The easiest way to be in the know.
It’s Friday, Aug. 19. The plan to close Gay Street permanently moves forward but what happened to a listening session designed to gather resident input? The business community got their meeting. I asked but no one seems to have an answer. Plus, the borough’s redistricting problem, action at the Gay Street Post Office – is it coming down or being fixed up? At this point, it must have been a toss-up – and Outfest is coming to the Borough in October. Yep, I said October. But we’re not there yet. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
When it comes to closing Gay Street – when do residents get a say?
Early this summer, Borough Council agreed to enter into a professional services agreement with frequent borough vendor Traffic Planning and Design to assess the Gay Street Open Air Market. They were tasked with learning what was working, and what was not and making recommendations on how to fix things. Good news for those who would like to see the tradition started during the height of COVID mature into something more permanent.
Under the presented and approved proposal they were to use three outlets to gather West Chester-specific feedback:
- A series of three ad hoc committee meetings with borough staff, public works, EMS, the business community, and elected officials and two community workshops.
- A community listening session planned for July
- An online survey
There is also a second public meeting planned for September where draft plans are to be reviewed. As I didn’t see anything on the borough website about the community listening session and I’m nosey – I reached out to the Borough Manager’s office to see when we could expect to see something scheduled. After a friendly back and forth with Borough Manager Executive Assistant Dana DiDomenico, I am now getting the distinct impression the answer is never.
Here is a synopsis of my emails with Dana.
Me: Is there an update on when the listening session for the Gay Street closure will be held? The original proposal suggested July but I have not seen any notices about a public meeting.
Dana: “The BID and several businesses met with our traffic planner in July for a general discussion on their thoughts and visions of the Gay Street closure.”
Me: Great, but what about the community listening session, the one that was supposed to involve the public? Were the meetings combined and residents invited to this meeting instead?
Dana: “The listening session was attended by business owners. Residents will be more than welcome to attend and participate at the public meeting which will be held in the fall.”
Me: Will the public meeting in the fall be a listening session or a proposal presentation?
Dana: “A meeting will be held in late September/early October where draft concepts will be shared at a public hearing. Hope this helps!”
So, what happened to the Community Listening Session? I am not sure. And I am pretty sure Dana thinks I’m crazy. Our conversation takes on a bit of a “Who’s on First?” vibe from there. I also reached out to several members of Borough Council and I was promised they would look into it but I have not yet heard back. If it wasn’t in writing, I would begin to think I dreamed this session about now.
I did, however, get a link to the survey. Take it here – pass it along to your friends and neighbors. Tell them to take it. It may be your only chance to let the borough know what you think before proposals are presented. (Note – be prepared to write. The survey itself is very short and the only real opportunity to share feedback is in two open-ended questions at the end.)
Of course, you can also reach out directly to your borough council members…
“I am begging you to go to the court and do something about the way the University is represented.”Sheila Vaccaro, West Chester Borough Council
The pros and cons of West Chester’s redistricting plans
This week West Chester Borough Council briefly lamented the process of redistricting before sending all options back to committee in an effort to find the least bad. So what are the options and how could a story on redistricting be interesting at all you wonder?
I’m going to ignore that last part and do my best to keep the suspense up.
First, where are we? We are two years out from the last census count that found population shifted in the borough – particularly in the southern part of the borough. (According to the new census data, which was taken during the height of the pandemic you’ll recall, Ward 4 – home to significant off-campus students – saw a 28 percent drop in residents while Ward 5 saw its population grow by nearly 20 percent.) The shift has left the borough wards with more than a 10 percent population differential – a trigger boundaries need to be redrawn.
Great, let’s send a mailer to a few folks from Ward 4 notifying them their polling place has changed and call it a day, right? One would think but in the world of local politics, nothing is that easy.
First, there is the 1987 court decision that set up the Borough Ward system. The system was meant to establish equitable representation across the borough and sets parameters around the racial make-up of the Wards. Then there is the federal regulation that prohibits the breaking up of census blocks. Add in that 10 percent differential requirement and you are left with this option.
Which basically dumps all the university dorms into a single ward leaving room for not much else. Ward 5 Borough Councilwoman Sheila Vaccaro who would take over as supreme RA if this is adopted not-surprisingly objected. “I am vehemently opposed to Option C,” she stated at last week’s ACT Committee meeting. “I am begging you to go to the court and do something about the way the University is represented.”
