Szekely for Mayor, 2017

With school starting this week, election season is right around the corner in Lansdale. Therefore, I should probably get the word out that I am running again (there are still a few folks in the area who are surprised to learn that I am the mayor, and then some ask about Mayor Mike and what happened to him). I have enjoyed my time as mayor, and I think I have done a pretty good job at representing the Borough. I have had disagreements with just about all of the Council members that I have served with– some more than others. For the most part though, those disagreements have been resolved with the exception of maybe a couple. Things have been relatively quiet in the Borough, which is the reason I haven’t written here in a while. As for general Lansdale observations and essays, I have a few up my sleeve which should be coming out in the not too distant future.

Of course as a politician, I’ve got to list my background, accomplishments and credentials and my plans for the future. So for those who don’t know me so well or are new to Lansdale, here’s my story:

Short Bio

I was born in the old North Penn Hospital which is now Elm Terrace Gardens located at the corner of Broad and 7th Streets. I attended West Point Elementary which is now memorialized by a plaque on Merck property. I worked my first job as a dishwasher at the legendary Tremont Hotel & Lounge. I graduated from Germantown Academy in 1988. I graduated from Lynchburg College in 1993 with majors in French and History. After college, I lived in Hungary for three years where I taught English and French, and it was there I met my lovely wife, Szilvia. Contemplating career paths for a year, I switched gears and entered chiropractic school in 1998.  I subsequently graduated in 2001 and joined my father and uncle in their chiropractic practice which they started in Lansdale in 1957. Since 2003 we have lived at 500 West Mount Vernon Street. And currently, we have two daughters, Anna, age 8, and Emma, age 5 who attend York Avenue Elementary. And as of last Sunday, a black Labrador puppy named Dude.

Relevant Community Involvement

Since moving back to Lansdale in 2003, I have volunteered in a few capacities. I have contributed my experience in healthcare to the North Penn Adult Day Care as an exercise aide. Having a love of classical music, I volunteered my time to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra as a Board Member and then Board President from 2001-2009. I have been an active member of the North Penn Rotary Club (which puts on Lansdale Day and built the Whites Road Bandshell in ) since 2001 serving in such capacities as President and Youth Awards Chairman. And most recently, I have served on the Montgomery County Correctional Facility Board since 2012 and president since April of this year.

Mayoral Accomplishments

Of the things I am most proud during my time as mayor are the following (and not necessarily in order of importance):

  • Writing the invitation letter that brought Molly Maguires to town. Unfortunately, they didn’t last but Stove & Tap has filled the void and a fine restaurant is now in the heart of town.
  • Starting the Lansdale Oktoberfest with an International Flair in 2009. This was the first time alcohol was served on Borough property paving the way for the Lansdale Beer Festival.
  • Helping to bring Round Guys into Lansdale.
  • Helping to bring Boardroom Spirits into Lansdale.
  • Bringing the Tax Collector’s Office back to Borough Hall where it should be.
  • Initiating the Banner Flags on Main Street to commemorate the International Spring Festival.
  • Urging Council to make a one time contribution to Manna on Main Street, the Lansdale YMCA, the PEAK Center and Advanced Living in recognition of them coming together to form the North Penn Commons Collaborative project.
  • Leading the charge to divest the Borough of 311 West Main Street which had been a $6 million dollar mistake over the course of 12 years. (Now, in the span of about a year since it was sold, there will be a new brewery, Well Crafted Brewery, along with a restaurant in this space.)
  • Writing this blog, especially my entries about Becky, the Walking Lady, Dick Stricker, Whites Road Park and Lansdale’s front porches. And also to continue writing articles to help the public understand other points of view on governmental projects.
  • Painting portraits of interesting residents and those committed to making Lansdale a better place. These hang in my office in Borough Hall.
  • Of course, supporting our fine Lansdale Police Department.
  • Making Lansdale’s first calendar to support the DARE program.
  • Recognizing Robert Freed before he passed away for his contribution to the Borough through carving the Lansdale Borough Seal out of wood. This currently hangs in Borough Hall.
  • Making the above pictured Lansdale letters.
  • Performing over 100 weddings.

