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It’s Friday, Jan. 27: Perhaps you’ve noticed, double parking downtown has become a bit of a problem. This week we continue our conversation with BID Executive Director John O’Brien who shares the Borough’s plan for discouraging the practice plus his team’s big-picture vision of beauty and connectivity. Plus, Uptown’s new play, a West Chester teen goes missing again and local police officers get their official start at West Chester high schools. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
Your Burning Downtown Questions answered; Part II
Last week we caught up with John O’Brien Executive Director of the Business Improvement District on what he and his team have planned for Downtown West Chester over the coming year. There was so much to discuss I had to break it into two issues. Last week we covered new restaurants, plans for a new hotel, and when exactly those Christmas lights are coming down. (Read the first installment here.)
This week we chat parking problems, events, and what’s next on his massive to-do list.
Let’s just get this out of the way. What are we going to do about all this double parking?
As one representing the interests of the downtown business community, John is acutely aware of the parking challenges that exist downtown and the need to prioritize access to and through the Borough. Lately, however, the parking problem seems to be double. Whether deliveries or DoorDash, there’s a whole lot of double parking happening along Gay and Market Streets.
One way to eliminate the need for double parking is to provide designated zones for quick access trips. The Borough already maintains a few versions of these. There are the loading zones – think the spaces in front of Carlinos or Penn’s Table, designed so you can quickly run in and grab something for dinner. Then there are the RideShare zones, introduced just before the pandemic and meant to accommodate late-night Uber and Lift dropoffs and pick-ups.
According to John, the Borough is currently taking an inventory of its loading zones, many of which were awarded on an “as-requested” basis over the years, and reviewing how they are being used.
“The BID is going to be working with the Borough,” said John who wanted to make it clear the goal is not to remove the zones but rather to make sure they are operating efficiently. “We want to make sure that loading zones still exist,” he said. “But reorient them so people don’t feel the need to double park.”
The BID is also getting close to introducing new wayfaring, or directional, signs; “We really want to cheerlead and push that along,” said John who believes directing visitors to the Borough’s parking garages and lots will eliminate pressure on street parking.
“There is always usually available parking in our garages and our lots,” he said.
The recommendations will hopefully help but they will likely not eliminate the problem which stems from a combination of human nature, “I’ve seen people double-parked next to an open spot,” said John (as have I), and population density – remember West Chester borough’s 18,000 residents live in just 1.8 square miles.
“West Chester has a small-town feel but we have an urban density. So that creates its own challenges,” said John.
Note: Double parking is illegal in Pennsylvania. So should increased enforcement become part of the plan you may find yourself paying handsomely for the convenience.
Now the fun stuff. Is West Chester Restaurant Week returning? And what other events do you have planned?
Yes, it is! After debuting last year, the week-long event featuring prix-fixe, multi-course menus is back. “We are very excited,” said John about the return.
Participating restaurants will each offer a three or four-course menu for a set price of $30, $40 or $50 depending on the cuisine and courses. Restaurant Week, running from Feb. 25 through March 5, is not only a fun excuse to get out of the house and try a new restaurant or menu item but also a great way to support your favorite venues.
“It’s a slower time of year, so participation is key,” said John.
Turnout is expected to be strong this year so you’ll want to secure a place early at top spots. “Make reservations ahead of time,” John advises.
Also returning this year are the Gay Street closure, which will once again run Friday through Sunday starting in May, and Fête de la Musique. Fête de la Musique, as you’ll recall or maybe you won’t (that French seemingly gave people a few problems), was the downtown music festival that had bands and troubadors set up on various corners in celebration of the summer solstice. Although, now it will be known as “World Music Day.” See above.
Looking ahead, what are some priorities for the BID?