While no one is going to court – yet – the plans have been sent back to committee to further explore options and potential legal workarounds.
See the numbers mapped here. This map still seems to show the initial solution which was ruled out because it breaks up a census block that included University housing. If this option was to be implemented it would likely need to be defended in federal court.
See the current map with the corresponding Borough Council representative here.
QVC’s no good, very bad quarter
QVC and parent company Qurate are looking to do an about-face after a rough Q2 that saw company revenues tumble by 16 percent. Qurate CEO David Rawlinson, who was brought on last year with a generous salary and signing bonus to better align the retailer with changing consumer habits, blamed the losses on inflation, the war in Ukraine, rising interest rates, supply chain issues, and a fire at the retailer’s Rocky Mountain, NC fulfillment center. All true but not seemingly as devastating for his competitors.
- Amazon: Q2 revenues up 7 percent from a year earlier
- Walmart: Same-store sales grew 6.5% in Q2
- Kohls: Same-store sales dropped by 7.7%
It’s been a rough year for the OG of online shopping. After seeing its stock price rebound to near pre-pandemic levels late last year, it crashed in July – dropping 30 percent from its peak last year. It has since rebounded some but things remain an uphill battle for the company and news that TikTok is stepping back from Livestream shopping can’t help matters.
QVC employs roughly 2800 in the West Chester area (21,000 worldwide.) Soon to be two more. Turnaround plans include the addition of a chief merchandise officer and a new president of streaming.
If it’s not an emergency, don’t call in an emergency. Last week Goodfellow Ambulance Director of Operations Charles Brogan reported the ambulance company is on track to respond to a record number of calls this year.
“Just four years ago we were blown away to hit 6000 calls. We are on track to almost hit 7000 this year,” he shared with borough council members at last week’s Public Safety meeting. During July, typically a slow period, the ambulance company responded to 592 calls – 182 in the borough.
According to Mr. Brogan, the increase is likely just due to more people living in their service areas.
“We have a lot of development in this area,” he said. We’re looking at you West Whiteland.
In addition to the borough, Good Fellowship services West Goshen, East Goshen, Westtown, West Bradford, West Whiteland, Thornbury, Birmingham, and Newlin.
There’s a burglar on the loose. West Chester police are investigating a string of burglaries that occurred at the end of last month in the southeast section of the borough. One incident was reported on the 500 block of S. High Street and several attempts and a successful entry on the 500 block of S. Matlack Street. The break-ins involved forced entry so merely locking your doors wouldn’t have been enough to prevent but you can make things harder by keeping doors locked and downstairs windows closed while you are sleeping or away.
As of the last check they did not have anyone in custody but they were close.
“We are tracking some really good leads on this,” West Chester Police Chief James Morehead shared with Borough Council members.
Are you sure you want to drink that? Today is the deadline to sign up for a free test to see if your water has been contaminated by the construction of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline. According to estimates by pipeline trackers – the pipeline, which cuts through West Goshen, puts several West Chester area schools, learning centers, nursing homes, and daycares in the path of explosion – should one occur. There have also been dozens of reports of leaks since construction began. There is no distance requirement so if you are concerned about your water, sign away.
What’s planted in West Chester stays in West Chester. Don’t mess with our trees (click to see the video).
A big happy birthday to West Chester First Fire company which celebrated 223 years as an all-volunteer fire department. Fun fact: In October 1799, the First Fire Company elected its first officers making it one of the longest-running (perhaps, the longest – a lot of companies appear to claim this title) volunteer fire companies in the country.
Speaking of big anniversaries, West Chester Railroad is celebrating its 25th! In 1997 rail was originally re-established in West Chester with the opening of the West Chester Railroad, an all-volunteer rail company dedicated to the history and preservation of rail in southeastern Pennsylvania. See what riding the rails would have been like during the heyday of the railroad nearly three-quarters of a century ago. Celebratory events are scheduled for September 25 and include free admission, train yard tours, and discounted rides.
After a low-key Pride month, say hello to amends- the Business Improvement District in conjunction with the YMCA announced earlier this month that OutFest is coming to the borough! The event, which honors but is not on National Coming Out Day, is planned for October 1 and promises to be a fun-filled day of music, dance, and theatre performances.
Also, say hello to municipal data at your fingertips. West Chester Borough recently introduced a new address lookup tool that allows you to find a slew of pertinent information based on your address. Things such as your municipality (you don’t have to live in the borough to use), parking permits required in your area, water and sewer provider, your voting ward, polling place, and Borough Rep – with contact info, schools, fire and police coverage.
