Last week there was a public hearing regarding the Conshohocken Revitalization Plan. I could not attend, so I asked local public relations executive Tony DeFazio to cover it for me:
They sat patiently, attentively. Twenty or thirty. Some spoke their mind. Others sought information. They were all there – residents, business owners and concerned citizens – to hear how what Borough planners KSK Architects, Planners, Historians, Inc. proposed would shape the future of Conshohocken for the next 10 years. It was an update on the Borough’s 2002 initiative which, according to Borough Council member Jason Salus, has resulted in new streetscapes, greening and tree planting projects along Washington and Cherry Streets, new bicycle racks on Fayette Street, signage being developed for the riverfront, as well as street improvement that revitalized the length of East Hector Street.
After one year of research involving an ad hoc community revitalization committee, a number of public meetings and following a public comment period reported here and on community blogs, the “Conshohocken Revitalization Plan Update – The Community Revisited” was presented to Borough Council last Wednesday, May 4th. KSK’s Elizabeth Lankenau provided the following recommendations:
- Facilitate first floor retail along Fayette street from 2nd-6th streets
- Reposition and rebrand community as waterfront destination
- Improve communications to and between Borough and community
- Add way-finding and other directional signing linking retail to waterfront
KSK’s Chris Lankenau then followed with an economic analysis of the Borough. They included:
- Strong housing market, with average home valued at $250,000. Two hundred homes were sold, values have increased 8.5 percent, well above surrounding areas
- Saturated rental market with apartment complexes dealing with double-digit vacancies
- Suggestion that an entertainment option such as a performance theatre could succeed
- Borough committees such as the Business Development Commission are helping attract businesses
The presentation, lasting two hours, was part of Borough Council’s Monthly Workshop meeting. Following the presentation, a number of residents asked pointed questions of Borough Council and the planners. Among them was Chris Savage, who lives in The Grand, who asked about demographic trends in the community and whether they supported the findings in the plan. And then there was Dan Huff from East Elm Street, who was concerned about the quality of the alleys and who was responsible for maintenance. But the biggest fireworks came when Gerry Neal, a long-time resident of the Borough, grilled planners and Council members about the boathouse going in along Washington Street. As reported here on More Than The Curve and elsewhere, the Borough has partnered with Malvern Prep and Friends of Haverford to construct and operate what Borough believes could be the centerpiece or linchpin in the Borough’s effort to reclaim the waterfront and connect it back to the community. Exactly as was advocated in the Revitalization Plan. Neal worried about the cost and who would pay for it. Borough Solicitor John A. DiPietro explained that most of the funding was being provided by schools themselves.
How did we get here? According to Chris Stetler, community zooming and development officer for the Borough, Borough Council established the community revitalization committee to manage the 2002 plan and update it to keep current with community development needs. They provided the visioning and framework; KSK conducted the research and produced the recommendations. Now the plan has to be approved by Borough Council in its entirety and then it moves onto the Montgomery County Community and Revitalization Committee for approval. While that is a formality, it is an essential step to be eligible for implementation funding by Borough Council. “Finding the funding is going to be the hard part,” says Stetler. “Economic development dollars are hard to come by. We are operating in a time of scarce resources from the state and county.” That may be true, but Stetler has contacts and history of finding suitable matching funds – bother private and public – for projects in Conshohocken.
So, will the community continue to be a beacon of economic development? Time will tell. But the plan is in place. The roadmap has been created. It’s now time for a creative, dedicated citizenry interested the future of Conshohocken to keep the plan on track and find the support it needs for it to come to life.
For more on the Revitalization Plan, see the link on Borough’s website here: http://conshohockenpa.org/borough-services/planning-and-development. To offer support or ask questions, contact Chris Stetler, community zooming and development officer at: 610-828-1092 ext. 120.
Anthony J. DeFazio
DeFazio Communications, LLC