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It’s Friday, Dec. 23: The Borough’s lease with the West Chester Railroad expires this summer. Now Borough Council must decide whether or not to renew the 15-year lease. If they do, does it kill our chance for a commuter rail? A look at both sides of the debate. Plus, the holiday season’s best-dressed awards, real-life Grinches caught in Westtown and, it’s a Festivus miracle, the Rite Aid project could soon be wrapping up! Grab yourself something warm (and preferably spiked) and let’s catch up!
Editor’s note: This will be the last Roundup of the year. So I wanted to take a minute to thank you for your tireless readership. It’s truly. I took a big leap earlier this year. Realizing I couldn’t keep doing both the newsletter and my fulltime job, I saw an opportunity and I decided to follow what I love and what I truly believe is important. It’s not been easy but we have grown to more than 2500 strong and that doesn’t include all of you reading over shoulders or waiting patiently for the social posts. (You do know a subscription is free, right?) Anyway, I wouldn’t trade any of it (ok, I would trade some of it) and none of it would be possible without your support (your sharing, your tips, your insider knowledge, your generous donations – all of it.) Sincerely – thank you. Ok, on to the news.
West Chester’s Ghost of Train Ride’s Past
In June of next year, the lease between the Borough of West Chester and 4 States Railway Services, the owner of the West Chester Railroad, will expire. With SEPTA holding the other end of the lease, who the Borough decides to subcontract to could lock up the train track’s operator for the next 15 years. So this week West Chester Borough Council was told they would have a decision to make – the train of Christmas future or the trains of Christmas past?
Ok, so maybe it wasn’t quite so dramatic as all that. There are several caveats that mitigate the gravity of the decision – 1) the Borough could decide to renew the lease for one year, rather than the 15 requested by 4 States and the Heritage Railroad; and 2) SEPTA can break the lease at any time and as SEPTA’s buy-in is a must to any changes to service it could be argued this decision holds little significance at all but, it doesn’t feel that way. There is real tension over what can and should be done with West Chester’s tenuous connection to the region’s greater rail system.
For the past 25 years, the West Chester train tracks have been in use and saved from falling into further disrepair thanks to 4 States Railway Service, Inc, a privately owned company, and the nonprofit, volunteer-run West Chester Railroad Heritage Association.
Advantages: It’s real. Head to 230 E. Market and you can get a train today – ok not today because the tracks are closed for the year but you get my point and that of 4 States and their volunteer partners. Not only is the railroad preserving the region’s great rail history but each weekend it draws hundreds of tourists to the area. Since its opening in 1997, it has transported more than a quarter-million people. Last year, roughly 15,000 took in the views to Glen Mills and back.
It’s doing things. Another real benefit of the current train is it has an active revenue source giving it money to make costly repairs and upgrades. One of the reasons 4 States is arguing for a longer lease is so they can plan for and fund multi-year projects of which they have a couple they would like to tackle.
“We have new ideas for the railroad. We want to improve the track. We want to improve the facilities,” West Chester Railroad representative Derek Slifer told Borough Council on Tuesday.
Disadvantages: You can’t move forward if you are stuck in the past. The West Chester Railroad is great but this is pretty much all it will be – a look into the past.
In 2014 the succinctly titled Advisory Ad- Hoc Committee to Reestablish Rail Service to West Chester (aka the Rail Restoration Committee) was formed with the express goal of reconnecting West Chester to the area’s regional rail line. The group got right to work. Unfortunately, its original proposal came with an estimated $380M price tag and little interest from SEPTA. So, for a long time, the project seemed like the pipe dream of a devoted few. That all changed earlier this year when the group presented an electric solution that promised to slash the project’s cost by 96 percent and deliver 190 passengers and their luggage to Center City in a very competitive 64 minutes.
Benefits: Oh, the places we’ll go. A fully operational rail line could provide a sustainable travel option to and from Philadelphia for the Borough’s 18,000 residents as well as WCU’s 17,000 students. It could also provide a needed transit option for Cheney students looking for a ride into the Borough.
Eco-cred. The electric cars have zero emissions and can utilize existing tracks, platforms, and parking areas (with a few modifications).
Disadvantages: It’s all potential. While West Chester Railroad is the ‘here and was,’ the Metro plan still has a lot of pieces to fill in, chief among them who would operate the line should it become a real-life thing? Not the Borough, not 4 States nor the Heritage Association, that much we know. It’s also not clear if SEPTA is all aboard with this solution. While there have reportedly been some discussions with the regional operator, SEPTA’s 56-slide, five-year strategic plan includes no mention of the borough or its desire to operate here.