Brick sidewalks, historic buildings, descriptions of “picturesque” and “charming,” there is no denying looks have long played a key role in downtown West Chester’s appeal. So it is no wonder aesthetic improvements are top of John’s to-do list. Last year the BID partnered with West Chester’s Green Team to add a pollinator garden to the south side of the Chestnut Street garage. This year there are plans to expand that project to another border and add a planting project to the right of way around the Chestnut and Chuch Street lot. (If, like me, you are street challenged, that’s the lot that hosts the Grower’s Market on Saturdays.}
The BID also recently received a $50,000 grant from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development to improve building facades downtown. The money which is being doled out in the form of grants can be used to fix up commercial or mixed-use properties within the BID boundaries.
“The purpose of this grant is to improve or repair the exterior street side of a building,” said John.
The BID is accepting applications now through March 3. Grant recipients will be notified in April.
And big, big picture? “We want to continue to promote biking in the Borough,” John said. He would love to see West Chester connected to the Chester Valley and other local biking trails. And before you start listing all the reasons why that can’t be done, think how great it would be to leave your house and head out on a nice, safe bike ride through town and beyond.
A special thanks to John for his time and insights. It’s always fascinating.
West Chester Warps Time
The Borough of West Chester is having a grand ol’ time getting its digital data together and the fun is rubbing off. Earlier this month the Borough of West Chester introduced a new “Time Warp” map tool that compiles aerial imagery of the Borough from 1935 through 2020.
Want to see an aerial view of your street when the first can of beer and, fitting for this area, parking meter hit the market? Select your year of interest, in this case, 1935, and zoom in. I learned that in the late 1930s the Everhart Park area was almost rural with some development on the northern side with only a handful of houses on the park’s southern border – ours being one of them.
Remember these are old maps so, quality in some cases is iffy and know the historic maps are overlaid onto current Google data. Therefore, if you zoom too far out you will begin to see 2022 East Bradford and West Goshen seep in along the edges. Also, because of the overlay, the markings on the maps are not historic. The 1935 map, for example, shows John O. Green Park, Bayard Rustin Park, and Kathy McBrantie Park where they exist today – none were there at the time.
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Your taxes may have been unnecessarily raised. This week the taxing practices of the West Chester Area School District were called into question by the Pennsylvania Auditor General. The district, along with eleven others, was selected last year to participate in an audit of their finances. The results of the audit showed all the districts examined to be holding substantial money in their General Funds while still electing to raise taxes.
”Each of the 12 districts had sufficient unused funds that should have negated some of the tax increases,” said Auditor Timothy DeFoor. The Districts for their part maintained the methods used are common budgeting practices needed because they do not know how much funding they will receive from the state each year.
“The audit report refers to common practices of school board budgeting, which the auditor general agrees are fully legal,” said Matthew Przywara, acting Superintendent of the Lancaster School District.
In a statement posted to its website the WCASD acknowledged its participation in the audit and highlighted its exceptional credit rating. Then reiterated its commitment to transparency and frugality.
“The district works diligently to provide an exceptional level of education while maintaining the lowest tax rate in both Chester and Delaware Counties,” the statement read.
In response to the findings, the auditor is asking the General Assembly to make several changes to the current law. Read the full report here.
That time it really was a gunshot. At about 2:18 a.m. on Sunday, Vaughn Yanko, 22, of West Chester reportedly stood in front of the historic courthouse, pulled a “black Ruger handgun” out of a “holster in [his] right front jacket pocket” and fired a single shot. The bullet struck the victim, an unidentified 21-year-old male in the stomach. The victim was last reported in critical condition after undergoing surgery. The dispute was reportedly over a girl and a football game. Vaughn is a 2018 Rustin graduate.
“Gun violence must stop,” Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan told the Daily Local. Read the full story here.
Where there’s a will there’s a way. In sad news, West Chester teen Lila Ramirez Gabr, 17, has once again been reported missing. After reportedly running away and returning twice last year, the approximately 5’ 3,” hazel-eyed teen is missing again. According to a report filed by West Chester PD Lila ran away from her residence on Tuesday and has not been seen since. While no details were included this time, earlier reports suggest she may try to head to Fresno, California. If you have any information about her whereabouts, contact the WCPD at 610-696-2700.
