Monthly Archives: February 2013

Borough Hall

Borough hall 001

Out of last week’s Administration and Finance Committee meeting, it has been proposed that Council take action at the next meeting whether or not to proceed with the demolition of Borough Hall and the Police Station. This will make way for a new Borough Hall/Police Station complex. This proposal came out of a facilities and grounds study done by architects,  Spiezle and Associates. They have concluded that Lansdale Borough Hall and the Police Station are in dire need of renovation and updating, and they presented four different options for renovating and updating these two buildings. Their plans range from simply repairing deficiencies and therefore, keeping the two buildings intact to building a new police station and keeping the old Borough Hall to demolishing both buildings and starting from scratch. Needless to say, the last recommendation has caused quite a stir here in town (I think most people, including myself, agree that a new Police Station does make sense). 

Demolishing Borough Hall in particular strikes a nerve because it is a historic building in town and as we all know, Lansdale has not done well when it comes to preserving old buildings. In fact, one of the most stinging criticisms here in Lansdale is that we have bulldozed just about every historic structure in Borough– the Tremont, the Eitherton, the Theater, the Longacker, the Bienacker, the list goes on an on. In speaking with my resident elders, I know that it was with great pride that the One Vine Street was dedicated as Lansdale’s new Borough Hall in 1988. Twenty-five years have gone by since then and like our homes it needs updating and repair work, but demolishing? That is a question the residents must answer. And in contrast to the buildings named above which were private property, Borough Hall belongs to ALL of us residents.

The architectural firm, Spiezle and Associates, was contracted to do a facilities study in order to independently and objectively assess the condition of Lansdale’s structures. I understand this rationale to a certain extent. What I don’t understand is that Borough Council will be voting in two weeks to decide if Spiezle will also be contracted to provide the architectural plans for the Borough. If this is the case, then they just wrote their own ticket. According to laws of the State of Pennsylvania, professional services– such as a architectural, engineering and legal– do not have to go out to bid. Our Borough Manager can simply recommend any professional with Council’s approval (that includes consultants which we have had our fair share of). My point here is that there are no competing estimates or proposals; we simply have to accept Spiezle’s recommendation. Are there other ideas out there with lower estimates? We don’t know. As a business (and the Borough likes to say that we should operate more like a business) considering a large project, typically a minimum of three estimates is recommended. In the case of the construction and/or repairs of Borough Hall we have only one estimate which is from Spiezle and Associates.

For example, according to Spiezle’s facilties and grounds assessment on page 19 it is stated that, “Additionally, the Borough Manager does not have private restroom facilities so he/she must use the public restroom through the lobby.” This may be a cheap shot, but does the Borough Manager really need his or her own bathroom? Are there other issues in the Facilities and Grounds Study that need a second look? Other items that are perhaps, nice but not necessary? I am an elected official, and I have an obligation to the taxpayer and not to staff.

On a more philosophical level, I will ask this question: how does spending lavishly on a new Borough Hall improve the lives of the average Lansdale resident? As a resident, I want my toilets to flush, my lights and heat to work, my roads to be relatively smooth and my community safe and my taxes commensurate. In 1970, Lansdale’s population was 18,451. That is 2,182 MORE than in 2010. There were no computers back then AND the Borough functioned in a smaller space at 421 West Main Street. How is it that now in 2013, we have outgrown our current Borough Hall? (By the way, the average attendance by the public to Borough Hall meetings is 13) Could the answer be an ever expanding bureaucracy?

Finally, I have heard time and again from the administration that the Borough needs to invest in itself or no one else will. Do people flock to Doylestown for their Borough Hall? For that matter, has Pottstown’s new Borough Hall revitalized the their downtown? Will a new Borough Hall improve my property values and entice businesses to come to Lansdale? These are important questions that need to be asked before we commit to spending a lot of money on a project that has debatable benefits to the average tax payer. As always, I welcome your thoughts and if you feel strongly either way about this issue, please contact me or your Borough representative. 

Borough hall 003

The above photo is the corner stone for the Lansdale Post Office that became Lansdale Borough Hall in 1988.

Kudos to Council

As I mentioned in my previous post, I said there would be praise which couldn’t be more timely. First, congratulations to the Lansdale Parking Authority for securing $2.5 million from the State through Representative Robert Godshall’s office. A month or so ago, the Lansdale Historical Society presented, “Revitalization Throughout the Years”, which detailed Lansdale’s attempts at the development of the Madison parking in the sixties and then the eighties and then again in the early 2000’s. For one reason or another all these attempts had failed. That is until this most recent push from the Parking Authority. While there is still a lot that needs to be done before the project commences, this certainly is a good start. I know that the businesses in town– whether old or new– will appreciate the additional foot traffic of up to 500 or more people within a three minute walk. Another hope is that this  Transit Oriented Development (TOD) will help stimulate a demand to fill the vacant storefronts along Main and Broad in the heart of town. More people means more business and more businesses mean a more dynamic downtown experience.