Also, in the unresolved to negative column is whether the current West Chester rails can operate both the trains of the past and the future or, if Borough Council will eventually have to make a tough decision in the present.
Let’s sleep on it: West Chester Borough Council has until March to make a decision on how it would like to proceed with the lease. However, from the sound of things, that answer could come as early as next month.
An Alabama Church’s Gracious Gift to the West Chester Landscape
In 2019 a storm blew through the Borough dropping branches and punctuating the sky with lightning strikes. While it is not clear exactly what happened it is likely a stray bolt along with years of exposure to the elements caused a crack in one of the four spires that adorned the Christ Church tower overlooking Barnard Street. The damaged section of carved stone was quickly stabilized and the tower was wrapped in scaffolding. However, upon further inspection, it was determined the damaged spire would need to be completely rebuilt and the entire tower repointed. The job quickly ballooned from a daunting $40,000 to a breath-catching $200,000. The building was momentarily secure; a question of its future remained though.
The decorative spires were nice but not essential to the mission of the church and the cost to repair the damaged one was going to be substantial. A far simpler option would be just to remove the decorative ends, but for the Christ Church congregation, that was not on the table.
“We just had to do it. [The church] was built out of the sacrificial giving of its original members,” said Christ Church Pastoral Assistant Dan Mason of the funds the Church’s early members would have had to raise to erect the elaborate building more than 120 years ago. “They built it not just for themselves but for future generations. We felt we were standing in that line,” he said.
So they made a decision: they would preserve the building for the benefit of future worshipers and the entire community. However, before fundraising efforts could begin the church received a little, or rather quite large, gift of its own. The story of the church’s loss made its way to Alabama where a parish with funds to share felt equally strongly that the beautiful building be preserved. They graciously offered to cover the cost of the entire renovation.
With funds in hand, the church worked with craftsmen to create molds, recast the damaged pieces, and patch and repoint the mortar joints restoring the building to its original glory.
“This is not just any building, this is part of the community,” said Dan.
The Gothic-Revival style building with its iconic cherub-topped tower was built in 1899 of Avondale stone for the Westminster Presbyterian Church. It was the design of congregation member and local architect Arthur Stanley. Christ Church West Chester moved into the building in 2007 after Westminster Presbyterian relocated to Pleasant Grove Road.
Stop or you’ll get more than honking. So far this year 8000 vehicles have been caught illegally passing school buses in Pennsylvania according to data captured by stop arm cameras being used in 20 school districts in the state. While the West Chester Area School District is not one of the districts currently employing the cameras – I have personally witnessed two separate drivers blow by the outstretched arm of a stopped school bus. If you are caught, the penalty for a first-time offense is $300.
Let your neighbors know when your home’s alone. West Chester police are seeking help with a burglary investigation that took place earlier this month on the 300 block of Berry Lane in East Bradford township. The burglary was believed to have occurred between 10 a.m. on December 9 and 4 p.m. on December 14. The unknown person or persons entered the property through a glass door that led to the master bedroom. If you have any information about this incident or a camera in the area? Contact Detective Harry O’Neill at 610-436-1335.
Proceed with caution. Speaking of defensive driving, take your time crossing bridges throughout the county. Data analyzed by the Federal Highway Administration and PennDOT found that 140 bridges in Chester County are in poor condition including the heavily traveled Downingtown Pike Valley Creek overpass in East Bradford. The concrete bridge was built in 1929 and remains open and unrestricted despite poor deck and superstructure conditions. Fortunately, the substructure is still fair, so hopefully, it won’t collapse – yet.
Maybe it was just that their hearts were two sizes too small? While the West Chester Borough Police have been trying to locate this guy, Westtown-East Goshen police got their hands on a couple of real Grinches this week. Adam Thompson and Anne Farrelly both of Coatesville were picked up Tuesday after their car was observed driving slowly around the Tanglewood Drive, Mayapple Lane area. Officers initiated a routine traffic stop and observed numerous envelopes and gift cards marked “trashmen ” throughout the car.
“During the course of the investigation, patrol officers were able to obtain enough evidence to conclude that the occupants of the vehicle were actively stealing holiday tips that were left out for sanitation workers by generous East Goshen Township residents,” the officers wrote in their report. And just so you don’t give up on humanity.