I’m ready to come home. Earlier this week West Chester Borough picked up an untagged but collared pup running along Highland Rd in East Bradford Township. As of Friday morning, his owner(s) had not been located. Take a look. Know that face or where it belongs? Let the police know at 610-696-2700.
Price of stamps is going up. Hope that extra money secures some new hires.
High fives to Mark Lucas and Lilly Zhang. The West Chester photographers both recently had their work recognized by the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation as part of its 2022 wildlife photo contest. Mark won the Judge’s Choice Award in the Forest category for his picture of a tree base surrounded by colorful fungi. The photo was taken at Gallitzin State Forest in Somerset County. Lilly was named the People’s Choice Young Photographer winner for her photo, “heron waiting in the mist” taken at Marsh Creek State Park.
More than 600 photos were entered into the contest with just 20 winners selected.
On Friday West Chester Mayor Lillian DeBaptiste will attend West Chester University Speech-Language Pathology White Coat Ceremony. At the event, she will present the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders with a special proclamation in recognition of 100 years of serving the community through its Speech and Hearing Clinic. When the clinic opened in 1923 it was one of the first of its kind in the U.S.
A “White Coat Ceremony” is a formal ceremony where graduate students are presented with white coats marking the end of coursework and the beginning of clinical work.
A shout out to West Chester University sophomore Annika Hummel who was named PSAC Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Week this week after setting a school record in the pole vault last Friday. She jumped 12’. Annika talks about what’s next here.
And speaking of record-setting, fist bumps to Harry Davis, Yiannis Makris, Yashil Shah, and Julian Irving. The Rustin foursome set a new indoor track and field record of their own. This time a school record in the 4×200.
Finally, big congratulations to the Lady Golden Knights who beat Unionville this week to stay undefeated in conference play. Kudos to Elizabeth McGurk and Ava Panetta who filled the void of a rare off night for star Lain McGurk. The girls are back in action Saturday night at home in a non-conference matchup against North Penn.
Get your tickets, a new play is coming to Uptown! Theater. The High Street performing arts center will continue its return to live productions next month with the award-winning “The Mountaintop.” The 90-minute play set at the infamous Lorraine Motel on the night of April 3 imagines a lost conversation between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a mysterious stranger on the eve of his death.
“The story is fictional and fantastical, and its starting point is a moment in time that none of us will ever know the reality of. All those elements together made me want to bring this story to the stage in West Chester,” said Uptown Creative Director Carmen Khan.
While powerful and moving, the tone is not a somber one. “This play is funny,” said director Ryan George. “You think that because it takes place the night before he is assassinated it’s going to be filled with constant dread and drama, but it’s not. The drama and powerfully emotional moments are there, but they are elevated because this play is filled with so much humor, joy, and hope which is what makes it even more important.”
The Mountaintop debuted at a London pub before traveling to the city’s famed West End, where it garnered the coveted Olivier Award for “Best New Play” and finally onto Broadway where it was nominated for a Tony Award. The West Chester version will feature an original soundtrack influenced by the early 1960s sounds of Memphis, Stax Records, Chicago, Motown, Jimi Hendrix, and Philly, and the gospel sounds of the Coatesville First Calvary Church singers.
The play opens on Feb. 1 and will run through Feb. 19. Tickets are on sale now.
This week also marks the official start of the West Chester Area School District’s School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Earlier this month West Chester Borough Council voted unanimously to reassign a borough police officer to Henderson High School. The reassignment is part of a program that seeks to place an active duty officer in each of the district’s three high schools.
The West Chester police officer will join three West Goshen Officers already active in the East feeder system and a newly added Westtown Officer who will be onsite at Rustin.
