The easiest way to be in the know.
It’s Friday, Oct. 21. While the Gay Street weekend-only or 24/7 debate rages on, one thing is becoming increasingly clear, West Chester’s Open Air Market will start much earlier and end later than in previous years. Also, new development is planned for the old Wyeth property – it’s not Amazon, but it’s for real this time – and the Borough presents its final budget for 2023 – what’s in, what’s out and will we have a tax increase to pay for it? Grab yourself a Phillies cookie (or two) and let’s catch up.
Read my lips, no new taxes.
Last month, West Chester Borough presented its annual budget to Borough Council and in it was a $250,000 shortfall. Remember, unlike the Federal Government, the Borough cannot operate under a deficit so this week Borough Manager Sean Metrick again stood before council. This time with options to close that gap – one of which was a 4 percent tax increase.
Wait, can you give me a refresher? What does the Borough budget look like again? Sure. The budget includes all day-to-day operational expenses, revenues, and a targeted list of capital projects. Included in the budget are Borough services such as public works, parks and rec, the police department, fire department, and wastewater treatment plants. There are also admin functions like finance, human resources, IT, housing enforcement, and parking. Then you have the highway funds received each year from the state and the stormwater management program.
Last month the Borough presented a $35.56 million operating budget for 2023, representing a minor 0.15% increase over 2022. Next year, expect to see a continued increase in parking revenue, a decline in real estate deed transfer fees, and big jumps in police personnel and fuel costs. There will also be a new comprehensive park plan initiated, upgraded streaming equipment for a better council meeting viewing experience, and several new vehicles purchased.
Ok, thank you, now what were you saying about a tax increase? It was on the table and would mark the third year in a row the Borough has raised taxes. Fortunately, it does not look like it is going to happen. In his presentation on Wednesday, Mr. Metrick announced his team had closed the gap through budget cuts and a new revenue source. The Borough will restart commercial fire inspections next year, a program that was stopped during the pandemic.
That’s good news. So does this mean the Borough’s budget trouble is behind us? Not yet. During his presentation, Mr. Metrick warned that we were only able to avoid a tax increase this year because of the influx of money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The Borough is set to receive roughly a million dollars next year for a total of $2 million. This money will not be available when the Borough starts its next budget cycle.
Also, a shout-out to Park and Rec Director Keith Kurowski. If the budget is passed as was presented last night, he will finally get some help. After more than three years running solo, $24,000 has been budgeted for a seasonal recreation assistant next year.
Gay Street expectations
This week West Chester Borough Council set itself a directive: (finally) make a decision on what it’s going to do about the Gay Street closure. This as they put it, it’s not about gates – but rather the duration and length of the season. In other words, when it will start, when it will end, and will it be limited to weekends or closed entirely during that time. The deadline? Next month’s Borough Council meeting.
Whether you are for or against the closure, have preferences on lengths or durations, the decision rests in the hands of seven people. Below is a look at where each one stands.
Reading the room:
Area of consensus – there seems to be agreement between Borough Council, the business community, and the residents that a longer duration for the closure would be nice. Under the new proposed timing, the closure would run from May through October.
Area of dispute – members seemed to be split over whether to commit to a 24/7 closure or keep the weekends-only model that was implemented this year. For the record, the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID), the voice of the business community, threw in their support for a weekend-only closure. Resident preference remains a bit of a mystery, with the Borough survey showing majority support for a weekend closure and others arguing it was the phrasing of the question that yielded the results. No question stated specifically, “Would you prefer a 24/7 or weekend-only closure?”
- Shelia Vaccaro, Ward 5: Shelia initiated the conversation and, while she didn’t say so specifically in this meeting, she has previously expressed a preference for a 24/7 closure.
- Bernie Flynn, Ward 6: Is firmly in the weekend-only category. His concerns include – the ability to perform day-to-day business operations such as deliveries and trash pickup and the areas without activity. “It is important we get some buy-in to fill the dark spots on the block,” he said.