Home for the holidays. I am happy to report missing West Chester borough juvenile Khaleeyah Marshall is safely back home again. And,
When life gives you lemons… raise money for the SPCA.
This week a round of applause to all the participants in this year’s Downtown West Chester Holiday Window Decorating Contest. Forty stores, restaurants, and businesses participated with more than 800 votes gathered from the public. Unfortunately, they don’t count for much. This is not a popularity contest (except for one category), people. This is professionally judged (by the West Chester Public Arts Commission)!
So drumroll, please…
- Best Small Window goes to the 5 Senses with their colorful window filled with glass-blown ornaments and metallic trees.
- Best Medium Window winner is Kati Mac Floral Designs with a fireplace and glamorous pink table-scape with a silver tinsel backdrop.
- Best Large Window goes to Double Diamond Tattoos for their Santa’s Workshop in traditional red and green on one side and a large well-lit blue and silver tree on the other.
- And the People’s Choice Award went to the always elegant Charlie and Co. Barbershop with their Christmas village in whites and golds framed with a thick fringe of natural garland.
And gas up (or plugin) the car we also have the winners of the Westtown Holiday Home Lights Contest.
- Most creative goes to 925 Tyson Drive with their bold red and green striped roof.
- Most traditional went to 1162 Fielding Drive for their yard full of red and green lights and Santa and sleigh up on the rooftop.
- Best lawn ornaments went to 1190 Fielding Drive for their Chevy Chase blow-up in a tunnel of lights.
It’s supposed to be frigid this weekend but the lights won’t mind so add stops at honorable mentions: 1170 Blenheim Road, 1100 Station Way, 630 Picket Way, and 1541 Pennsbury Drive and make a night of it.
Also, much-deserved congratulations and support to a couple of local nonprofits.
First, the Chester County History Center learned last week it would be the recipient of a $16,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. The money is to be used to improve the preservation and accessibility of historic records. A pretty on-point recipient don’t you think? The grant, the largest received by any museum in the county, comes as the history center has been struggling financially. Also, celebrating this week the Friends Association. The West Chester-based homeless shelter recently learned it would be leaving its 200th year with a bang and a $100,000 check. State Senator Carolyn Comitta announced the organization would be receiving the generous funding boost through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The money will go to support the NIA House Program which provides re-entry support to incarcerated women.
As we prepare for the new year, get ready to say hello, to some new scaffolding bridges downtown and goodbye to some others. The West Chester Business Improvement District announced earlier this week it is the recipient of a $50,000 Keystone Community Grant to improve the existing facades of downtown buildings. Expect scaffolding to go up as funds go out.
Speaking of scaffolding, progress is finally being made at 111 N. High Street or the GreenTree building where word is, after more than a year framing around the building should be coming down soon. West Chester Housing Director Kevin Gore provided an update on the long-delayed project this week. According to Mr. Gore, building owners were in the process of completing a $1 million restoration and waterproofing project when construction crews found the building’s brick and limestone facade was separating from the building’s exterior wall. The project was paused while additional engineering reports and approvals were gathered. As of Wednesday the project has the final approvals needed to make additional repairs and should soon be heading to a quick completion.
Speaking of new year moves, the West Chester Area School District’s new resource officers and Pete’s Produce’s new proprietor will both soon be moving into digs.
First, West Chester Borough Council voted unanimously this week to reassign one of the Borough of West Chester police officers to Henderson High School for the next five school years beginning when school resumes on January 3. Having an officer on site not only reduces response time should a safety incident arise, the officer is also able to promote communication and serve as a confidant in times of trouble.
“Officers have an amazing effect on the kids at those schools. Children are able to see officers in a new light, in a friendly environment on their terms,” West Goshen Supervisor Ashley Grange said about the West Goshen program which has been in place for several years now.
The West Chester police officer would join the West Goshen Officer already onsite at East and a newly added Westtown Officer who will be moving in at Rustin.
We also learned this month (Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 7), there is also a new farmer moving in at the Westtown farm. Christa Barfield and her FarmerJawn Agriculture project will be taking over the school’s 123-acre farm and running the popular Route 926 farmstand. Both officially closed at the end of the season with the retirement of the farm’s longtime operator and namesake Pete Flynn.