Mayoral Plans and Ambitions

  • I would like to see Council approve a plan to rehabilitate and renovate Railroad Plaza. This is our gateway to town from the Train Station and the geographic center of Lansdale. This should look better than it does.
  • Continue to challenge Council and Staff on spending projects in the future.
  • Continue to promote Lansdale as a smart, affordable destination for families and businesses.
  • And continue to represent the Borough well at events such as the Memorial Day parade and ceremony, the Christmas Tree Lighting, the Menorah Lighting, the DARE program, the International Spring Festival– the list goes on and on. And of course, to continue to present proclamations, give speeches, perform the weddings, greet visitors and serve the residents of our fine Borough.

In closing, I would invite those reading this blog to feel free to email me at szekely@verizon.net or post your recommendations and/or suggestions to make Lansdale a better place here on this blog.

 

 

 

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“To support a skatepark or not to support a skatepark (at Fourth Street), that is the question”

It’s been a while since I’ve written in my blog, which for some people is probably a good thing and for others who enjoy it, not so much. With the exception of a few issues (most notably the Madison Parking Lot project which I have already written about twice) the Borough has been relatively quiet. That is until recently with the proposal for a skate park proposal for Fourth Street. (There is going to be a meeting on February 27th at 7:00 PM in Council Chambers.)

The Borough’s endeavor of building and maintaining a skate park is a tricky one and here’s my point of view why: unfortunately, there are more than a few parallels between the skate park and the failed arts center. Like the arts center, this is an idea that has come from a “top down” and not from a grass roots “bottom up” approach which as we saw from the arts center resulted in disaster. Skateboarders– like artists– are an independent bunch which doesn’t lend as well to forming associations like, say, baseball or football. Not that there’s anything wrong with being independent-minded.

And since I’ve mentioned baseball, let’s look at that for a minute. Lansdale Little League (now known as the North Penn Baseball Association) is a worthy organization that has support from hundreds of parents, ball players, sponsors and volunteers; collectively, they do everything from cut grass, pull weeds, work the concession stand, raise money and run the organization without financial support from the Borough. It is a true grass roots effort that has been successful.

Now back to the arts center. There were no significant arts organizations that drove the arts center project. There were and are plenty of artists in the area, but there was no cohesive vision for what an arts center should be. Instead, the vision was driven by the Borough Manager at the time, and the design of the building to accommodate the arts was by all measures a complete disaster (the architect had no experience in designing for the arts). The intention to create such a venue for artists was a noble one but naive and mismanaged because there was no real demand for it. If there was, it would have been created here already.

Now onto the skate park. Like the arts center, the proposed skate park has been driven by Borough officials and not necessarily the skate boarders themselves. Of course, the skateboarders want a skate park when dangled out in front of them with no skin in the game, but the reality is that there needs to be some sort of organizational and financial commitment to this project if it is going to work. Already, there has been debate as to whether scooters and BMX bikes will be allowed. Who, in fact, will this skate park serve and who is the driving force behind this project other than Parks Recreation Committee members? Where is the Borough resident or residents that will take ownership of this project?

Continuing in the vein of whom this skate park will serve: according to publicskatepark.org, 1.7% of all youth will use a skate park. They even offer two calculations to determine the number of skateboarders in your town. One takes the total number of inhabitants in town (16,487) multiplied by .043. This makes for 709 skateboarders. The other calculation takes the number of the youth population (those under 18 years old) multiplied by .086 which according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau was 3,528. This makes for 303 skateboarders. Publicskatepark.org offers additional statistics that show that 70% of skateboarders are 18 years old and under and 77.1% are male. In all fairness, those numbers are a relatively small segment of the population. I do also understand that skateboarders from other municipalities will be welcomed to the skate park, but it will be the residents of Lansdale that pay for this park.

