Mayor Allyson Dobbs

Jenkintown Borough Council Highlights

At last week’s Borough Council meeting we learned:

More apartments for Jenkintown. Jeffrey Lustig came before council seeking approval for his plans to build apartments on the second and third floor of the Wells Fargo bank building at the corner of York and West. He got it, but not before the owner of Buckets voiced his concerns about — what else — parking. Credit goes to Council president Deborra Sines-Pancoe for pointing out to Mr. Bramen that his signs posted all around his lot warn that he will tow cars that don’t belong there.

Parking meter fees will be doubling, from twenty five cents to fifty cents per hour.

The Borough has issued a demolition permit for the Salem Baptist Church property. Look for wrecking balls soon.

Melissa Ashton Young Resigns — right on time. Council’s agenda listed its intent to accept the resignation letter of Melissa Young and then to appoint Maxine Marlowe, a former council member, to her post. These two agenda items were tabled without explanation. Ms. Young has largely been AWOL on the board in the past year and made no secret of her displeasure of serving. Her term was set to expire this year, but in a classic tactic, she will resign early to allow for an appointment and to avoid any primary fight. Democracy at work!

Mayor Dobbs is camera shy? Someone needs to explain to our elected representatives, maybe upon swearing in, that they are public officials and when in a public hearing, they have no right to privacy. So, when a reporter or a citizen comes and starts taking pictures, maybe they should just shut up and deal with it. When I pointed my camera at Mayor Allyson Dobbs (above), she launched a tirade about my rudeness. “What would David Sedaris think?” Madame Mayor, I don’t give a rat’s ass what David Sedaris thinks.

Bunker suggests selling our sewers to Aqua. Social Media Bully and Council Vice President Rick Bunker raised an obvious question not asked at this months earlier public works hearing: In the face of the huge bill faced by the borough for sewer remediation and redirection from Cheltenham to Abington, why not just sell off the sewers to Aqua? As previously reported, Aqua is expected to close a deal to take over Cheltenham’s system, which may lessen our financial burden, but perhaps we can kill two birds. Pros and cons on both sides, so expect this issue to dominate community discussion for much of this year.

Jenkintown’s motion to dismiss, strike one

Jenkintown’s attorney fails with first attempt to dismiss civil rights lawsuit but tries again

The Times-Chronicle recently reported that the Borough’s attempt to have the civil rights suit against it dismissed failed — and failed rather quickly. Three days later, the Borough and its co-defendants, Deborra Sines-Pancoe, Rick Bunker, George Locke, and Sean Kilkenny updated the motion and refiled it yesterday.

To update yesterday’s post about the court’s rejection of the Borough’s motion to dismiss, the defense attorney almost immediately redrafted and resubmitted the motion.

These filings take up over 30 pages and involve many hours of billable time, all paid for by you and me.

Also, I have posted something similar at the JCP, but the admin saw fit to turn off commenting, citing how such bad news might scare away prospective residents.

I don’t know about you, but if I were about to sink $300,000-plus into a new community, I’d appreciate knowing what crawls under the municipal rocks before I sign on the dotted lines.

You may download a copy of the second motion here

Jenkintown Borough leadership may appeal Downs ZHB decision

Jenkintown Borough leadership considered appeal of Downs ZHB decision

[Update: The Borough had 30 days to appeal, and the window has closed. Nonetheless, it is our opinion that the Borough should have shut down this this matter well before the first hearing.]

Apparently a unanimous vote against them failed to convince the Borough to stand down after all. According to documents we’ve received today via a Right-to-Know request, Jenkintown Borough is or was considering an appeal of the ZHB vote taken last month regarding the notice of violation against the Downses.

I just received copies of the July invoices pertaining to the Downs ZHB hearing. What I’ve included here is the invoice from Rudolph Clarke, the firm representing the ZHB. The total for that month from all the invoices amount to another $3500. What stands out is the $1162 the Borough spent AFTER the vote researching a possible appeal. If the appeal window has not closed, this ordeal might not be over after all. If it has, another $1162 in taxpayer money just went up in smoke.

Question: Has Jenkintown Borough leadership gone insane?

Rudolph Clark invoice to Jenkintown for July 2018
f=”https://www.walkablejenkintown.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/ClarkeInvoice.png”> Rudolph Clark invoice to Jenkintown for July 2018[/capt
The notes over the redactions reveal the easily discerned text under the marker ink. Click the image for a larger view.

Hellweg Funeral Home building Jenkintown PA
The former Hellweg Funeral Home on York Road. Fully occupied and generating revenue.

Jenkintown backs away from Taco Hell

Council comes to its senses

Last night, Jenkintown Borough Council staged a pop-up meeting to decide whether or not it should continue supporting the idea of a Taco Bell with drive-through in a spot where its own zoning prohibits it. Spoiler alert: They rescinded their support by a vote of 8-2, although this motion only removes their previous support of the idea. It does not mean that they now oppose it.

Voting “no” was council vice president and social media bully Rick Bunker and David Ballard. Chuck Whitney and Christian Soltysiak were not in attendance. Kieran Farrell and Melissa Young literally phoned it in.

