 2012 “Best of Philly” issue, which went on sale today. The two sentence entry said simply: “The past year’s retail development along the main drag of Germantown Avenue has transformed it from “Oh, that’s a cute place to shop” to Serious Destination. So, go. And buy us something nice.”

Also collecting wins were Linen, 8133 Germantown Ave. for best linen shop and Indigo Schuy, 8432 Germantown Ave. for best women’s active wear.

Congrats to the winners and congrats to Chestnut Hill.

See the entire list here. Hint: they’re all under the shopping & style category.



Change in city zoning rules paves way for Highland Avenue fro-yo business

by Wesley Ratko

The September 6 meeting of the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee had but one item : a request for support of a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to allow Chill on the Hill, a frozen yogurt store proposed for 5 E Highland Avenue, to operate. Under the old zoning district, a variance was needed to sell prepared food at this location.

On Aug. 22, however, Philadelphia’s new zoning code went into effect, changing the zoning district of 5 E. Highland Avenue from C-2 commercial to CMX-2 commercial.

This new zoning allows the sale of prepared food and, therefore, the owners of Chill no longer need a variance or support from the Chestnut Hill Community Association in order to open their business.

Still, both owners attended the meeting and committee co-chair Ned Mitinger, acting as chair, used the time to foster a discussion between the near neighbors and the business owners, Alison Shoemaker and Leslie Newbold, to address and clarify any remaining differences between them.

Near neighbor and CHCA Board member Laura Lucas addressed the committee, saying she and her contingent of fellow neighbors are concerned about the operating hours for the shop and asked to see them in writing.

“That would help to reassure us,” Lucas said.

Shoemaker and Newbold agreed to write a letter, addressed to the Community Manager Celeste Hardester, stating that Chill’s closing time Sunday through Thursday would not extend past 9 p.m. during the week and 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. In addition, Shoemaker assured the neighbors that the business had no plans to open before 11 a.m.



Hill named a ‘top-10 American neighborhood’

by Pete Mazzaccaro


Chestnut Hill was named a ‘top-10 American neighborhood’

Last week, the American Planing Association named Chestnut Hill as one of its “top-10 urban neighborhoods in America.”

The honor is the result of a nomination by the Philadelphia Planning Commission, which has been nominating great Philadelphia streets, neighborhoods and places to the APA since the awards were developed in 2007. Since then, only one other Philadelphia neighborhood received a great neighborhood award and that was Society Hill in 2008.

David Schaaf, director of urban design at the Philadelphia Planning Commission said the application process was long and involved for the nomination, but that the results were worth it. And Chestnut Hill, he said, was a perfect candidate.

“It’s an extremely prestigious award,” he said. “It’s an excellent thing for the city and Chestnut Hill. Chestnut Hill was perfect for nomination because of its history, the interest of people in preserving that history, its planning. It was an ideal nomination.”

Chestnut Hill is among a group of other fairly famous urban neighborhoods from around the country: the Garden District, Baton Rouge; Fells Point, Baltimore, and Beacon Hill, Seattle.


Hospital’s new wing to open Oct. 22

by Paula M. Riley

Dr. John Cacciamani, CEO of Chestnut Hill Hospital, considers the hospital to be one of the community’s best kept secrets.

“We are trying to educate everyone about the gem hiding in Chestnut Hill,” he said.

He cites recent accolades, including its designation as one of the nation’s Top Performers on Key Quality Measures by the Joint Commission and the hospital’s affiliations with Jefferson’s Stroke Center and Penn Presbyterian’s Heart Rescue Program.

With a brand new state-of-the-art emergency room, intensive care unit and operating room opening on Monday, Oct. 22, Cacciamani has lots to brag about. The three-story, nearly 60,000-square-foot wing includes a 22-bed ER, a 14-bed ICU and four operating rooms.


Avenue gets going again after Hurricane Sandy blows through

by Sue Ann Rybak

Falling trees take down power lines during Hurricane Sandy in October. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

Chestnut Hill looked like a ghost town on Monday morning as Hurricane Sandy’s wrath slowly descended on Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.

The shops along the Avenue sat dark and empty including Staples, McDonalds and Starbucks. One of the only stores open on the Hill was Kilian’s Hardware, 8450 Germantown Ave. Mary Kay Bahner, who has worked at the store for about 16 years, said business was “so-so” yesterday.

“People were walking up and down the Avenue looking to see who was open,” Bahner said.

Bahner said people were asking for D batteries and flashlights, but the store ran out of its supply before the storm.

“People were looking for generators, but we don’t sell generators,” she said. “The big sellers yesterday were batteries and propane.”

Bahner said Kilian’s originally planned to stay open until 11 a.m., but when the wind didn’t pick up they decided to stay open until 4 p.m.

“By 4 p.m., we said let’s go because you don’t know what it’s going to be like out there,” she said.



Slideshow: Residents, city officials debate property tax reform at community forum

by Sue Ann Rybak

City Controller Alan Butkovitz said the city’s proposed Actual Value Initiative would raise Chestnut Hill residents’ real estate taxes by about $2,000. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

More than 150 residents packed the Commons Building at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy to hear a number of elected officials and other city officials discuss the controversial Actual Value Initiative and Real Estate Tax.

The Chestnut Hill Community Association arranged for the panel to answer questions regarding the implementation of AVI. The panel consisted of 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Councilman At-Large David Oh, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, Raquel Meadows, a representative from Councilman At-Large Bill Green’s Office, Brett Mandel, Chair, Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission Real Estate Working Group and Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, Vice President of Committee of Seventy.

AVI is intended to make the current real estate tax more fair by using market values that are based on the current “actual value” of the real estate. The existing real estate law applies a tax rate to the assessed value of a property. The assessed value is currently set by the city at 32 percent of the market value.

After tense debates last summer, City Council postponed the implementation of AVI until 2014 because it lacked the data to determine the aggregate value of the city’s real estate. Law makers complained at the time that they were being asked to set a tax rate independent of the fundamental information they needed. A higher aggregate value would lower the millage rate homeowners would have to pay.

While it’s implementation might be controversial, every member of last night’s panel agreed that Philadelphia’s real estate tax must be fixed and that something like AVI would likely replace it.


OMC Parish School marks 150 Years

by Paula M. Riley

Principal Bruce Hagy, who has been at OMC for 20 years, addresses the 5th grade class.

Since 1862, Our Mother of Consolation Parish School has been educating the children of Chestnut Hill and its surrounding communities. Thousands of students have walked the halls of the Catholic school on East Chestnut Hill Avenue. Today, the school offers the best of 21st century learning, but its core mission has changed little over the past 150 years.

“Parents choose OMC Parish School because it has always been a place where a child can get a quality education based on strong religious values,” said Bruce Hagy, OMC Parish School principal.

He looks to recent OMC Parish School graduates and proudly comments that they are accepted to the best private, Catholic and public high schools. Regardless of where they go, Hagy explained, the transition is an easy one because they have been well prepared.

Hagy judges this preparation as much more than just academics.

“By the time our children get to eighth grade they are not all “A” students, but they are all very nice kids – they are kids that I really enjoy being with, kids that I can talk to,” he said. “This is because we educate the whole person here – academically, socially, and spiritually. Our kids are ready to contribute to society in a meaningful way. That foundation is laid right here.”

OMC Pastor Bazzoli explained that one of the hallmarks of the school was the spirituality of the religious orders involved with the school. The parish was formed and led by Augustinian priests from 1858 to 1998, until the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales assumed leadership in 1999. Both of these religious orders have brought their own charisms to the school experience. These, combined with that of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, brings a blend of spirituality to the school.

The year in review (Part 1)