With so much going on around town, catch up on what you may have missed.
It’s Friday, May 21. West Chester police pledge to tackle road noise – but it’s not an easy ask. A look at how they plan to do it. Plus, West Chester’s going to have a new mayor and exactly how committed is West Chester Borough Council to returning rail service – and by that I mean, I much of last year’s tax increase are they willing to spend on it? Still one week to go until Memorial Day, but boy does feel like summer. Grab a spritzer and let’s get started.
How much are we willing to invest on the return to rail?
The potential of a massive federal stimulus bill and an advocate in the mayor’s office, has brought the topic of West Chester’s efforts to re-establish its rail line front and center. To refresh your memories, up until 1986 West Chester was a functioning stop on what was then the Media-West Chester, now Media-Elwyn, line. In 1997, West Chester Railroad began running a tourist route to Glen Mills but otherwise the tracks have sat abandoned for 35 years now.
In 2014, the West Chester Rail Service Restoration Committee was formed with the distinct goal to bring back the trains. One wouldn’t think restoring what was once there would be such a difficult task but according to the 2018 feasibility study completed by PennDot, it would take a $380 million dollar investment to get the West Chester line up and running again. A minimum of $20 million would be needed to advance the project to the next phase and it was suggested much of that investment would need to come at the local level. Of course, since 2018 a potential $2 trillion dollar infrastructure package has been dangled in front of lawmakers.
This week the appetite for pursuing this rail adventure was tested in Borough Council.
On the agenda: approval of $6K to add an equity component to an already approved economic benefits study.
The underlying ask – How much is returning rail really worth to us?
Council, mayor, mayoral hopefuls, and likely much of the borough, are split into two camps.
“The iron is hot, we must strike now” and “you must spend money to get money” camp
This side is led by Mayor Jordan Norley with support of Councilmen Nick Allen, Bill Scott, Mike Stefano and Michael Galey. They argue this ask is small and that the Borough should leverage low interest rates and a potential massive infrastructure bill to get on the radar of our local reps, like Chrissy Houlihan, in hopes of directing some major funding our way.
On the other side is the:
“We have no money for this,” “we should get surrounding township support” and “we are not a SEPTA priority” camp
This side has support from council members budget hawk Bernie Flynn, Don Braceland, Lisa Dorsey and mayoral candidate Eric Lorgus. While as the header suggests, they are not all aligned in their descent, they all voted to pause for now. They argue this is a massive project that is still many years in the future and that the Borough should not be sucked into such an expensive endeavor alone while we are still trying to pull ourselves out of last year’s budget fiasco.
Last night rail won. The economic benefits study will move forward with an equity component. Perhaps this relatively minor investment will shed more light on just exactly how aggressively we should pursue this issue. By fall we should have our answer as well as three new council members and a new West Chester mayor – plenty of change to swing political winds in a new direction.
For or against, if this is something you are passionate about, now would be a great time to make your voice heard. I am guessing this is not the last we’ll hear about this issue.
Also, for your consideration
In addition to working on the railroad, Borough Council is weighing several issues it will eventually need you, as residents of West Chester, to weigh in on. The first two you can expect to see in the next several weeks. The third, involving changes to the home rule charter, will likely require a ballot initiative, and we’ll have to catch up on that one later.
Ok, so what are we talking about? First up, updates to the Zoning Code.
Why should I care? You like to drink, park or own property in the Borough.
What’s up? This has been discussed before but a few of the recommended changes have caused pause and a need for further discussion which the Borough is giving residents an opportunity for next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.. Probably the change getting the most push back is the proposal to restrict breweries, wineries and distilleries to the West Chester’s Industrial District. For point of reference, the Industrial District according to the Zoning Ordinance is the southeastern most section of the Borough between E. Union and E. Rosedale Streets and S. Adams and S. Bolmar Streets.
This only pertains to those establishments that produce their product onsite and don’t carry a separate liquor or eating license. Even so this wording has caused concern with the downtown business district which would like to keep its options open and residents of Ward 2 which would like to keep brewery traffic from wandering through their neighborhoods at night.
You can see all of the proposed changes – which also includes updates to parking requirements and how minimum lots sizes will be calculated – here.
How do I voice my concerns? Log into the Special Borough Council Meeting – Zoning Code Review next Wednesday at 6:30. It’s WebEx. Just click on the link on the Borough home page. Want to speak? Let them know in the chat.
Ok, what’s next? Whether or not to add stop signs to W. Miner Street.
What’s this about? A traffic study commissioned by PennDot recommends that two additional stop signs be added to W. Miner Street at Darlington and New Streets.
What’s the concern? According to the traffic study, researchers observed driver confusion, moderate-to-high pedestrian crossings and limited sight distance. As a regular pedestrian in this area, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description.
What’s the other side saying? The police department disputes some of the facts of the study and while not directly opposed, cautions that adding stop signs is not the most sustainable choice and will add noise issues in the area. “With one solution comes another problem. That’s the way it goes sometimes,” Chief James Morehead said during last week’s Public Safety meeting.
Feel passionately about this issue? You will get your say next month. A special meeting is being scheduled to discuss the issue.
Uber is still a thing. West Chester Police recently reported there has been a spike in DUI offenses over the last three months. In April alone the department made 10 DUI related arrests. There was one during this same period in 2020. Yes, things have looked different over the last 13-months but not everything has changed. Drinking then driving still equals a DUI.
