This week, we begin the first of a two-part review of the most memorable stories of 2013. Below is a look at what happened between January and June. Next week, we’ll continue with a look at what happened between July and December.


Herbiary wins variance support despite neighbor protests

by Wesley Ratko

The Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee considered only one item for its first meeting of 2013 – the issue of Herbiary starting a consultation and classroom business in a converted garage at 133 E. Mermaid Lane. The same issue was first discussed at last month’s Development Review Committee meeting.

At issue is whether Herbiary, an herbal remedy business with locations at Reading Terminal Market and 7721 Germantown Ave. can continue to operate its “herbal consultations” practice at the location. Some near neighbors of the property oppose the variance on the grounds that it is a commercial intrusion.

Herbiary owners Andrew Celwyn and Maia Toll returned with their lawyer, Joe Beller, who will represent them before the Zoning Board of Adjustment on March 4, and the owner of the property, Ellen Deacon.

Nearby neighbors, however, said they were not ready to have a classroom or consultation business next door. They claim that these classes have brought an influx of strangers into the rear area behind their property that intrudes on their privacy and disturbs the residential character of the block.

Steven McGarvey, of 127 E. Mermaid Lane, read from a statement by Kristopher Jacobson, another near neighbor who was present at the DRC meeting but was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting. Jacobson’s statement indicated that no change to the activities or operating hours of the school would make it an acceptable use because of its public nature.

“There is no configuration that would be acceptable to me,” said Jacobson’s statement, although he said that limiting class time to weekday business hours, keeping the garage doors closed during classes, and prohibiting students from congregating on the pavement outside the garage during break times would be helpful.

In a split decision, the committee voted in favor of supporting the variance that would allow six apartments at the site, with the proviso that all classes conducted by Herbiary be over by 5 p.m. This was reached after a failed motion by committee member John Landis not to support the variance.


New Hill beat officer is a link to the community

by Sue Ann Rybak

“The sled was just sitting there on the porch,” said Philadelphia Police Officer Fred Wiley, recalling a story from his childhood. Wiley was going sledding with his friends when someone suggested he borrow the sled. No one was around, so Wiley decided to borrow it and return it later.

Wiley, who grew up in Germantown, said his his family didn’t have a lot of money after his Dad had died when he was young.

“I didn’t own a sled,” he said.

Unfortunately for him, he borrowed a sled from a Philadelphia police officer’s porch. Sure enough, the officer found Wiley sledding with his buddies and took down his name and address.

“I knew I should have asked, but I didn’t,” Wiley said. “I told him I was going to return it.”

The officer replied that next time all he had to do was ask.

“And he did let me borrow it in the future when I asked,” Wiley added, noting that he learned important lessons that day – not only to be an honest, law-abiding citizen but also the importance of making a connection with the people in your neighborhood.

They are lessons he has carried throughout his 32-year career in law enforcement. As Chestnut Hill’s new beat officer, he will continue building relationships with the community’s store owners and residents.


$50,000 reward offered to catch vandals in Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse

by Sue Ann Rybak

The Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors Inc., a non-union building trades association, has offered a $50,000 reward to catch vandals who caused $500,000 in damages to the new Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse that is currently under construction on E. Mermaid Lane.

On Dec. 20, vandals torched a crane and used an acetylene torch to cut into a steal beam at the construction site. Police are still investigating the crime. No arrests have been made yet.


Capt. John Fleming

Capt. John Fleming

New 14th captain hopes to cut violent crime

by Sue Ann Rybak

New 14th Police District Capt. John Fleming is committed to decreasing crime in the northwest.

Fleming told residents at a Jan 16 captain’s meeting that police arrested two men for allegedly burglarizing a house on Jan. 16 on the 8100 block of Rodney Street in East Mt. Airy, not far from Chestnut Hill’s northeast corner. While Fleming said he could not release more details at this time, police were looking to see if the men were responsible for other burglaries in the area.

“These guys weren’t just two high school kids who decided to skip school,” he said. “They woke up this morning and made a conscious decision to commit a burglary.”

Fleming, who replaced Capt. Joel Dales in November, introduced himself to residents and discussed crime in the 14th District and strategies to deter crime in northwest Philadelphia at the meeting held at 14th District headquarters, 43 W. Haines St. .



