Candidate Questions: Perry Swartz (R) Running for Whitemarsh Township Supervisor

Free feel to use this space to tell readers about yourself and anything else you want to share.

My name is Perry Swartz.  I have been a Whitemarsh resident since 1977, when we bought our first house at 222 Birch Drive.  I have been married to my wife Annette for 43 years.  I have 2 children and 4 grandchildren.  I was a police officer in Norristown for 8 years.  I then went into business.  I have owned several businesses since.  I have always been involved in giving back to the community.  I have been a volunteer firefighter for over 50 years.  I held the office of Captain at Lincoln Fire Company, and Assistant Fire Chief, Chief Engineer, President, and Vice President at Barren Hill Fire Company.  I have been on various committees at BTBJ synagogue over the years.  I have volunteered to assist at many school district functions, from cooking for the spaghetti dinner for several years at Whitemarsh Elementary to helping with numerous functions and fundraisers at CMS.  I am running for Township Supervisor because I have been upset with the way the township has been run for the past decade.

Politically, I was a registered Democrat for 49 years, 11 months, and 2 weeks when I switched to the Republican party to run for Supervisor.  My reason for running is that, in my opinion, the local Democrat party has become a money machine for the anointed few politicians, and there are outside entities contributing money in exchange for profit making favors, usually at OUR considerable expense.  Before committing to run, I made certain with Terence that I would have no political interference as I did my job as Supervisor.  He assured me there would be none, and there has been none during the campaign.  My views, as well as my running mates’ views, are traditional mainstream Democrat in my opinion.  I am an environmentalist, and I believe we are responsible for taking care of this earth and our little corner of it.  I am an advocate for the emergency services, especially the volunteer members (and their families who share them with us) who, as a matter of course, potentially put themselves in danger on a daily basis to protect us.  I support public and parochial education.  I am an active supporter of the PCF candidates.  I am also an advocate for the preservation of our precious historic structures and the history that goes with them.  Nowhere else in the country has what we have.  They MUST be better protected.

It’s ironic; it seems that in our case, the stereotypical Republican and Democrat positions have switched.  Local Republicans (my running mates and I, 1 former Dem, 1 former Independent, and 1 Republican) have a mainstream Democrat platform, while the Democrats are, in my opinion, being controlled by big money contributions from inside and outside the county.

What is the most important issue in your neighborhood and how would you address it if elected?

There are several.  The one that “broke the camel’s back” for me was the disgraceful (in my opinion) performance by the Zoning Hearing Board in approving the cell phone tower behind the Barren Hill Fire Company, over the strenuous and well organized and presented objection by the surrounding neighbors.  This proved to me that the current board has NOT set a general agenda to place NEIGHBORS’ interests and quality of life issues FIRST.  If you elect the team, we will create an agenda for assuring the neighbors’ best interests first, and all personnel, committees, and commissions will be expected to perform their responsibilities in accordance with it. 

Another concern of mine in my neighborhood is the condition of the Germantown Pike corridor.  I will address that issue under question 8.

How have you funded your campaign and who are your five largest donors?

Our campaign has been funded by small grass-roots donations, in addition to two larger donations by local families. All of our campaign material was paid for through the Whitemarsh Republican Committee.

The county has a plan to fix Butler Pike, but it doesn’t have a plan to address the ongoing issue of storm water along Butler Pike in the historic district. During the September presentation by the county on the status of Butler Pike, it was apparent neither the county or the township had made an effort to get all of the property owners along that portion of Butler Pike in a room to start a discussion on solving the problem. If elected, what would you do differently?

Water runs downhill.  Probably the biggest obstacle to the solution is the proposed 67 townhouses at the top of the hill, so generously approved by the Board of Supervisors.  While I am constantly learning about this problem, I am certainly not an expert on this issue, and I have a lot of questions, starting with the proposed townhouses.  It is common knowledge that sinkholes currently exist on the property.  It is also basic knowledge that increased impervious surfaces exacerbate the problem.  The Township is and has been aware of this, and yet has approved the application.  When the townhouses are built, if damage to life and/or property occurs as a result of the sinkholes, will the Township be liable?  Will the builder, who also had this knowledge?  Will the Township demand that the builder put a disclaimer on all promotional materials for the sale of the houses stating that they are built on potentially unstable ground? 

There are private engineering companies, one located locally in East Norriton, who deal with this specific issue, could be consulted in order to move the process along in a much quicker and organized manner.  By hiring consultants such as this company, their focus would be on this one project, instead of the county and other contributing entities who have many projects to deal with. They would also be responsible for communication and meetings between the involved entities. 

If the choice is to keep it local and in-house, and the County is not pursuing the issue with the necessary urgency (which I believe they are not), There’s no doubt that our team would take the bull by the horns and get things moving by constantly communicating with the relevant entities and make sure they are communicating with each other, and always thinking outside the box for ways to expedite.  I am not aware of whether or not the Township Engineer is an expert on this issue, but I have always been in favor of consulting experts to perform expert quality work in the most expedient and competent manner.  They are almost always worth the investment in the long run. 

The Colonial School District recently underwent a bidding process for a new middle school. The bids received under its “Responsible Contractors” policy resulted in just two bids and both were over budget. After the school board waived the policy for the general contractor and rebid the project, it received double the number of bids. The school district was able to secure a general contract at a savings of three to four million dollars. Should Whitemarsh Township review its RCO and consider repealing it?