“In the West Chester Area School District (WCASD), we have the benefit of knowing firsthand the value that SROs can bring to our existing safety and security measures as the East High School and its feeder pattern has had SROs in place since 2019,” Substitute Superintendent Dr. Kalia Reynolds shared in a statement this week.
The officers are just one piece of the district’s security procedures which also include video surveillance, building specific safety plans, faculty and staff training program and mental health support.
A quick hello and goodbye to Enclave at Brandywine. The new custom home development planned for the site of the former Chester County Boy Scout Council Office is coming soon and completely sold out. The new West Goshen development abuts 202 just past the Route 3 interchange. Construction of the seven Keystone Custom Homes is underway now. Each high end ($700K+) home sits on about half an acre of land.
And, ever want to camp in the park? Well, East Goshen thinks you should. This summer, June 3 to be exact, they are introducing their first ever East Goshen Township Park Camp Out. There will be an outdoor movie, s’mores, a scary story contest and more. Spots are being limited to 100 and will go on sale March 1. $50 will reserve you a 20’ x 20’ plot for your family.
Think this would be a good excuse to go crazy in a public park? Don’t get too many ideas – the township is offering discounts to any campers willing to stay up all night and patrol.
Finally, have dreams of sports greatness? Say hello, to your future. West Chester University is looking for part-time assistant coaches in football, women’s soccer, and field hockey.
This week we feature a couple of pretty significant goodbyes from the West Chester Area School District.
On Monday, Superintendent Dr. Bob Sokolowski put in notice of his retirement and subsequent leave to the WCASD School Board. The leave went into effect on Tuesday upon unanimous school board approval.
Dr. Sokolowski is stepping aside to focus on his health. He will use his accumulated vacation time and medical leave to take him to his official retirement date of Dec. 31, 2023. In his absence, the Board has appointed Assistant Superintendent Kalia Reynolds as Substitute Superintendent while they put a full search process in place.
Dr. Sokolowski has served the district for the last 19 years in numerous roles including as principal at Henderson and Assistant Superintendent. After serving in the number two position for six years, he was named superintendent in August of 2021 upon the retirement of Dr. James Scanlon.
A special message from Substitute Superintendent Reynolds.
During his tenure, though short, he has managed to keep a tenor of openness and support in an era of strong opinions. “Is Dr. Sokolowski okay? He is so nice. I hope and pray that he is,” one parent shared via Facebook.
And in a little bit of good news for the district, it also learned it was saying goodbye to a lawsuit that challenged several board members’ decision to support the pandemic health and safety plan. The lawsuit essentially accused the board members of child abuse for their support of a mask mandate during the height of pandemic transmission levels.
Last week Judge William Mahon ruled in support of the defendants:
“It is hereby ordered and decreed that “petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of and to vacate the court’s order… is denied.”
You can find the full statement here.
Also, we say goodbye to more trees. The Daily Local is reporting this week multiple trees have been removed in the Hoopes Park area of the Borough as PECO works to upgrade the electrical grid in the area. It is all part of a $4.8 million infrastructure upgrade project planned for West Chester and West Goshen.
And finally, a goodbye to Officer Tom Flick. Officer Flick is retiring from the force after 24 and a half years protecting residents of the Borough and East Bradford. Thank you for your time, sir.
Pay it forward.
Want to help the community while digging up a truly unique find for your home? Stop by the Women’s Exchange consignment shop on S. Church Street. It is full of hidden treasures from glassware to jewelry to gorgeous works of art. There is even a section of gently used toys. Each visit is different from the next.
Started during World War II to offer local women an opportunity to earn extra cash, the Woman’s Exchange of West Chester will celebrate 80 years in the Borough this year – and it’s thriving! Last year the nonprofit shop raised $38,000 to donate to a slew of local nonprofits including the West Chester fire departments, the public library, the West Chester Food Cupboard, and the Melton Center. That total was an 8.5% increase over last year which in itself was a record for the shop.
“Each year we donate to a group of nonprofits and this year, 2022, has been our best yet,” said volunteer Melissa Bailey.