- Patrick McCoy, Ward 1: Mr. McCoy did not express his opinion but in response to a resident who suggested that residents strongly prefer a 24/7 closure and that she could prove it with a petition. He encouraged her to do so. “I would love to see that,” he said.
- Brian McGinnis, Ward 3: Mr. McGinnis voiced his concern over the potential parking revenue loss (roughly $30K/a month) and whether or not that could realistically be made up by the garages. He requested a review of the parking situation before making a decision.
- Lisa Dorsey, Ward 7: Ms. Dorsey did not voice an opinion at this week’s Work Session. However, she was a champion of this year’s move to weekends only. Safety and emergency access are among her chief concerns.
- Michael Stefano, Ward 4: While in the past the Borough Council President has said he’s for a 24/7 closure, he made no comments on the topic this week. He did say, “Anyone that feels strongly, one way or another, I urge you to let us know.”
- Nick Allen, Ward 2 was not in attendance.
As of right now, Borough Council appears pretty evenly split with half leaning one way, half leaning the other and maybe one or two undecideds. Want to let them know? Here’s a list of Borough Council Members by address and how to reach them. Also, next month is likely when we’ll get to see the final proposal from contractor Traffic, Planning and Design.
Registration is due Monday. Friendly reminder PA voter registration deadlines are Monday. If you were planning to mail in your registration and haven’t done so yet – I would suggest using an alternate method. Registration materials must be received by Monday to count. Here is the link to do it online. Pro tip: Do it now. Check it off and go into the weekend feeling accomplished.
No bicycles on the sidewalks. It was proposed the Borough consider allowing bicycles on the sidewalks but the idea gained little support from Council or the police department. “I do think the Borough can do more to provide some areas for the bicycles,” said Council member Shelia Vaccaro. “But I don’t think the sidewalks are the right place.” Chief Morehead agreed, saying using the sidewalk would likely do little to deter accidents, most of which occur in the intersections.
Beware of foul smells. Many complained yesterday of a foul odor reminiscent of Kennett’s mushroom farms and as it turns out there was a reason for the comparison. According to a message from West Chester Police Information Officer Dave March, “A large mushroom house south of West Chester ‘turned over’ a very large pile of manure. Due to wind directions, it has carried the scent in our direction and beyond. There are no public safety concerns.”
That cat is not a stray. This week former Borough Council President Diane Lebold’s cat went missing. It was originally found by a West Chester University student who took it to the SPCA not knowing the cat’s owners. Unfortunately, it is the policy of the SPCA to release feral cats after holding them for 24 hours. The cat was released around Everhart Park last Thursday and has not returned home since. Stella is a gray short-haired cat. You can see a picture here. If you see her anywhere give Diane a call at 484-649-2592.
High fives to the West Chester University Women’s Soccer team which clinched the PSAC East title this week. The still-undefeated Golden Rams are back at home and will be showing off their skills against 8-3-3 Kutztown.
Also, getting some love this week, West Chester’s dedicated police officers. Detective Jason Frankhart and his partner, not named because he is undercover, received a Chief’s Letter of Commendation for their professionalism and endless dedication to the department. In the first half of 2022 only, the duo conducted 24 search warrants, seized one home, six guns, one bulletproof vests, and over $45,000. According to West Chester Police Chief James Morehead, “They have taken innumerable amounts of illegal drugs off our streets.”
Also, recognized, were the officers of squad 2 for their actions on May 29, 2022. The officers were applauded for successfully resolving a carjacking situation involving a wanted murderer, an armed assailant and a suicide attempt. And Police Information Officer Dave March for going above and beyond in the execution of his duties to inform the public. (See Beware of foul smells above.)
A shout out to West Chester’s Anthony Andiario whose pasta is featured on the cover of issue 143 of Art Culinaire, the insiders’ culinary magazine. “I’ve been a fan of this magazine since I was a young cook and it’s surreal to be on the other side of it,” Anthony said in an Instagram post.