The “Responsible Contractors” policy, in my opinion based on local observation, should be reconsidered.  First, a disclaimer- I am a former union member as was my wife, and as is my daughter.  I believe unions, at their time of inception, were born of necessity. They were and are responsible for improving the quality of life and working conditions of, and fighting for fair wages for, worker groups who could not accomplish these goals without an organized program.  I also believe that non-union companies, when properly vetted, can have equal qualifications.  My case in point is the PW High School project.  Initially, the replacement of the school was discussed.  The school board members at that time decided to renovate and add to the existing building, and in doing so, save the taxpayers millions of dollars.  I believe a PW alumnus was hired as the architect.  When it was completed, if I recall just slightly over budget but a savings of millions over a new building, the result was excellent.  Go see for yourselves.  The next plan was to do the same thing with the middle school.  I believe the same general plan was implemented, again with a potential savings of millions of dollars over the cost of a new building.

Enter the Felix Raimondo majority school board.  The renovation project was trashed in favor of a new building, at an additional cost of around $28 million dollars, I’ve been told, to be paid for by us, of course. Many believe this was the payoff for outside union donations.  This is what the “Responsible Contractors” policy did for us.  I believe the one flaw that the Raimondo board made a big deal about to try to justify “RC”, was a grading problem or something similar having to do with water entering the high school at one certain location during big storms.  Every project is going to have something that needs to be corrected in the end.  Again, there are many highly qualified non-union companies capable of performing this work.  There’s enough work to go around for union AND non-union companies.

Over the past couple years there has been growing concern about development, especially as it pertains to townhouse developments. What is your view of townhouse developments? And if they are a concern, what would you do to manage their growth?

Whitemarsh is a suburban bedroom community.  This is what people sought when it first began to be developed en masse in the 1940s.  It’s why people want to live here.  If you look at the age and architecture of the “developments”, the first ones appear to be those built off of Germantown Pike from Crescent down to Joshua.  They were all single family dwellings.  Development continued just that way over three decades, until the first townhouse development, Lafayette Estates, was built off of Ridge (this is Birch Drive and Ash Lane) in 1977.  This was the first highly anticipated affordable new housing being built in Whitemarsh.  I was a police officer then, and the builder gave us the courtesy of having the first pick of houses as a show of appreciation for our public service.  Eight of us from three different departments purchased, and the rest of the development sold out within days.  Living there was a fabulous family experience.  Many of the buyers, almost all young, were excited at the thought of being able to give their kids the opportunity to grow up in a row house community like we did.  The block was one big family.  As the years went on and families grew in size and in age, most of us moved on to larger houses, many staying in the township.

As time goes on, things change, things become done more “efficiently”.  To a developer, in many cases that means “cramming as many townhouses onto a postage stamp as we can.”  An example is the unacceptable proposal to build townhouses behind the Plymouth Meeting post office.  This involves the necessity for “shared parking”.  This is because the developer wants to build more houses on the property instead of providing adequate parking and other space for residents and their guests.  This same scenario is being planned for the proposed townhouses at Butler and Skippack, and I find it totally unacceptable.  Any development should be properly allocated to be a self-contained “unit”, providing adequate living space, parking space for all scenarios, and recreational space and green space, which includes canopy-type trees.  I have no problem with responsibly planned townhouse developments at the proper location, and in the proper proportion to other housing types in the Township.  Developers can either choose to work with us toward an acceptable goal, or be our adversaries.  If elected, the team will ensure that Whitemarsh no longer has a reputation as “easy” among developers.

Does Whitemarsh need a connection to 76? If so, how would you advocate for it?

Whitemarsh needs a connection to 76 just as urgently as it needs more sinkholes.  Being not a Township decision, it would be a county, state, and probably federal level project.  It would be the end of Whitemarsh as we know it, and if I was still alive, they’d have to run my ass over to get the first bulldozer in.

The business district in Lafayette Hill has outdated strip malls with bad parking lots. What could be done to encourage the property owners to make improvements?

More than 15 years ago, I sat on the first Township committee to discuss the rehabilitation of the Germantown Pike corridor.  It was me, Celine Childs, and 3 or 4 others.  We had 4 or 5 meetings, and the Chair handed the findings over to the Supervisors at the time, and the report got filed.  Several years later, another committee was formed.  This one chugged along, and resulted in the Township ultimately receiving a $1.8 MILLION dollar grant for the rehab of the Pike.  The rights of way were obtained, and then……..and then……  And then the $1.8 MILLION had to be returned because of inaction by the board.  It’s not just the strip malls, it’s the whole Pike that needs to be redone, and there are certain important and maybe urgent concerns here.  The individual stores at the Top Shelf center at Crescent Av. have several different owners.  Over the years, I have seen NO cooperation between them to improve the center.  The sidewalk there is a weeded disgrace.  But that is not as much of a concern to me as the Wawa center.

ALL of the stores in these centers are almost always occupied.  Vacancy is rare, because there is a lot of disposable income in Whitemarsh, and almost all of the stores are vital, local-resident- focused service stores.  What concerns me there is the long term vacancy of the double store next to Wawa.  It was rumored that they wanted to expand their store.  That has not happened.  It is also rumored that they want to buy the whole center and knock it down to make it a Wawa-only property.  This would have a devastating effect on our community.  All of us, including the local young and elderly, patronize those stores daily, and their continued existence is vital to our community.  I doubt that the current BOS even has a thought about this, and is probably doing nothing to help prevent such a takeover through pro-active zoning and code changes.

As for the parking lots, in reality, they work.  I navigate both of them regularly.  There is constant movement in the Wawa lot, but because it is angle parking, ingress and egress from spots is facilitated.  The number of spots appears to be adequate, because the overflow lot at the rear is rarely used by customers.  The Top Shelf lot is almost always near full, and the wide driveway between the spots make for easier navigation.

Grant money for a Pike project needs to be secured.  More than that, I will advocate for an experienced grant writer in our administration.  More grant money needs to be secured for different types of projects in the township in addition to the Pike, which is an obvious priority.