I asked the women behind the shop for the secret to their success. They attribute it to a number of factors – their shoppers, consignors, the Masons who rent them the space – but one, in particular, stood out.
“I truly believe that the quality and dedication of our volunteers have contributed to our success,” said volunteer Linda Davis. “They give their time and expertise to make our shop what it is.”
The sentiment was echoed by Women’s Exchange President Shelly Coover: “When you have an organization that consists of people who are passionate about the organization’s mission you have a recipe for success.”
Stay tuned: the Women’s Exchange is planning events to commemorate their milestone later in the year.
Know a band that would be perfect for the Turks Head music festival? Tell them to submit their electronic press kit to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for submission is Feb. 17. Bands that impress will be contacted by the Turk’s Head Music Review Committee. This will be 40 years; let’s show the generations 2023 knows how to rock.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We will be juggling a variety of sports and birthday parties around an NFC Championship game. So it goes.
If your weekend includes similar plans – here are a few game viewing options for home – Peter Clark Kitchen and Maes West Chester are both offering game day menus to go. PCK has a cheesesteak, Maes, baked mac and cheese, both are offering versions of the South Philly Roast Pork sandwich and wings. Or keep it simple with a tomato pie with a cheese eagle. And don’t forget dessert.
And away – Barnaby’s partnering with the Fanatic to host an official watch party. Fun starts at 1 p.m. $3 Miller Lite bottles; $5 Coronas. ($5 Corona is a special?? I clearly don’t get out enough.) Split Rail will have both bars open and $5 select drafts and Kildare’s will have their regular $15 cheesesteak and a beer special.
Need a pump-up reel? I bring back WCU Eagles guy on the road.
Also, this weekend the Brandywine Singers are staging a performance of “Annelies” at the Kesher Isreal Congregation and West Chester Library is holding a meeting of its Ukulele club on Wednesday. Want to try something new? This may be your chance.
And this week a very special thank you to Something’s Awry Productions for joining Hello, West Chester as our latest Community Sponsor. From the hearts and minds of a local family of artists and storytellers, Something’s Awry is an animation studio that built its reputation finding beauty and humor in the unexpected. Even if you don’t need a production company right now, you should go to their website to check out their vibrant and engaging creations. I think you’ll be amazed.
Locally owned Something’s Awry Productions is an artist-driven animation studio that creates amazing 3D branded content and original IP for companies and studios worldwide. They are known for wowing their clients with unexpected beauty and their slightly ‘awry’ and off-beat humor. Take a look at their work at https://somethingsawry.com/
View a list of all our amazing Community Sponsors here. Thinking of joining this amazing community? Act now. Only 2 spots remain for 2023! See, you’re amazing. Learn more here.
Don’t have a business and still want to support? You’re amazing too! I figure if everyone who reads donated just $10 a year we could keep this thing free of pop ads and other intrusive advertisements used to get your attention.
Mark your calendars:
- Jan. 27 – Willy and the G’s, Slow Hand, 9 p.m.
- Jan. 28 – Annelies presented by the Brandywine singers, Kesher Isreal Congregation, 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, and are available on The Brandywine Singers website (thebrandywinesingers.org), or at the door.
- Jan. 28 – The Bickel Brothers, Slow Hand, 9 p.m.
- Jan. 29 – Feb. 19 – Teen Pottery class, Chester County Art Association, Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Cost: $180, first bag of clay is provided.
- Jan. 30 – WCU Community Service project, Sykes Student Union Ballroom, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Help put together reading kits (including bookmarks, pointers and books featuring diverse protagonists) for the Resource Pantry during January. Kits will be donated to local educational organizations.
- Jan. 30 – WCU Faculty recital: Jonathan Fowler, Tuba, Philips Autograph Library, 8 – 9:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.