This is just one little piece in part of an ongoing project to better manage the Borough’s geospatial data. In the short-term in addition to digitizing existing data, they are working on projects to integrate existing parking data to provide a better overall picture of the parking situation in the borough. In the long term, they want to improve the resident experience when integrating with the borough digitally – think paying for parking, applying for permits, etc. Good for them. Way to jump right in there.
And finally say hello, to one more colorful drink option for your day. While I was lamenting bubble teas, Shine Nutrition opened around the block. Shine offers healthy meal replacement smoothies and yes, tea. Check them out at 127 N. Church Street and prepare to have your picture taken.
This week also marked the beginning of a long goodbye to the crumbling U.S. Post Office on Gay Street. No, the historic building is not leaving but it is finally getting renovated. This week Building and Housing Director Kevin Gore informed Borough Council that work had begun to fix what has become quite the run-down Federal building. Contractors will start by removing and repairing the windows, then move onto the sidewalk and roof.
“There is a lot of work to be done,” Mr. Gore said about the project. “But we’re glad to see it started.”
Post Office improvements have been a two-decade back and forth with federal agencies responsible for the maintenance of the building to mostly no avail. Then last summer Councilman Bernie Flynn raised the inaction with Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan and strongly requested her office to do something before the building collapsed.
Sometimes it takes a little tough love.
Pay it forward.
Who’s got room in their heart for a four-legged friend? A week ago the Brandywine SPCA brought 23 beagles to its West Chester Campus. The pups, part of one of the largest breeder rescue missions in the nation’s history, were previously housed at a facility that is known to sell dogs for lab experiments. How can you say no to that face? Update: So those pups went quick. They are happily all in new homes now but there are potentially more coming and still plenty of ways to help if you are able.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We will be celebrating 5 years with our little social butterfly with a rainbow, unicorn, frills, and sparkles party at our favorite park. Then after 51 weeks of party planning drama (she started making notes days after last year’s admittedly impromptu celebration in Acadia National Park did not quite meet standards)- I am taking the rest of the weekend off.
If you are in town this weekend, Sarah Diamond and the Soul Miners are at Uptown, Federal Donuts will be making a special appearance at Saturday’s Artisan Exchange (preorders accepted until noon today) and it’s peach season in the borough – get them fresh, cold or cooked.
Also, a programming note, downtown West Chester has added two more weeks of yoga on Gay Street – it’s now running through the end of the month. Classes start at 9 am on Saturday in front of the old (and now windowless) Post Office. Bring a matt and $5 for your teacher.
And don’t forget to send in your best weekend in West Chester pictures here.
Mark your calendars:
- Aug. 20 – Sarah Diamond and the Soul Miners, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. West Chester University alum Sarah Diamond uses her powerful, country/rock-styled vocals for her original songs and to cover top hits from across the decades.
- Aug. 21 – The Malarkey Brothers Irish Rock Concert, West Goshen Park, 6:30 p.m. This is a free event.
- Aug. 22 – $5 Movie: Homeward Bound The Incredible Journey, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, includeing free popcorn.
- Aug. 24 – 28 West Chester University Move-in week, West Chester campus, move-in starts Aug. 24-26 for new students; 27-28 for returning students.
- Aug. 27 – Look Around Music & Arts Festival, 401 W. Washington St, 12 – 9 p.m., all ages, 9 p.m. – 2 a.m., 21+, bands, vendors, raffles, food trucks and more. Tickets: $20 in advance; $25 at the event
- Aug. 27 – Best Friend’s Girl – the Cars Experience, Uptown Theater, 8 p.m.; Tickets $35 in advance; $40 at the door.
- Aug. 28 – Mechanical Bull Fundraiser, Kildare’s Irish Pub, 3 – 6 p.m., Make a donation to the Chester County Food Bank and get a ticket to ride a mechanical bull in the street. May be worth a donation just to watch. Open to riders of all ages.
- Aug. 29 – $5 Movie: La Bamba, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, including free popcorn. P.S. Did anyone else watch this movie on repeat as a kid? No, just me?
- Aug. 29 – First Day of School, West Chester Area School District
- Aug. 29 – First Day of Fall Semester, West Chester University
- Aug. 31 – Night of Light – Overdose Awareness Day, Chester County Courthouse, 6:30 – 8 p.m.
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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