Finally, a few West Chester Area School District kudos. First, props to the District on being selected an “Outstanding Visual Arts Community 2022” by the Pennsylvania Art Education Association. The distinction recognizes those who are committed to visual arts education.
“Our teachers and students work hard all year long to create spaces that reflect the artistic efforts of all students,” said Dr. Kristen Barnello, Assistant to the Director of Secondary Education. Visual art instruction helps develop such fundamental skills as problem solving, flexible mindset, collaboration, and creativity.
West Chester Area School District was one of 39 schools and districts recognized. Locally, Westtown School was also recognized.
Also, a round of applause to the Rustin World Percussion Ensemble which was one of just seven student performance groups selected to participate at this year’s National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Conference. Hear them in action here. More golf claps for Rustin’s Sam Feeney who finished 10th in the PIAA State Golf Championship. And a nod of respect to Rustin’s Jane Nelson who notched a school record 33 kills(!) as the Golden Knights volleyball team downed Avon Grove in four games.
And one last WCASD congrats, this time for receiving a grant to help expand its e-sports offerings. A tweet notifying the local winners, read:
“We can’t wait to support your as you grown your esports programs and impact your learners through esports!”
Perhaps, English first, then e-sports?
Say hello, to a new future for 611 E. Nields Street, aka the former home of the Wyeth Penicillin plant. Now, if you think you’ve heard this before, you have but this time we mean it. The difference here is that the last time a proposal for the property was presented to Borough Council it was based on a specific tenant (cough) Amazon (cough). Now the developers are presenting the same concept – warehousing – but without anyone in mind. Instead, they are taking an, “if we build it they will come approach.”
According to preliminary land development plans discussed at this week’s Borough Council Work Session, we can expect two warehouse buildings totaling 523,000 square feet, lots of exterior landscaping to buffer noise, set traffic patterns to keep trucks from finding their way into residential areas and new parking restrictions on S. Adams Street. (Someone tell the college kids they will need to move their cars.)
The project, which is limited in what it can be by environmental restrictions on the property (no residential, recreational, or educational pursuits were allowed), was praised by most council members for simply doing something with a lot that has sat vacant for 15 years.
What there will be:
- 65 new street lights added to improve safety at night
- 400 new street trees and other plantings
- Up to 750 new jobs (once the buildings are rented) (250 construction jobs as they are built)
- $2 million in new annual property tax revenue – $1.3 million for the West Chester Area School District, $500K to the Borough. $200K to Chester County; $55K to the Stream Protection Fee;
- $480,000 one-time fee to be used on West Chester parks in the area
Better than nothing? Yes, but not everyone was ready to sing the plan’s praises.
“Let’s not pretend this community will be uplifted by this,” said Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste in frustration. She noted that $480,000 spread between the three nearest parks really wouldn’t go very far. And even after construction is complete the environmental hazards will remain, continuing to limit the land’s future use. “You are not correcting the problem,” she said. “You are capping it.”
The borough’s industrial district sits right next to the town’s historic black neighborhood – not a coincidence – and while this is an improvement over nothing, it was not seen by some as going far enough to rebalance the tables.
Also, say hello to a new Borough app. Ever been in a neighborhood and said boy, I wonder if there is a park near here? Well, wonder no more. The Borough of West Chester’s new GIS specialist has an app for you. Released this week, the new tool will help you locate your nearest Borough park no matter where you are in the Borough. Each listing provides valuable information about things like amenities, history, and location. While other local parks are listed on the mapping feature, additional information is only provided for Borough parks.
Speaking of Borough improvements, say hello to smooth sailing, around the Borough. West Chester Public Works Department has completed its paving projects for 2022. They are now working to reconstruct Greenview Alley at South Franklin Street to improve drainage and prevent icing when temperatures begin to drop.
And finally, say hello to new dates for the Chilling West Chester Walking Tour. Apparently, you just can’t get enough of the ghosts. After earlier tours sold out the Chester County History Center decided to add more. New tours: October 25 and 31, 6 and 8 p.m.