Now on to the current controversy regarding the skate park. The debate isn’t whether there should be one or not, but rather it is the debate as to WHERE it should go. According to the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Police Department, the best place for the skate park is in the grassy field adjoining Fourth Street Pool. There’s one big problem with this: a majority of the residents in this area, the three Council members who represent this Ward and me, the mayor, all believe that the skate park should not be built here. There are other options for placement of this skate park including Ninth Street and a new one proposed option by Councilman Rich DiGregorio and Borough resident, Rita Rubins, which is the newly acquired Freight Station property. I believe this would be a perfect spot for the skate park; it’s centrally located and it’s along the Liberty Bell Trail (which if I’m not mistaken was close to where the original proposal was slated, and it’s the reason why we received the grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in the first place).

To force the skatepark into a neighborhood where the residents don’t want it is wrong, especially when other potential locations exist. Furthermore, because there has been no groundswell or history of any organized skateboarding groups, clubs or associations, it would be my recommendation to cultivate these skateboarders into a cohesive organization of parents, skateboarders and donors that will put forth blood, sweat and tears into this project. (Additionally, the question that I also ask is this: if there is such a demand for a skatepark, why aren’t there any privately operated skateparks in the community?)

Lastly, if the only commitment to this project is from the Borough itself, it’s future looks as bright as the arts center. And if completed at the Fourth Street location, it also promises  to pit one group against another group which from my point of view as the mayor is not good for Lansdale.skateboard-photo

 

 

 

Madison Park Lot, Act II

Madison Lot photo 03282016This coming Tuesday night at 7:00 PM at Lansdale Borough Hall, there will be a public presentation of the updated Madison Parking Lot project that will include 170 apartments, 100 public parking spaces, a public plaza and a renovated Kugel Ball/Railroad Plaza. This is an immense project which will change downtown Lansdale, and it is important that the public attend. The Parking Authority which owns the Madison Parking Lot, will potentially make a motion to approve the concept plan as presented by Equus and authorize the Parking Authority to begin meetings on land development, planning commission, etc. While there are many steps ahead for Equus, a motion–  if approved– effectively gets the ball rolling on the project.

I have expressed my concerns in an earlier blog in October 2015 titled the Madison Parking Lot, https://mayorszekely.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/madison-parking-lot/. Since then, Equus has changed the layout of the buildings a bit making for a more attractive public plaza, a much needed renovated Kugel Ball/Railroad Plaza and a more urban look to the facades of the apartment buildings themselves. To their credit, this is an improvement over their last proposal.

However, the concerns that I detailed in my previous blog still stand as the number of apartments is still the same at 170 and the number of public parking spaces is still the same at 100. Of course, the issue of parking rises to the forefront. “We want a parking problem” is the glib cliche that I have heard numerous times, but what exactly does that mean? “Parking is difficult in Ambler, Phoenixville, Doylestown and Philadelphia, but we go there and take the trouble find parking and then walk, in some cases, quite a distance to go to a restaurant or a show or for shopping.” Again, this is what I have heard time and again.

Now let’s look at this logically. We want Lansdale to become a destination. How does this happen? People need a reason to want to come to town and spend money; this is obvious. What’s the recipe? Restaurants primarily because people need to eat every day followed by entertainment and then shops that may sell jewelry, clothes, art, etc. which people purchase less frequently. Unfortunately, towns like Lansdale, Ambler and Phoenxiville need their surrounding townships and municipalities to help support their businesses. When questioning the recently opened Stove & Tap about their demographics, I was told that a significant majority of their patrons drive to Lansdale.

Now here’s the million dollar question: does adding 170 apartments and 17,500 square feet of retail space make Lansdale a destination? 170 apartments will equate to approximately 250-300 people which is helpful, but will that magically fill the retail space?  Currently, there is 42,000 square feet of empty retail space on 300 block of Main Street alone (12,000 square feet in the old Woolworth’s building next to Stove & Tap, 5,000 square feet in the old PEAK Center, 22,000 square feet in 311 West Main Street and 3,000 square feet in the end building where Tabora Cafe used to be). So a total of 42,000 and 17,500 square feet makes 59,500 square feet of retail with 100 spaces.

