After a three year hiatus from the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s presidency, Laura Lucas has reclaimed her former spot.
After a three year hiatus from the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s presidency, Laura Lucas, who previously served as the civic organization’s president from 2016 to 2020, has reclaimed her former spot after being unanimously elected by the CHCA board on Thursday evening. Lucas was the only candidate to run for the position after the civic’s outgoing president, Kathi Clayton, declined to run for another term.
Initially, Lucas said, she waited to see if a fresh face was willing to take on the role. When nobody stepped forward, she decided to throw her hat into the ring. She was especially excited to do so, she said, because 2023 marks the association’s 75th anniversary.
“Part of being a president is you want other people to step up to the plate, but I did not see that happening,” she said. “So I gave it careful thought. I've done this before. Would I want to do this again?”
Ultimately, Lucas chose to run. And she did so with a plan. The Local got the freshly elected Lucas on the phone over the weekend to discuss that plan, her leadership style and her thoughts about the neighborhood. The following is lightly edited for clarity and length.
How do you feel about the future of Chestnut Hill? Are you optimistic?
Definitely. People love Chestnut Hill. We have a unique community, and we have people who are passionate about making it a better place. That's what we share. I see this as the community coming out of the COVID years. We’re seeing the return of the concerts and movies and events in the community where we are able to gather. That's a great opportunity to continue to build on.
We've got a lot of new folks moving into the neighborhood, and we’ve got people who've lived here before and now they're looking at their community in a different way, and see how special it is because we were all hunkered down together. I hope to get both of those groups involved, and I hope to leverage my business community relationships to make all those businesses feel involved, and the institutions as well.
You say you want to increase CHCA membership. How do you plan to accomplish that?
Suppose our goal – and we're still working on what the goal is – is to add 1,000 new members and subscribers. It would mean looking at our auto-renewal process, having membership drives tied to our summer concerts and movies, refreshing our membership plan and delivering on that, while also having monthly membership committee meetings and a baseline of statistics. All of these are things that are easy to lay out; we just need to get in there and focus on them.
What are some of the biggest quality of life issues you see and how do you plan to combat them?
One important area that I see right now is residential lighting, which is close and dear to my heart. Another is Airbnbs in the neighborhood. A third one is safety.
I think the way to measure this is to have a top five quality of life issues list that's always changing. What I'd like to do is have our executive committee identify the top issues and have a monthly report on them at our board meeting. I also think quarterly meetings with our city and state community leaders like Cindy Bass, Tarik Khan, Art Haywood, Dwight Evans, as well as other key stakeholders would be a good idea.
I have good relationships with these representatives and I know that the community association's executive director, Anne McNiff, has close relationships as well. I'd like to leverage that and really engage those leaders.
On lighting. Are you talking about the new streetlights that people have been complaining about?
The streetlights are actually brighter and whiter than what's on the avenue. The city promised to come back and make them dimmer, and they have not. And it's been a year now since the lights changed.
Cindy Bass had put together a meeting with us and the Streets Department where we came up with some agreements, but there has been no timetable for acting on them. It's just one example of where we should be able to have the right discussions with the right people and hold people accountable.
What's the concern with Airbnbs?
The regulations on Airbnbs have changed. When you have an Airbnb, you need certain licenses. Are our Airbnbs compliant with these new regulations? If we're having groups come before us during the development review process and they're asking for modifications to put in Airbnbs – and we had one recently – we should be following city regulations.
Some people have shown up at our board meetings recently and said this was impacting their quality of life. It would be wise to be proactive on these issues so we can study and understand them.
Safety was the other one you mentioned.
Safety is twofold, both for residents and the business community. Chestnut Hill is perceived as having no crime issues, yet when you're at neighborhood gatherings, people talk about issues that aren't reported on by the Local or they're not heard widely.
I think we should be talking about it and looking for opportunities for more police resources. I know other parts of the city are in need of more police resources, but that doesn't mean Chestnut Hill should have less than what it needs.
What do you see as the biggest public safety issue?
Mental health issues are an important one. You have people coming into the shops with mental health issues, and store owners aren't trained for that. You can't say whether this person is safe or not safe. It's not anyone's fault, but what are the solutions and what are the tips for how to handle this?
Another issue you’ve prioritized is especially near and dear to us, which is that you’d like to strengthen the Local, which is owned by the Chestnut Hill Community Association. Tell us about your plans to do that.
So that's an area I need to develop more and with the help of Joel Barras, the Local’s board chair. Joel and I had coffee before the election. We sat down and talked about what was new at the Local and where he would welcome some support. Really the addition of new members and subscribers was a shared passion of both of ours.
Joel said he would be part of monthly membership meetings – that's a start. He also noted that the Local could benefit from help in the area of development, perhaps volunteers who could identify and go after city, state and other grants that would help the Local's finances.
I also believe that the Local would benefit by having two members of the community association board on its board as it did in the past.
It is the Chestnut Hill Local, so I would like to see a lot of Chestnut Hill residents and businesses celebrated.
What is your leadership style and how would you use it to make these changes?
My leadership style involves providing a strong foundation, getting the right people engaged and passionate about things and bringing our partners into the mix because together we can get more done and have a richer experience.
I’ve led this group before, and this time I'm jumping in with both feet. We're going to get big things done from the start.