Say goodbye to the Borough eyesore that was the Gay Street Post Office. While windows have not yet been returned, there is clear progress being made in repairing and repainting the modelings.
Fun fact: The post office was built in 1905 to deal with an influx of mail to the Borough.
This week Acme Markets may be moving on up. The Malvern-based chain and parent company Albertsons’ may soon be part of the Kroger empire. The grocery deal, if approved, would combine the second and third largest grocery chains in the country into one behemoth representing 700,000 workers at 5,000 food markets, 4,000 drugstores, and 2,000 gas stations. There is speculation that approval of the deal may lead to store closures in West Coast and Midwestern states where the two companies compete. No word yet on what impact, if any, it could have on our own West Goshen market.
The deal is not expected to close until 2024.
Finally, a few moving notices – Jaramillo Hair Salon on Gay Street, which has been in business since 1996, is moving two blocks down to Courthouse Alley and West Chester Computer Doctors are moving from their home at the corner of High and Miner to 212 E. Market Street where they will occupy a second-floor office in the former Star Social Club.
And a goodbye, to the Everhart Park zipline, for now at least. The swinging apparatus was removed after a bent post was discovered during a routine check of the equipment. Playground By Design has been contacted so hopefully kids will be zipping along in no time.
Pay it forward.
Perhaps you have spotted the purple ribbons adorning poles downtown? West Chester is one of eight communities and three campuses (including WCU) in Chester County sporting the ribbons in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to statistics provided by the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County in their lifetime nearly 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 4 men will find themselves a victim of partner violence.
Want to learn more about domestic abuse and the various ways it can manifest itself? DVCCC has put together a list of fiction and nonfiction books. Find it here or check out their display at the West Chester Public Library.
Know someone in an abusive situation? DVCCC’s hotline is free and available 24 hours a day. Give them a call at 888-711-6270. Of course, if you are in immediate danger call or text 911.
Know a Veteran in need of some dental support? Community Volunteers in Medicine are hosting a “Give A Veteran A Smile” Day, on November 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Veterans without dental insurance qualify for a free dental check-up including exam, cleaning, fillings, extractions, and x-rays. Exams are available by appointment only. Space is limited but a few appointments do remain. Contact Alberta Landis at 610.836.5990 (Ext. 107) to schedule an appointment or for more information.
Also, volunteers are still needed to hang greens downtown and to serve as Christmas Parade marshals. Around 90 marshals are needed and 30 have signed up. Remember no volunteers. NO PARADE. So gather your friends, get in that holiday spirit and sign up here.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We have another weekend packed with sports and parties. Until then I will be busy putting the finishing touches on this year’s Halloween costumes which will make their seasonal debut this weekend.
If you are around town this weekend, Brent Celek will be at the Beer Mill tonight from 4 – 6 p.m. Phillies will clinch, or not, this weekend and victory is sweeter with a beer and a treat – try these or these. Good Good Chocolates will be at the West Chester Grower’s Market tomorrow. These Halloween Bon Bons look amazing (and sound delicious). And feeling that chill in the air? Ms. Malena has a cape for you.
You can find more fall activities here.
If you found this newsletter helpful and you would like to see it keep going, here are a few options to help.
- Tell your friends and neighbors.
- Help spread the word on social media. (Just leaving a comment really helps make sure a post gets seen. Those that commented last week really helped push the reach of that post. Let’s do it again!)
- Or click the button above to make a small donation of thanks. (Or Venmo works too if that’s easier.)
Thank you so much!
Mark your calendars:
- Oct. 22 – Chester County Flu Vaccine Clinic, Fugett Middle School, 9 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. flu shots and COVID boosters will be available. Flu shots are available for those 6 mos and older. COVID boosters to those 12 and older. There is no cost to receive a shot but if you have insurance bring your card and wear your mask – and be sure to register.