And here’s the second million dollar question: if the 100 spaces are occupied, will patrons park in the SEPTA lot and then walk across the pedestrian bridge to the retail space in the Equus development or along Main Street? Also, keep in mind the SEPTA Lot will be occupied by commuters during the week (the potential for use of the SEPTA garage for Lansdale businesses is highest during the weekends).

If it is indeed true that additional restaurants and shops will need customers beyond Lansdale’s borders, then limiting EASY, ACCESSIBLE parking may be a problem especially for the property owners listed above whose potential businesses invariably will want that parking for their customers.

My advice for the Parking Authority is to take the time to digest thoroughly the presentation made by Equus. There is no need to take action on Tuesday night as the construction of the SEPTA garage has everything on hold anyway. (Plus, there was the sense from the meeting that I attended that this process has gone on too long with a lot of time and money spent, and a decision just needs to be made. A decision just for a decision’s sake is never good.)

Here are few other possibly relevant observations:

  • As an example Station Square which has 250 apartments, which are 95% rented, also has retail space which is only 50% occupied.
  • Lansdale may very well have two additional apartment complexes increasing the number of apartments by 200 possibly creating an increase in supply thus decreasing rents.
  • While Doylestown is used as a comparison for parking issues, there is a lot more money in Doylestown which can be spent on restaurants and shops. An indicator is housing prices: Lansdale’s average home price is $210,000 and Doylestown’s average home price is $360,000.
  • If a “parking problem” is a good thing to have, then why did SEPTA invest $25 million in creating a garage for an additional 300 spaces? And 175 spaces at the 9th Street Parking Lot? Because they wanted to ameliorate their parking problem. Think of it this way, SEPTA is taking care of their customers; they’re not saying, parking is going to be a problem, just drive around until you find a space. Lansdale should be thinking the same way when it comes to our guests who come to visit and support our businesses.
  • Also keep in mind, the Borough of Lansdale is still turning the Madison Parking Lot over to Equus for $1. Since this most recent proposal is a far cry from the original, I would recommend that the Parking Authority consider putting the project out to bid again as I have heard that since a parking garage is no longer required, many different developers are now interested which would offer different plans and ideas for the lot. Please see what’s happening in Chalfont for their transit oriented development: http://articles.philly.com/2015-03-30/real_estate/60607022_1_j-g-petrucci-co-greg-rogerson-manayunk.
  • And last but not least, as I mentioned in my previous blog about the Madison Parking Lot, let us not forget the successful events that occur there: Bike Night, the Farmers’ Market, the Beer Fest, staging for car shows, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

Dick Stricker

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Dick Stricker, who passed away yesterday at age 84, was one of Lansdale’s most colorful personalities. I came to know Dick after I became mayor seven years ago. He was the most frequent visitor in the mayor’s office, and he also stayed the longest. If someone was waiting outside, he would glance at them and continue talking. Dick had never been married (someone told me he was jilted at the altar) and therefore didn’t have any children. I guess one could say that Lansdale was his family. He owned numerous properties in town with two being some of the largest and most historical houses in Lansdale located on the corners of Columbia and Susquehanna Avenues (where he lived) and another located on Vine and Green Streets.

One humid August day in 2013, I stopped in to see him and show him a plaster art nouveau bust that I had taken out of the old Jenkins Theater before it was torn down. I rang the bell and to the door, slowly came Dick in his white sleeveless t-shirt and boxer shorts. He was happy to see the piece of art nouveau, Lansdale history, but what he really wanted was to show me his house. This is where things get a little peculiar.

Dick was an active member of the historical society and a founding member of the Board that preserved the Lansdale Cemetery. He owned houses that must have been fabulous in their heyday. He invited me into his house and gave me the tour. With a broom, he popped up one of the tiles of the drop down ceiling. “Look at that beautiful molding there! Look at these parquet floors!” as he pulled away the green shag rug. This once majestic house now was seven apartments. “Come with me, I want to show you something”. Up a flight of stairs no more than three feet wide to a landing then up some more stairs.  “Can you imagine that there once was a horseshoe double staircase here with a mahogany banister?” He eyes lit up as he described the grand architectural aspects of the house. ‘What happened to them?” I asked. “I tore them out”, he answered with no hint of irony. I couldn’t believe my ears; here was a member of the historical society talking about how he had dismantled this mansion to make room for apartments.