Borough hall 004

Second, I must also tip my hat to this Council for their support of the Lansdale Police Department. By adding six additional officers since 2010, the Department has gone from a reactionary mode to dealing with crime to a more planned, methodical approach. With more officers on the streets there is a message that is clear: crime will not be tolerated in Lansdale. A recent example is the apprehension of three suspects in the Hen’s Coins aggravated assault and robbery. Within three days the suspects were in custody. And crime overall in Lansdale has dropped 30% in the past three years (wouldn’t it be nice if crime dropped 10% every year; in seven more years we’d be crime free). This tenacity of the Lansdale Police Department should help to allay the fears and concerns of residents and business owners in town. As I have said numerous times, all of our efforts at revitalization don’t mean a thing without safe streets.

Borough hall 005

Election 2013/The Borough Prior to 2010

For those who don’t know, petitions will be due in a month setting the stage for the 2013 Lansdale election in which five Council seats will be contested in addition to the mayor’s seat. As I had mentioned in my first entry in this blog, my purpose in writing has been to get the public more involved and aware of the governing process. At the time of this writing, I am unsure whether or not I will run again for the position of mayor, but regardless, I will offer my vision for Lansdale including a few observations I have made in the past four and a half years with a sprinkling of criticism and a peppering of praise. In order to make reading this a little easier, I will break these observations up into “microblogs” that I will publish once a week or so. For my microblog number one, The Borough Prior to 2010 is the theme.

The Borough Prior to 2010

A common tactic for incoming elected officials is to demonize their predecessors. This is only natural since an election is a competition– like sport– where there is a winner and a loser. However, in sport there is also an ethic of sportsmanship. In fact, it is the American way. While this Council and administration have done some very, good things—which I will eventually come to—there has also been a collective amnesia regarding some of the accomplishments that actually occurred in the few short years prior to 2010.

When my wife, Szilvia, and I moved back into the Borough in 2003 after a long absence, Lansdale was looking a little rough. There was the dilapidated Turbo Building at the intersection of West Main Street and Valley Forge Road  and the empty Drug Emporium building at the entrance to Lansdale on South Broad Street. These and other eyesores in town were in desperate need of rehabilitation. Fast forward to 2008: there was redevelopment of the West End Gateway to town including the Turbo Lofts and Walgreens (we even have a Starbucks now!), the redevelopment of the Pavilion Shopping Center and the entirely new Station Square complex and Homewood Suites Hotel to name two other big projects.  There was also the re-purposing of the Santerians building into very nice apartments called the Silk Factory and the transformation of the softball fields on East Hancock Street into that lovely Stonycreek Park that many enjoy. And to top it all off, there was the completion of the White’s Road Rotary Centennial Bandshell in 2005. Not bad for five years! I also know that Lansdale certainly appreciates its new sidewalks and street trees along Main and Broad Streets which were part of a Federal grant given by our Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz to Council in 2004. What I would like to remind the public and our Council and administration is that not once was the previous Council or administration thanked or acknowledged publicly during the dedication of the Streetscape Project that cold morning back in January 2011. These have been important steps in the revitalization of Lansdale which have served as a catalyst to where we are today (Hell, I didn’t even have a hand in those!). To dismiss these achievements is irresponsible. (And like I said, there will also be praise for this Council and administration.)

My advice for the future: give praise when appropriate; it makes for a more harmonious community.

Here are a few before and after photos:

BEFORE: Santerian’s Building (note boarded up windows)

Santerians Building

AFTER: The Silk Factory Apartments

Silk factory

BEFORE: Main Street Looking West along old Turbo Building

Turbo Exterior

AFTER: Pizza Hut, Saigon on Main, Starbucks, others

Turbo

BEFORE: Gary’s Drug Emporium, Town and County Bowling, The Patio Cafe

Gary's Plaza 2

AFTER: The Pavilion with numerous shops and new store fronts

First Blog of 2013 008

BEFORE: The old Ford Philco Plant

Ford Philco

AFTER: Station Square apartments and Shops, Homewood Suites Hotel

Station Square

Main Street Looking East with the new trees and sidewalks (no before photo here either)

Streetscape

The lovely Stony Creek Park (unfortunately, I could not find any before photos of the softball fields)

First Blog of 2013 010

The White’s Road Rotary Centennial Bandshell built in 2005

Whites Road Bandshell