- Oct. 22, 23 – Halloween Special Train, West Chester Railroad, 12 and 2 p.m. Costumes encouraged on this 90-minute foliage tour with a brief trick or treating stop at the Glen Mills layover.
- Oct. 22 – You are Loved Conference, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, 12:30 – 8:30 p.m. This is an in person and virtual event.
- Oct. 22 – CommUNITY Dance Fair, East Bradford park, 2 p.m. Enjoy dance performances, vendors, games and more. This event is free and open to the public.
- Oct. 22 – Community Book Discussion: Caste – the Origins of Our Discontent, Melton Center, 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Hosted by former WCASD Director of Equity Dawn Mader. This event is free and open to the public. Registration encouraged.
- Oct. 23 – Harvest Festival, West Goshen Park (1023 Fern Hill Road), 2 – 4 p.m. Enjoy hayrides, free pumpkins, and a scarecrow decorating contest (bring your old clothes to use), music and a moonbounce. This is a free event is free for all West Goshen residents. Not sure what happens if you are not from West Goshen. Registration is requested but not required.
- Oct. 24 – Chester County Community Fund Annual Meeting and Legacy Celebration, Uptown Theater, 4 – 6 p.m. RSVP by October 14 to 610-696-8211 or email@example.com.
- Oct. 25, Fall Choral Festival, Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall, 8:15 – 9:45 p.m., The Fall Choral Festival features a variety of choral works written for large and small ensembles, for women’s, men’s, and mixed choirs.
- Oct. 26 – West Chester Halloween Parade, Downtown West Chester, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 28 – West Chester Ghost Train, West Chester Railroad 230 E. Market Street, 6 -9 p.m. The Westtown-West Goshen Rotary Club is hosting a train ride filled with ghost stories from local author Bruce Mowday and others. Plus buffet dinner and open bar. Tickets – $75; 2 for $135.
- Oct. 28 – Trunk or Treat event, St. Agnes Parish, 6:30 p.m. in the school parking lot. Wear your costume. This event is free and open to the public.
- Oct. 28 – Toddler Trick or Treat, East Goshen park, 10 a.m. Trick or treat around the playground then head back to the Hicks Pavilion for a Halloween inspired toddler story time. This event is free but registration is required.
- Oct. 29 – Indoor Trick or Treat, First Presbyterian Church (130 W. Miner St.) 1 – 3 p.m. Join for snacks, candy and games. This is a free event.
- Oct. 29 – Trunk or Treat, East Goshen Park, 2-4 p.m. Trick or Treat in support of the Melton Center. Costumes welcomed and encouraged!
- Oct. 29 – Cannonball Run, Market and Church Street, West Chester, 1 p.m. Money raised goes to support the Wounded Warrior Project.
- Oct. 29 – Super Science Sunday, West Chester University, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. This is a free event for middle and high school girls with an interest (or not) in science. Registration is required. Lunch will be provided.
- Oct. 29, 30 – Halloween Special Train, West Chester Railroad, 12 and 2 p.m. Costumes encouraged on this 90-minute foliage tour with a brief trick or treating stop at the Glen Mills layover.
- Oct. 29 – Haunted Helicopters, American Helicopter Museum, 6 – 8 p.m. Enjoy decked out helicopters and special treats. Members and kids 12 and under are free. Everyone else is $15.
- Oct. 29 – Boos & Booze – Levante West Chester Taproom, 11 a.m. Live music, adult trunk or treating and prizes.
- Oct. 29 – Onxy & Haunted, Artillery Brewing Co., 8 p.m. – 12 a.m. Enjoy a no-cover concert with a haunted revolutionary war bar.
- Oct. 29 – Le Cirque Costume Ball, Chester County History Center, 6:30 p.m. Enjoy live music, circus performances, and food catered by Spence Cafe. Tickets are $125/each.
- Oct. 31 – Trick or Treating, West Chester Borough, 6 – 8 p.m.
- That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
That’s it for this week. I am taking next Friday off but I can already tell we are going to have so much to talk about when I get back.