The remains of Rittenhouse Lumber after the outdoor section burned in Feb. The main building survived. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

The remains of Rittenhouse Lumber after the outdoor section burned in Feb. The main building survived. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

Fire destroys Erdenheim lumberyard

by Pete Mazzaccaro

A fire at Rittenhouse Lumber, 608 Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim, destroyed the lumber storage yard Saturday night, Feb. 9, including a wood and brick structure that once served as a trolley turnaround many years ago.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Owner Elaine Hrynko told the Local Monday that she and her husband, Stan Hrynko, were awakened around 11 p.m. Saturday night and called to the lumber company where at least six fire companies were working to contain the blaze.

Hrynko said the Flourtown, Ft. Washington, Barren Hill, Oreland and Whitemarsh fire companies and Chestnut Hill’s Engine Co. #34 were all at the scene.

“The fire companies did an extremely good job,” Hrynko said. “They kept the blaze from spreading to nearby buildings, the gas station and the bus depot behind us.”

She said that she was told a passerby saw the fire and called 911 from a nearby gas station. The Hrynkos, who live in Cheltenham, were called to the scene shortly thereafter.

The fire was contained to the lumber storage area and did not harm the main building. On Monday Feb. 11, the business was open, and Hrynko said she was busy answering concerned calls from customers.

“We lost a lot of orders that were there waiting to be picked up,” Hrynko said. “We’re still trying to figure out what the best way to make it work.”

Hrynko, whose father, Ray Kostin, started the business in Germantown in 1940, said it was the first time in Rittenhouse Lumber’s history that it ever had a fire.

“We’ve been very lucky,” she said.



Jonathan Best to close Hill location

by Pete Mazzaccaro

It’s no secret around Chestnut Hill any longer that Jonathan Best, a gourmet market that has anchored the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market behind the Chestnut Hill Hotel for 30 years, is preparing to close its doors at the end of March.

“I’m going to miss Chestnut Hill,” said owner David Schieber, a tireless and never timid Hill figure who has always been quick to speak his mind.” Especially the people. They’ve always been kind and accepted my eclectic mannerisms.”

Schieber said he wasn’t interested in being sour about the fact that he’s closing, though he really would have preferred to keep the shop open. The competition, though, made it too difficult for him to stay in business.

“One month after it opened, Weavers Way took 30 percent of my business,” Schieber said of the co-op market that opened at 8424 Germantown Ave. three years ago.

He said nothing he did could get customers back.

So, instead, Schieber is ready to begin a new chapter, including a new wife who’s nearly 30 years his junior, a fact is is happy to share. But even with the Hill store closing, he’ll still be busy with his other location in Reading Terminal Market. Because he still operates the Reading Terminal location, he says he’ll be able to offer seamless service in Chestnut Hill right up until the moment he closes for good.

“I am leaving probably on March 31,” he said. “I will continue to run my store in a way I’d be proud of until that day.”

When told it’s sad to see the market close, Schieber disagrees.

“It’s not sad,” he said. “People need change.”


AVI equity questioned at neighborhood panel with city assessors

Richie McKeithen, chief assessor for the Office of Property Assessment, told a group of about 75 residents at the Actual Value Initiative and Real Estate Tax Discussion Panel meeting that everyone should have their property market value notices by March 5. The meeting, sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association,was held Tuesday, Feb. 12, at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, 8900 Norwood Ave.

After the initial presentation, Tilley read the participants’ questions. One question asked if the mayor and City Council were still committed to making AVI “revenue neutral,” which would mean that the total amount of taxes generated in AVI’s first year would be no larger than the revenue collected under the old system.

Adams said the city plans on bringing in the same amount of revenue as it did this year from the real estate tax.

“Based on our current assessment process assuming we don’t have any relief measures [such as the Homestead Exemption] the tax rate will be somewhere between 1.2 and 1.3 percent,” Adams said.

Another question asked how the new assessments would affect the 10-year abatement construction? McKeithen said that the portion that is abated will remain abated.

“For example if 40 percent of your property is abated, when the new assessments are generated you will still receive a 40 percent ratio,” McKeithen said.

He added that low-income seniors who qualify for a property tax freeze through the Philadelphia Revenue Department will not affected by AVI, as long as they meet the income requirements.

One attendee asked what was being done about collecting delinquent taxes.

“Philadelphia is owed roughly $295 million in property taxes, interests and penalties,” according to a report by the PEW Center’s Philadelphia Research Initiative, and “about 20 percent of that amount is listed as ‘written off’ because the delinquencies are more than 10 years old and presumed to be uncollectible.”



Another robbery victim tasered on E. Highland Ave.

by Pete Mazzaccaro

A young man returning home to the 200 block of E. Highland Ave. at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, March 3, was tasered, beaten and robbed.