- Jan. 31 – The Sum of Us: Virtual conversation, 5 – 6:30 p.m., Zoom. New York Times bestselling author Heather McGhee will discuss racial barriers in our society and how unity can benefit the community and even the country, a concept McGhee has coined the “solidarity dividend. This event is open to the public. Advance registration required.
- Jan. 31 – Off the Rail Karaoke! Split Rail Tavern, 9:30 p.m. – 1 a.m. Join Roxanne Rohls and Ophelia Hotass for a night of singing, drinking, and drag every Tuesday night.
- Feb. 1 – Feb. 19, The Mountain Top, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. A fictional reimagination of Martin Luther King’s missing minutes on April 3, a poetic and gripping inspiration from Tony Award-nominee and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall. Evening showings Wed. – Sat.; matinees available on Sun., Tues. and Wed. Check the website for complete dates, times, and pricing.
- Feb. 1 – Sustainable and Organic Beekeeping in Chester County, Sykes Student Union 255 A/B or Zoom, 12 – 12:50 p.m. Presented by WCU faculty and at 50 minutes each, these seminars introduce an array of sustainability topics in easily digestible segments. Presentations are free and open to the public. For Zoom use the link above and passcode: 878376
- Feb. 1 – Ukulele group, West Chester Public Library, 5 – 7 p.m. Looking for a friendly group to play/practice with? Here’s your chance. Meets every Wednesday.
- Feb. 2 – Madeleine Wing Adler Concert Series: String Division, WCU: Swope Music Building, 12 – 1 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. No tickets required.
- Feb. 4 – Miss WCU 2023, Asplundh Concert All, Philips Memorial Building, 7:30 – 9 p.m. Join as current students vie to be Miss WCU. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door.
- Feb. 5 – WCU Faculty Recital: Emily Bullock, mezzo-soprano, Madeleine Wing Adler Theater, 3 – 4:30 p.m. This is a free event. Tickets are not required.
- Feb. 3 – First Friday, Downtown West Chester, free street parking.
- Feb. 4 – Teen Night Saturday Night, Melton Center, 8:30 – 10:30 p.m. $5 entry all you can play basketball. This weekly event is open to students 13 -17 years old. Current Student ID required.
- Feb. 6 – Gentle Heart Yoga Class, 127 N. Church Str, 6 – 7 p.m. Class is $15 and includes free tea or aloe water from Shine Nutrition. Register at Dayvibes.com/classes
- Feb. 6 – Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. this is a free community event. Ticket reservations recommended.
- Feb. 6 – WCU Faculty Recital: Kimberly Reighley, flute, Madeleine Wing Adler Theater, 8 – 9:30 p.m. This is a free event. Tickets are not required.
- Feb. 7 – Hinsonville’s Heroes: Agents of Emancipation and Civil Rights, 7 – 8 p.m., This virtual program presented by the Chester County History Center is a pay-as-you-wish event.
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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2 thoughts on “West Chester Weekly News Roundup: Jan. 27, 2023”
I’m glad you raised the school tax question. No one likes to pay taxes, of course, especially not more than they need to. But the issue the PA Auditor General alludes to is caused by the state. We elect school boards to do their best for our communities, but the state won’t let them raise taxes more than a certain amount without special permission or a referendum. Often when a district requests to go over the standard rate, the increase turns out to be needed and the permission is just a fall-back measure.
As the school boards say, “they do not know how much funding they will receive from the state each year.” Will the state allow enough increase to counteract local (not the same as statewide) inflation? Will the state’s expected annual contribution to school districts be caught up in politics or budget crises? What if a district suddenly needs a new building or has an influx of special needs students or students from big new developments?
Without the ability to plan ahead accurately, districts ca be obliged to borrow large sums. If a district can draw partly on reserves rather than borrow at today’s very high rates, that will facilitate education and save taxpayers money. And reserves earn income. All this is why we have local school boards rather than a state or national system of education.
Hi Nathaniel, thank you for this added background. It seemed like there was more nuance to the situation than the sensationalized headlines going around!