In her five-year plan: use half the acreage as a ‘farming incubator’ for the next generation of black farmers and transition production to 100% organic and eventual certification. The latter will take upwards of three years because the fields were recently sprayed with pesticides.
Finally, say hello to a full slate of free family-friendly activities from the Borough of West Chester. This week the Park & Rec Department announced its 2023 event lineup. Highlights include the 40th Annual Turks Heads Festival back at the much more enjoyable first week of June and as of now anyway, the Halloween Parade! After teasing that 2022 year might be its last year, it looks like the parade will in fact go on. Perhaps we can get more details from Mr. Kurowski in the new year but for now, I’ll take that as a win. You can find the full list of events with dates, here.
Also, coming back for its second year Porchfest. The neighborhood concert event sponsored by West Chester’s Green Team is planned for Saturday, May 20 from 1 to 7 p.m.
Time to find a new place to leave your car. Parking on S. Adams Street, one of the Borough’s few remaining non-permitted parking areas, is being revoked in the name of truck traffic. This week Borough Council voted unanimously to prohibit parking on the east side of the street a little over 1,000 feet from where it intersects with E. Nields Street. The new parking ordinance, which won’t go into effect until this summer, will make sure trucks leaving the planned 611 E. Nields warehouse facility have enough turning radius to make a left out of the property.
Also, saying goodbye this week, Westtown residents to some of their hard-earned cash reserves (although not as much as originally planned). All in the name of the public good. Letters went out to residents last week notifying them that real estate as well as earned income taxes would be going up in 2023 as a result of the township’s overwhelming support for the Open Space Tax Referendum (68%-32%). The rates, however, will not initially rise to the full amounts discussed.
“On December 5, the Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance increasing earned income taxes by 0.04% and real estate taxes by 0.21 mills, or 50 percent of the maximum levels authorized in the referendum,” the letter read.
The Board of Supervisors stated they would not raise taxes further until it sees grant commitments from state and county partners. Under the negotiated agreement of sale, residents would fund 25 percent of the purchase price with the remaining 75 percent coming from state and county grants.
“The Township remains hopeful that the grant commitments from our partners are forthcoming, but until then the Board has agreed to maintain open space taxes below the maximum amounts authorized,” the supervisors stated.
Not to add salt to a wound but West Chester Borough, East Bradford, and West Goshen will enter 2023 without any new tax increases.
As of yesterday, the kids of the district have joyfully said goodbye to their classrooms for the remainder of the year. Also, saying goodbye to the school halls but more permanently, Stetson Assistant Principal James DeWitt and East High School Social Studies Teacher Robert Guihan. Both gentlemen announced their retirements earlier this year.
And finally, West Chester resident Edward Eugene Norris remembers the year he was forced to say goodbye to West Chester High School in a charming remembrance of a Christmas season 75 years ago – when the school burned down over break.
Pay it forward.
West Chester Borough is doing a little good deed of its own this week. At their Wednesday night meeting, Borough Council voted unanimously to extend parking benefits to all West Chester Fire Department first responders. Under the new exemption, all certified first responders in good standing (your name must be on a list provided to the Parking Department by the Fire Chief) will be able to park for free at any metered spot in the Borough (street or lots). Just watch the fine print, the privilege does not extend to the garages or third-party lots.
Also, giving back this week, West Goshen teen Aiden Nicholas. The 19-year-old West Chester University student was featured in the Daily Local for his efforts to collect and donate more than a ton of food to the West Chester Food Cupboard.
Need help getting by this winter? The West Chester Food Cupboard is using generous donations like Nicholas’s to expand their outreach efforts. Earlier this fall the Bolmar Street nonprofit began operating a Food Cupboard Express, a full on-site shopping experience open to anyone. All you need to provide is a zip code.
“We want this to be an easy, friendly experience,” said Fiona Allison, West Chester Food Cupboard volunteer and board member. The Cupboard Express is open twice a week – Monday and Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. Can’t make those times? The Oscar Lasko YMCA on Chestnut Street has opened its own onsite food pantry stocked not only with eggs, milk, and a bunch of non-perishables but also a collection of toiletries. Open when the Y is – just ask at the front desk.
Why does this feel like a toast-giving time of year? Maybe it’s the year-end reflection? Maybe it’s the free-flowing alcohol? Either way, Chester County Toastmasters wants to remind you they are here for you. The club, whose mission it is to help you be a better public speaker, meets the second and fourth Monday of the month at East High School. Stop by if you would like to shake off the rust before that next big speech – membership not required.