It was the second time in less than two months that someone was attacked with a taser and robbed on that block. On Jan.14, a 32-year-old woman was dragged out of her car, beaten, tasered and robbed of $600.

According to police, the victim said he was just about to enter his house when he was approached by three young men. He was tasered and tackled to the ground. The victim said he was punched in the face, and his girlfriend was grabbed from behind.

Reported stolen were an 8gb iPod and a Samsung Galaxy Exhibit phone. The victim refused to be taken to Northwest Detectives for further interview.


‘Hoops Madness’ event a hit for the Hill

by Brien Tilley – CHCA president

Saturday’s CHCA Hoops Madness 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament – the first of what I hope will be an annual event for the Chestnut Hill Community Association – was a great success.

The day began at 9 a.m. with a rush of enthusiastic basketball players who descended on the registration table at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and quickly filled the courts of two gyms to start playing hoops. So great was the response that all available slots were filled by 120 players. And that’s not counting the hundreds of family members who came to watch.

The players ranged in size from 3’3” to 6’7” tall, and in age from 5 to 50-years old (or more). They formed teams named after March Madness competitors and were divided into four groups. Each team competed to win its respective bracket.

Hoops Madness was a great way to bring the community together, youth and adult, families with families, students from many different schools, boys and girls, all on the courts playing and competing with each other. I look forward with anticipation to an even bigger and better Second Annual Hoops Madness in March 2014.


Frankie ‘Smacks’ Saemno retires

by Sue Ann Rybak

The sign on Frank Salemno’s barbershop said:

“Thank you friends for your loyal patronage over the past 75 years. You have been much more than customers, you have been very good buddies, and we have shared many great times and memories together! I am retired. Thank you! Frank.”

Salemno, who was nicknamed “Frankie Smacks” for giving his favorite customers little slaps on the backs of their heads and then ordering them to get out of the barber chair when their haircut was done, was more than just a shop owner – he was a living legend to many longtime Chestnut Hill residents.

Rose DiPinto, Salemno’s sister said her father closed his shop in January.*

“He is in a rehabilitation center in New Jersey,” DiPinto said.

Salemno fought at Saipan and Iwo Jima with the 4th Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, during World War II. He went in with the first wave at Iwo Jima and, after the beachhead was established, served as a runner. Salemno was wounded twice with shrapnel in his chest and a bullet in his leg. He received a Purple Heart, four Combat Stars, a Gold Star and two Presidential citations for his service.

In 1946, Salemno reopened his shop. An active citizen in the community, Salemno was a former president of the Chestnut Hill/Mt. Airy Business Development group, which preceded the present Chestnut Hill Business Association. DiPinto said Salemno was a family man who was extremely proud of his grandchildren. In the 1970s, he helped organize the Christmas Parade, the 4th of July Celebration and many other civic events.


Herbiary withdraws plans to run classes at Mermaid Lane residence

by Wesley Ratko

Herbiary, the herbal retailer at 7751 Germantown Ave. that currently hosts three classes per month in a rented space at the rear of 133 E. Mermaid Lane, announced heir intention to leave that location after their current series of classes ends in June. The announcement was made at last night’s Chestnut Hill Community Association board of directors meeting.

That decision from Herbiary will end the conflict between the retailer’s owners, Andrew Celwyn and Maia Toll, the owner of 133 E. Mermaid Lane, Ellen Deacon, and near neighbors on either side of the property who vigorously opposed Herbiary’s use of the space.

Herbiary’s decision was independent of the board’s unanimously approved motion to oppose the initial variance request that would have allowed the retailer to continue teaching classes in a modified garage building on the rear of the structure, directly behind other homes on E. Mermaid Lane.

In February, the board voted to oppose Herbiary’s classroom use of the property. They did not reverse that decision Thursday night, saying the classes being conducted were not acceptable given the current zoning as a residential property.

Herbiary co-owner Andrew Celwyn read from a prepared statement:

“After careful consideration and assessment of the atmosphere presented by the Chestnut Hill Community Association … we are here this evening to inform you that we will not be continuing to seek a variance for our use on Mermaid Lane,” he said.


Parents, educators and residents react to school district’s proposed budget cuts

by Sue Ann Rybak

Facing a $304 million budget deficit for the 2014 fiscal year, the School District of Philadelphia announced that without further funding from the state or city it will be forced to cut guidance counselors, librarian services, music education, sports, after-school programming and office administration.

Despite the School Reform Commission’s decision to close 23 schools in September, Dr. William R. Hite, superintendent, said that “without additional support from the city and state, we will not be able to support district operations, which will have a direct impact on meeting the basic needs of our students.”