Now, before we judge Dick too harshly for his actions, this was a fairly common practice in the sixties, seventies and even eighties before architectural, historical consciousness set in. And as I understand it, Dick was a very kind and understanding landlord, and even though the apartments may have been dated, they were very clean and well maintained. As a single man, to have a gigantic house was not his style; he was practical and made money off of the buildings and provided housing for others. Very utilitarian and very characteristic of Lansdale.

Of course, Dick had his quirks. His constantly shrugging of his shoulders, his bulbous nose and his nasally pitched voice not quite fitting the largess of his body. There was his dark, ruddy skin color with deep creases in his forehead that he was inordinately proud of. The creases I believe were the result of some medical treatment that I can’t quite remember. And of course, his beloved Cadillac in which he sailed around Lansdale. He was also a  member of Lansdale Borough Council in the late seventies giving him carte blanche to criticize whatever was going on politically at the moment which he never hesitated to do. He was most happy with the Vine Street Expressway that was completed in September of 2014. According to him, with a newspaper article to back him up, he planned this project in 1977. He could die happy now.

A few years ago after I had painted Mayor Mike’s portrait, Dick came to me very soon after and asked when I could paint his portrait. I was a bit taken aback by his forwardness. “When could you start?” he asked. “You see, I’m not going to be here much longer,” he continued. Please keep in mind that this was the spring of 2013. I obliged him and invited him over to take some photos, which he then questioned as being good enough to make the portrait from. A few days went by and Dick called to see if I was working on the painting. I hadn’t even begun. I told him that I would call in a few weeks once it was close to ready. Once I had a portrait that was 90% finished I called him and he came over (within five minutes) to see the result. Walking around it and muttering a few “uh huhs” he asked if his hair was that grey. “I can darken it if you want,” I replied. “No, no. That’s ok. I’ll come back when you’re done.” He didn’t leave until he took a tour of my house this time and pointed out that I had very rare, irregular sized radiators.

Two weeks later he came back for the finished product. Inspecting the portrait, he declared, “I think you should darken those creases in my head a little. And that space between my teeth; is it that wide?” With the portrait on an easel on my front porch, I took out the brush, mixed up a little paint and made a few corrections. “That’s better!” Now came the instructions for his portrait after his death.

As I mentioned, Dick was a member of the Cemetery Board that cleaned up the cemetery in the sixties and seventies, therefore it may be no surprise that he was preoccupied with his death. Upon finishing his portrait, he gave me very specific directives as to where it should hang during his funeral at Huff & Lakjer, during his internment into the mausoleum (where according to him, his drawer is the best spot to observe those coming in and out of the mausoleum) and then finally, where it will hang in the historical society.

Dick Stricker was a kind old man, very typical of Lansdale with all its idiosyncrasies that make a life and a place interesting. Anyone who met Dick is most certain to have a story; I understand that there is a celebration in the works to honor his memory, which I hope will be a doozy. Please post your stories to this blog or send them to Dick Shearer at the Lansdale Historical Society at 137 Jenkins Avenue, Lansdale, Pennsylvania 19446.

 

Madison Parking Lot

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Last night Equus presented their revised plans to the Lansdale Parking Authority regarding the apartments in the Madison Parking lot. The original idea for the Madison Parking Lot was that in exchange for a parking garage, Lansdale Borough would give a developer seven acres of land downtown for the construction of apartments. This would help make Lansdale a “semi-urban” destination which would in turn stimulate more foot traffic along Main Street and thus create a demand for restaurants and other shops. Equus presented their plans to the Borough with much fanfare in December 2011. Here are links to the slideshow and article from the Reporter at that time in 2011:

http://www.thereporteronline.com/article/20111214/TMP08/312149965

http://www.thereporteronline.com/article/20111216/TMP08/312169968

Since then, Equus’ plans have changed. SEPTA has committed to adding approximately 300 parking spaces (bringing their number of Parking Spaces up to about 900) in their lot which– according to Equus and certain Borough officials at the time– obviated their need to build a garage themselves. In addition, the scale of the project has been reduced from its original plan in 2011. First, Equus did away with their plans for the condos and then they decided to phase the project with the first phase being 175 apartments with reduced retail space and the second phase being the additional 50 apartments and maybe a garage. In November 2013, Equus was asked in Council whether or not the second phase was guaranteed; summarized, their guarded response was, “We’ll wait and see what the market dictates.” And now, as of last night, their plan includes 160 apartments, public piazza, Liberty Bell Trail and 100 public parking spaces. Here is a link to an article from the Reporter documenting last night’s presentation to the Parking Authority.

Now, let’s put all this in perspective: the original project outlined in 2011 included a parking garage, 30 condos, extensive retail space, a piazza and 250 “high-end” apartments. Now the project is 160 apartments with no condos, no garage and 15-20K retail space. Equus even recently went to the North Penn School District asking for tax abatement for ten years which was unanimously rejected. And prior to even that, Governor Corbett awarded the project $2.5 million for public improvements. So in a nutshell:

  • The Borough has (almost but not quite) turned over seven acres of Borough property in the heart of downtown for $1.
  • SEPTA is building the parking garage.
  • They will potentially receive $2.5 million for public improvements from the State.
  • The current project is a far cry from what was originally proposed.

My thought for the Madison Lot is that we rethink the idea of apartments downtown altogether. The argument that an additional 160-200 people downtown will turn Lansdale into a destination doesn’t hold water. Many people don’t realize that the SEPTA parking lot holds 488 cars. Where are all those people? Why aren’t they stopping in town? 200 additional people is a small percentage of the total amount of people downtown. Lansdale needs more restaurants period.

And the next problem, which is going to be a big one, is parking. According to Equus’ latest proposal, there will be 100 public parking spaces. Currently, there are about 200 in the Madison Lot. They were supposed to be adding parking, not taking it away. As an example, when Molly Maguire’s was open, they had thirty-five employees on a Saturday night not to mention their patrons coming to the restaurant. The plan for the property next door– the former Impact Store location– is to have multiple food booths bringing in more people and therefore a need for more parking. Then there is 311 West Main Street, which we hope will be a destination, and that will need parking. Whoever inhabits the former Tabora Cafe will also need parking. And as we heard last night from the owners of Wilson’s Hardware, they need parking. If even half of Main Street develops, where are all their patrons and employees  going to park?

I know there has been a lot of time and effort that was put into this Madison Lot Project,  but instead of apartments and retail, let’s repave the lot including the grassy areas to the left of Wood Street (facing north) which should add an additional 150 spaces. See the map here:

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.2445894,-75.2870787,575m/data=!3m1!1e3

Incorporated into this will be trees lining the train tracks and trees in some of the medians separating some of the rows of parking. Let’s take advantage of the railroad instead of building a ten foot wall to block them as the apartment complex calls for. Lansdale is a train town, and we should take advantage of that. And instead of a skate park (which isn’t going to happen anyway), let’s install a train-themed pocket park with children’s rides encouraging families to the area. One person suggested a pop-up screen for a drive-in movie theater. In summary, let’s make it the most beautiful, well-lit parking lot in the region. And thinking longer term, imagine Lansdale as the hub for something like the Colbrookedale Railroad:

http://www.colebrookdalerailroad.com/

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20141213_Montco_town_hopes_carousel_and_train_will_revive_economy.html

I have asked myself and others this question: If Main Street was full of businesses, would we be entertaining the need for 160 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail downtown? When I look to Ambler, Phoenixville and Doylestown, their successful rebirths did not include massive projects such as an apartment building in the center of their town. (In addition, Ambler, Phoenixville and Doylestown would love to have the parking that we have right behind their Main Streets.) Their rebirths began one business at a time not with a massive project (again, top down instead of bottom-up) such as ours.