This evening’s meeting turned out about thirty people, including the president of Summerwood, Scott Hummel, the prospective buyer of the property, and their attorney. They and exactly one other resident spoke in support of this development.

First, a note about transparency. Council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe has repeatedly expressed her commitment to transparency and making every effort in that regard. So, if you find yourself laughing out loud the next time she brings up the topic, no one will blame you. The Borough created that PDF only two days before the meeting and it posted it online sometime between then and yesterday afternoon when we discovered it. It did not send out an email, post a notice on their Facebook page, or put anything on its own website news feed. That is not commitment. That is lip service.

New evidence discounts Summerwood’s tax claims

Much of the argument in favor of a single-story fast-food franchise, surrounded by a parking lot with drive-through open seven days until 2 A.M. centered around tax revenue projections. These claims came accompanied by more falling-sky predictions for the school district if the Borough denies Summerwood the opportunity to send even more critical density necessary for a viable central district to a landfill.

If Mr. Bunker would only look up from his taco plate and actually do the research … he might understand that favoring automobiles over pedestrians has historically destroyed downtowns.

However, new information emerged about the fallacy of a tax-receipt windfall from Taco Bell. In terms of gross business revenue, the two firms currently occupying the Hellweg building already generate roughly the same amount as a typical Taco Bell. On the raw financials alone, the opposition drove a stake into the heart of the variances. This project can claim no advantage to the borough or the school district that should compel the ZHB to override.

Also of note, one resident pointed out that the Hellweg family never advertised its property for sale. We still don’t know the details on how Summerwood and Mr. Hummel got together on this deal, but we may never know what might have happened if Mr. Hummel actually advertised this property. Developers are indeed not shy, as one resident pointed out, but they do tend to run in their own tribes.

Drive-through = blight

Aside from the financials, Rick Bunker dismissed the opposition’s research out of hand and made an egregiously uninformed claim that the opposition cared only about aesthetics. If Mr. Bunker would only look up from his taco plate and actually do the research on the value of pedestrian-friendly development, he might understand that favoring automobiles over pedestrians has historically destroyed downtowns. 

Jenkintown has a few bright spots, but York Road between Cloverly and Washington Lane continues to decline, both in terms of aesthetics and property value. In fact, the JSD has cited the declining tax base in the central business district as the primary reason for taking more money from homeowners.

This vote now leaves it up to the Zoning Hearing Board and PennDOT, which must agree to installing a new traffic light at the location — and not at York and Cherry. We’re told that the odds of PennDOT putting a light at Taco Bell’s entrance run somewhere between slim and none, but it should still bother residents that a bureaucrat in Harrisburg has so much control over the future of our town.

Credit for this vote goes to Tim Dibble and all those that signed his petition and those who contributed to their GoFundMe to pay for attorney Michael Yanoff’s services representing the anti-sprawl, pro-community position. We are grateful that a majority of Council reconsidered their position.

We made a correction to our description of Scott Hummel. He is not one of the current owners of the property as we had described, but seeks to purchase it from the Hellweg family for lease to Summerwood. If the ZHB turns down the variances, Mr. Hummel loses nothing.  

Montgomery County Commissioners

How to do open government — A lesson for Jenkintown

Last night’s the “Conversation with the Commissioners” event at the Abington Township Office not only gave us a good dose of information about county activities, it also revealed the stark contrast between Jenkintown’s government with one committed to transparency above and beyond the strict legal guidelines.

First, the concept: Montgomery County is a big place, so having our commissioners set up open forums to meet constituents shows a true commitment to an open process that provides residents with updates and allows them to directly ask questions and make suggestions. Compare that to Jenkintown, a tiny place with twelve representatives who only show up in public at official meetings and the occasional public event to deal with a looming, controversial issue (if even then).

Second, the venue: My first time at the Abington offices starkly contrasts with what we experience in Jenkintown. I understand that Abington is a much larger municipality with a larger budget, but seeing their council room fully equipped with working microphones, cameras for live video, comfortable seating, windows(!), and working ventilation shows a desire by a local government to encourage participation. While I do strongly believe that government must scrutinize every dime that passes through its hands, I also believe that the people should demand government venues as points of pride.

Third, the message: We seem to have quite the proactive county government. Chairperson Val Arkoosh proudly cited a litany of programs and activities and at the same time heralded the county’s restored AAA bond rating. Our taxes went up, but they are still the lowest of all the counties in the region, she claims. Whatever you might think of its policies, it does seem that the county expedites them with a level of professionalism and transparency sorely missing in Jenkintown. In other words, the county doesn’t punch above its weight.

Setting aside the politics of all this activity or even the necessity of county government in general, the presentation displayed a conspicuous degree of competence and professionalism that Jenkintown residents deserve for our community. Perhaps that new borough hall might some day become a reality, but some of that Cedar Street money might have instead gone to a working AV system, functioning air conditioning, and better gallery seating in Council chambers — anything that invites citizen participation and transparency. Then again, that would have to be a cornerstone of our government’s agenda. 

View the archived live stream of the event here.