The Local asked residents to voice their opinions about the district’s budget and its request for additional funding from the city and the state. The overwhelming response from community members was that regardless of who is to blame for the district’s current financial plight, every child in Pennsylvania has the right to a quality education in a safe environment that includes access to music and art, libraries, counselors, and support systems that help every child reach his or her full potential.

Rebecca Dhondt, a Mt. Airy resident and J.S. Jenks Home and School Association board member, said the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is federal law that states that every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education.

“Is there anyone that can argue this budget would create an appropriate educational environment for the children,” Dhondt said. “I am mystified there is not more outrage about this issue. No money for counselors, paper or textbooks? No lunchtime aides, which means inadequate supervision? How can this even be legal? I hear all the people say the system is broken, and we need to fix it, but not on the backs of our children.”

Susan Whiteman Nordlof, of Mt. Airy, said she was “shocked but not surprised” at the district’s proposed budget cuts.

“Do I think it will become a reality,” Nordlof said. “It’s hard to believe it can. It makes for a situation that sounds literally unable to function at all on a daily basis, let alone deliver any kind of basic education.



Hillcrest property plans questioned by neighbors

by Wesley Ratko

Several near neighbors raised concerns at the June 6 meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use and Planning Committee about a proposal to subdivide a two-acre property at 179 Hillcrest Ave., creating a second home where only one now exists.

The property is owned by John and Elizabeth Shober, who occupy a single-family house on the 100,000-square-foot lot.

The proposal presented to the LUPZ would create a second 40,000-square-foot lot that could host a second single-family residence on a predetermined building envelope. The shape and location of that envelope was one of many items of contention.

Lawyer Carl Primavera represented the Shobers and was joined by Richard Collier, Jr., a land planner from Blue Bell. The Shobers were not present at Thursday’s meeting.

Collier presented his plan to divide the 100,000 square foot lot into two separate lots of 60,000 square feet and 40,000 square feet. The Shobers’ existing home would anchor the 60,000 square foot property, leaving the second lot available for sale and the possible construction of a second home.

It is the uncertain fate of this second property that drew the ire of many residents of nearby Hillcrest Road and Meadowbrook Avenue. The rear of their homes face the proposed building envelope and many worried that their now pristine view of woods and meadow would be despoiled by a garage, which the plan indicated could be located only feet from their windows.

Neighbor opposition was voiced by Craig Hartnichek of 185 Hillcrest Ave. Hartnichek and his fellow neighbors were chiefly concerned with the flow of storm water off the property. Many were on-hand to report that heavy rains turn Hillcrest Road and Meadowbrook Avenue into “rivers.”

Collier noted that the construction of facilities to handle storm water needed to be addressed.

“This is not a question of good will,” he said. “State law requires that storm water be handled appropriately.”

He went on to suggest that the construction of storm water management facilities on the site might actually improve

Kilian's hardware

Kilian Hardware Co. celebrated its 100th anniversary on June 14.


Kilian Hardware Co. marks 100th anniversary

by Sue Ann Rybak

People were literally dancing in the street on West Highland Avenue on Friday night, June 14, as residents gathered to celebrate Kilian Hardware Company’s 100th anniversary with food, music and other festivities.

W. Stewart Graham, chief-of-staff for City Councilman David Oh, presented Russell Goudy Sr. and his son Russell Goudy Jr., owners of the store, with a proclamation for being the “oldest continuously operating hardware store in Philadelphia.” The proclamation noted that “the people who work there are very polite and know what they are talking about — and if Kilian’s doesn’t have it, it doesn’t exist.”

Sarah McAllister, of Chestnut Hill, called the local family-owned hardware store “an amazing treasure trove of obscure things you did not know you needed until the thingamajig broke.”

Pat Sirianni, who grew up in Chestnut Hill, recalled one of his favorite memories about Kilian’s.

“As a kid growing up, whenever we wanted a pen knife we would always come here,” Sirianni said. “When I was about 8 years old, there was a hunting knife I wanted, but Russell wouldn’t sell them to kids. One day I came into the store and told Russell that was the one I wanted. He said ‘I can’t sell you that. You’re too little.’

“I told him I had a note from my dad,” Sirianni said. “Well, of course it was a forgery. So, I brought him the note and he said, ‘Well, I don’t know about this, but I’ll sell you the knife, anyway.’ Well, two days later my father came in, and Russell told him what had happened, so my father took the knife away.

“Many years went by, and my father passed away. When we were cleaning out his closet, we found the knife. I brought it back here, and Russell sharpened it for me.”