I think of Main Street as our “mall”. And what do malls have in common? Easy accessible parking. With an attractive, well-lit parking lot perhaps, shoppers would be more likely to visit Lansdale. Recently, as I questioned local businesses about the number of customers they had in a week, I was given an earful about the problem of parking. I fear that with an apartment building in the Madison Parking Lot and a parking garage on the other side of the tracks, potential visitors to Lansdale will simply bypass our town and the trouble associated with finding a space and opt for the Montgomery Mall or the next town such as Skippack, Ambler or Doylestown.

(And at least if my proposal is scrapped, please put this project out to bid again. Equus’ latest proposal is very different from their original plan. Here is an example of another developer that will be doing something very attractive in Chalfont. Please see below:)

Businesses downtown need customers. This is obvious. The larger question is how do we get them into town to stay and to return. Is an apartment complex the best way to do this? Or is an easily accessible and attractive parking lot the best way to attract customers? The trouble here is no one knows. Importantly, what we do know is that the Madison Parking Lot has gained importance as of late with the Farmers’ Market volunteers and vendors extremely satisfied with their new location in the Madison Lot, a sixth and very successful Beer Festival on the north end of the Madison Lot, nineteen Lansdale Bike Nights and numerous other car show stagings in the Madison Lot. All these events that bring people into Lansdale will have to find other locations for their events. We shouldn’t dismiss that for “development”. But I will remind Lansdale’s residents that once an apartment complex is built in the center of town, it is here to stay.

An Old Connection to Lansdale

Sam Kriebel is 93 years old, and he lives in the house where he was born; in fact, the house has been in his family for nine generations. It was built in 1783 by his ancestor Christopher Wiegner. As the crow flies, 45 Fretz Road in Lower Salford Township is about twelve miles from Lansdale. I have known Sam for about four or five years now, and I finally paid him a visit this past weekend. He knows that I am the mayor of Lansdale and therefore, interested in its history, so he mentioned that I should come take a look at some of his farm equipment manufactured in Lansdale at the turn of the last century by the Heebner Agricultural Works. The Heebner factory was located just north of the railroad tracks on Broad Street where Vespia’s Tire Center is now right across from Montellas Pub. This farm equipment was designed and built to convert horse power– actual horses walking on treadmills– into implements that would drive combines and threshers and the like. These farm machines made right here in Lansdale were shipped all over the world to places as far away as Czarist Russia. Unfortunately, the Heebner Family failed to recognize the significance of the internal combustion engine and before long the Heebner and Sons company was out of business. Here is a link to more information about the Heebner Agricultural Works written by Lansdale Historical Society President, Dick Shearer: http://lansdalehistory.org/articles/Booklet%20Town%20Is%20Born.pdf

Here are a few photos that I took while visiting Sam Kriebel at his farm (he doesn’t look a day over eighty).

Sam Kriebel 003

Here’s a five horse power motor (it looks more like the definition of a contraption to me) that drives belts that would then be attached to pulleys to drive the pumps that would bring water to the cows in the barn, another belt would drive a mill stone that would grind wheat and yet another would drive a conveyor belt for something else. This five horse power engine– while manufactured in Ohio– was installed by Lansdale’s Heebner at this very spot in 1902 according to Sam. It cost $390 in 1902. Looking down at the five horse power contraption, he joked that today there are weedwacker motors that produce five horsepower. Sam Kriebel 015

Sam Kriebel 018

Sam Kriebel 022

In the barn just on the other side of this powerhouse, were a corn cutter and a thresher made in Lansdale. What I find so interesting and nostalgic about this scene is that here is a living link to Lansdale’s past. No one lives forever so when Sam has departed this earth, this equipment will simply be that– metal and wood with some historical and monetary value, but no longer any sentimental value.

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Note the beautiful– yet entirely unnecessary– Pennsylvania Dutch ornamental painting on the side of the thresher. I can only imagine Sam’s grandfather, after a long, hot day in the Pennsylvania, summer sun finishing up with his work and looking down at this painting and thinking with pride about his sophisticated, modern equipment from the “big” town of Lansdale.