Finally, are you a Westtown resident and think the lights competition was a pretty cool idea? Well, the Westtown Parks & Rec Commission is looking for volunteers. If you can spare the time, contact Township Manager Jon Altshul with your resume and a brief letter of interest.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? Props to you planners out there. We will be scrambling to put the finishing bows on our weekend plans, part of which includes making this pie, which turned out really well when I made it for the kids. Now let’s hope it can be duplicated for the company!
That’s it the last Roundup of the year is nearly complete. I hope you too are wrapping up those last details, sending out those last emails and getting ready to don sweatpants and gaudy sweaters and melt into the weekend surrounded by family and friends and hopefully not too much frigid travel.
So in honor of surviving, I suggest a toast.
What will you have? A pretty eggwhite cocktail from Opa? Or Slowhand’s elegant ode to a pear? Like your drinks more decked out? Then Saloon’s Christmas Cookie Martini is covered in sprinkles or the Bar Avalon Smores martini is back with a real roasted marshmallow on top. Or dread the decision – a cocktail or a coffee? My favorite. And for those who prefer to save your calories for a thick layer of frosting, how about a Gingerbread House Party?
The season’s not over yet – find a complete list of holiday events here. And don’t forget the West Chester Grower’s Market is hosting a popup market tomorrow morning from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. for all your last, last, last-minute holiday needs.
And finally, this week a very special thank you to Cassie Shankweiler Real Estate for joining Hello, West Chester as our latest Community Sponsor. Cassie is a Chester County native who now lives just blocks from downtown West Chester. A 2016 Penn State grad, Cassie brings an understanding of the community, a promise of clear communication, and fresh energy to all her clients. Give her a call if you are looking to buy or sell a home in the West Chester area!
As an active member of the West Chester borough community, it was nice meeting those of you who came through my home during the West Chester Holiday Home Tour earlier this month. I hope you’ll trust me with your real estate needs – whether you’re trying to sell your home or move into our wonderful town. Connect with me today at 484-888-6772 or CassieS@longandfoster.com.
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Mark your calendars:
- Last chance! Dec. 23 – The Butterfingers Angel, Uptown Knaur Performing Arts Center, 7 and 2 p.m. Created by William Gibson (The Miracle Worker), this touching, funny and highly imaginative retelling of the Nativity story is presented from a fresh and richly creative point-of-view. Tickets, $47/adult; $39/under 18.
- Dec. 16 – 24 – Westtown Lights, Westtown Park and Rec is hosting a resident light tour and holiday decorating competition. Visit the Westtown Township website for your map of participating homes.
- Dec. 23 – Christmas in West Chester, Uptown Knaur Performing Arts Center, 4 – 5:30 p.m. Celebrate Christmas with 938 Church at Uptown. Registration is encouraged.
- Dec. 26 – Boxing Day Soccer Matches and Food Drive, Kildare’s Irish Pub, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. The tradition continues however, this year with a food drive. For every 2 non perishable food items or one new toy, get a free pint on the bar. All proceeds will be donated to those in need during the holidays.
- Dec. 29 – Kundalini Yoga & Meditation, Prana House, 7 -8 p.m. Get ready for the new year by discovering a deeper connection with yourself through Kundalini yoga. Tickets: $22.
- New date! Dec. 29 – All-Star Mummer Performing in West Chester, Downtown West Chester, 2 – 4 p.m. The Mummers and all their glory will be stopping at C Mac barbershop (2 p.m.) before before heading over to Lorenzo’s Steaks (3 p.m.).
- Dec. 31 – Countdown to Noon, Lulu’s Casita, 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. Dancing, balloon drop, facepainting and a apple juice/champagne toast. Tickets: $30/child.
- Dec. 31 – Countdown to Noon, West Chester Area YMCA, 10:30 – 12 p.m. Family membership required.
- Jan. 1 – 15th Annual Stanley’s Dream 5K, corner of Church and Market St., 12 p.m. Registration: $30. Fund raised support the Stanley’s Dream scholarship program and childhood brain cancer research.
- Jan. 8 – Faunbrook Open House, Faunbrook Bed & Breakfast, 1 – 3 p.m. Planning a 2023 wedding or just curious about the historic home? Stop by for a tour and samples from Brandywine Catering.
Ok, I am serious this time this is it. Have a very happy holiday, an amazing New Year and I will meet you right here in 2023
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