Turn that down, please. Perhaps you’ve seen the new signage at the entrances to the Borough warning of zero tolerance for loud motorcycles, mufflers and stereos. The West Chester Police are on a new kick, the aggressive perusal of noise violations especially in the downtown business district. However apparently noise violations, with the exception of loud car stereos, are not that easy to pin down. So expect an uptick in inspection orders and violations of a comparable, if not exact, nature. Or as Police Chief James Morehead described it, “pursuing other violations to send the same message.”
I don’t know if this is one of those cases of the ends justifying the means but excessive road noise has long been one of those irksome quirks of living in the Borough.
“You are going to make a lot of people happy,” Borough Councilman Don Braceland said at this month’s Public Safety hearing. “The complaints I get are parking and noise.”
Congratulations to all West Chester candidates on a well run campaign. Here’s what the fall ballot will look like:
For West Chester mayor, Lilian DeBaptiste will face Eric Lorgus, and an unnamed Republican write-in candidate on the November ballot. If one of the 255 people who got the memo would like to let me know who that may be, I’d be happy to spread the word.
Borough Council candidates Patrick McCoy, Brian McGinnis, Sheila Vaccaro, and Lisa Dorsey, were all running unopposed and expectedly all won their contests, each will also likely see a write-in challenger on the fall ballot.
And, it looks like the school board debates will continue, as the cross-filed candidates (Joyce Chester, Ada Nestor – hey, that rhymes) each won among their unstated bases.
Also, high fives to Agnes Speer. The 97-year-old resident of Watermark at Bellingham and former member of the Army Nursing Corps was recently recognized with a profile on ABC6. The piece which was commissioned in honor of International Nurses Day focused on Agnes’ service treating soldiers returning from World War II.
Finally, congrats to the West Chester University softball team. They captured the PSAC conference championship over the weekend on a “stellar pitching performance” from Freshman Mary Picozzi. A sure sign of more good things to come. Way to go Lady Rams!
Say, hello to a new dining option. Think COVID-19 inspired family-style takeout but this time designed to be takeout. Erin Morrison, owner & executive chef, started his business, Peter Clark Kitchen, during the pandemic, delivering soup to those not willing to head out. Now he is expanding his offerings with a full menu and a retail location on E. Market Street.
Also say hello to Transition West Chester, the latest group to gather under the West Chester Green Team umbrella. Transition West Chester is part of Transition USA, a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to help build local resilience through community action.
And finally, I know you’ll all be excited, but the Borough Municipal Building and Public Works facilities are reopening on Wednesday. Now you can pay those tickets and submit those reno plans in person again. Just remember if you’re not two weeks past the date of your second shot, you’ll still need your mask.
Speaking of, say goodbye to wearing masks indoors*
*If you are fully vaccinated and the establishment allows.
With the state now fully in line with CDC guidance that masks don’t need to be worn if you are fully vaccinated, some West Chester retailers and restaurants are dropping the mask requirements at their establishments but not necessarily all. West Chester’s Business Improvement District advised owner they have two options:
- Require all employees and customers to continue to wear a mask inside the store or restaurant.
- Allow those who are fully vaccinated to not wear a mask inside the store or restaurant – and trust customers to make that determination for themselves.
So, the moral here – carry one just in case.
Pay it forward.
Have a company and looking for a really unique local organization to support? The Barn at Spring Brook Farm may be just your thing. They are the only organization in the Philadelphia area that uses a variety of miniature and small-sized farm animals to help children that suffer with physical, cognitive and/or developmental disabilities develop self confidence and just have fun. After being closed last year, they are looking to resume their summer camp this year and looking for support to get things going.
Bonus: Starting on July 1 all business donations to The Barn will receive a EITC tax credit of up to 75 percent of the donation. More information about the tax credit program can be found here.
Not a business? I am sure they would still appreciate your support. Learn more about all their programs here.
Also Henderson High School student Grace Breen is looking brighten your Sunday with a free outdoor concert. Grace has been working with local student musicians, West Chester Public Arts Commission and the owners of 44 West to arrange for piano music to be played on the plaza Sundays in June. I foresee a cappuccino, croissant and some soft jazz in my future. Bonus, if Gay Street is closed by then.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? As of Friday night we will have wrapped all sporting activities for the season, so with a free Saturday we are contemplating out for a hike. Know any good lesser-known local areas you would recommend? Then on Sunday I am meeting a friend for our first fully-vaccinated catch-up lunch in over a year. I am excited and working on not clutching my mask like a safety blanket.
Also, the new sangrias from Rams Head look like a nice way to pass a Sunday afternoon, I scored a great pair of boyfriend jeans for $40(!!) from Blink last weekend – and for fellow mussel-lovers, Thursday’s at Split Rail is the new happy hour hang out.
Mark your calendars:
May 26 – Meeting to discuss changes to the Zoning Code. If you have concerns, this would be the time to speak up. Meeting is 7 p.m via WebEx.
June 5 – Movie in the Park: Soul, Everhart Park, 7:30 p.m. Event is free.
June 5 – For the Union: A Guided Walking Tour Along the Abolition Trail of West Chester, Chester County History Center, 10 a.m. Event is free. Registration required.
June 12 –West Chester Library Summer Reading Kickoff, Barclay Park, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Event is free and open to all families.
June 14 – Bohemian Rhapsody Sing-Along, Uptown Knaur Performing arts center, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10/piece.
June 19 – Juneteenth Festival, Melton Center, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
June 19 – Underground Railroad Walking Tour, Chester County History Center, 11 a.m. This is a pay-as-you-wish event but registration is required.
Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you in two weeks. Happy Memorial Day!
New to the blog? Follow along for the latest from West Chester.