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Much like his grandson at ninety-three looking at the Heebner and Sons “portable” corn grinder/separator in April 2015.

 

Sam Kriebel 1 002

The State of Affairs in Lansdale

01212012 024On Wednesday night, Lansdale Borough Council voted 5-4 to terminate Timi Kirchner as Borough Manager. It is unfortunate when anyone loses their job especially in such a public forum as a Council meeting, but as public officials and political appointees this is the downside of what we signed up for. Without a doubt, Ms. Kirchner has served the Borough well in various capacities. Among some of her achievements, she has improved the morale of Staff, instituted managerial hierarchy and she has outlined goals and evaluated their completion as was witnessed in her slideshow presentation last night.

However, as I have outlined in this blog on numerous occasions there have been some questionable policy decisions overseen by Ms. Kirchner. Denton Burnell was correct last night when he stated that, “it was Council who authorized the spending” on such projects such as 311 Arts and the Borough Hall. But as an advisor to Council, I think that not advocating for additional architectural bids was imprudent. I have argued this in the past and to this day, I have not received a rational answer as to why the project was not put out to bid. Could the Borough have saved $2 or $3 or perhaps $4 million? We’ll never know. Furthermore, for the past sixteen months, Lansdale has been operating out of four trailers that cost the Borough a little over $100,000. There has been no interruption of services to our community, in fact, in March 2014 the Administration recognized Staff for their excellence in getting Lansdale through a difficult winter. This occurred while operating out of four trailers.

We paid $500,000 on nearly completed architectural plans for 311 West Main Street before Laura Burnham and Shirley Trauger presented their final assessment of their study. Was this prudent spending and planning? No.

Another misstep for Ms. Kirchner was the constant demonization of previous Councils and Borough Manager, Lee Mangan. While Mr. Mangan may not have been perfect, a lot of development occurred in Lansdale from 2000 to 2008 including the Turbo Lofts and West Main Gateway shopping center with Starbucks, the Pavilion Shopping Center, Station Square, Stony Creek Park and the West Main Streetscape grant. All very nice additions to Lansdale. Never was a conciliatory tone taken or an olive branch offered to those who previously served the Borough. No one is perfect and we should remember that.

Finally, the question to pose Lansdale residents is this: “What is the role of local government?” I think everyone would agree that public safety is first and foremost, followed by uninterrupted electricity, functioning sewer treatment, smooth roads, i.e., a sound infrastructure at minimal cost. As these requirements are satisfied, then quality of life issues such as libraries, parks and other “soul” enriching elements may or may not follow suit.

We saw what happened when trying to instill the arts in town through the purchase and renovation of 311 West Main Street; the Borough lost $3 million never to return. Will the average Lansdale residents’ lives be improved substantially with a $13-14 million Borough Hall? Imagine if we saved even as little as $3 or $4 million by going through a proper architectural bidding process; $1.5 million could have gone to a renovation of the Kugal Ball/Railroad Plaza, $500,000 to the Lansdale Historical Society, $300,000 for improved playground facilities at Whites Road Park, $200,000 for the Library; or simply passed the savings on the the Lansdale resident; the list goes on and on. The reason I mention these possibilities is that money spent on the examples above would have affected and improved the lives of more Lansdale residents than the money spent on Borough Hall.

Here are a few thoughts to ponder: if the Borough is operating efficiently and effectively, why does anyone need to go to the Administrative Borough Hall? The average attendance to Borough Council meetings is thirteen residents. Does anyone believe that number will increase with a new Borough Hall? Where would you rather be on a warm summer Wednesday evening? Sitting in a new Borough Hall listening to a debate over rate increases or sitting in a beautifully reconfigured Railroad Plaza? Will a new Borough Hall bring in new businesses? Or will lower taxes bring in new businesses? Interesting questions to think about our government moving forward.

I truly appreciate what Timi Kirchner has done in Lansdale, and I wish her every success in the future.