Ways to improve public notice of neighborhood development projects

Around the Clock Home Health Care RenderingThere’s a buzz. There’s a hum. There’s that hammering and drilling again. The noticeable uptick in development projects in Germantown has pushed us to expand the W Rockland St Project’s focus and create a development news section on our blog that we’re calling Changing Germantown. Lately Germantown has been in the news for an array of neighborhood revitalization and community development activity. In February it was announced that Germantown was selected as a PhillyRising 2.0 zone. We’ve got the Germantown Special Services District (GSSD) cleaning the main business corridor again. Soon the Queen Lane apartment tower will be demolished and new housing will emerge.

After watching the foundation of a new building go in on the 4300 block of Germantown Avenue between the Germantown Friends School parking lot and the Holsey Temple Christian Methodist church, we decided to find out what it would be.

The building will house Around The Clock Home Health Care, a privately owned and operated agency that provides daily home health care services including personal care, meal preparation, light housekeeping, respite care, companionship, escorts and more. The business is moving from its headquarters at 5245 Germantown Avenue, an office building just a few blocks away owned by developer Stan Smith of Philly Office Retail.

Photo by Aine Doley

New construction on the 4300 block of Germantown Avenue. Photo by Aine Doley.

A Google maps satellite image of the site in 2012. The 4300 block of Germantown Avenue falls between Coulter Street and Penn Street.

The new facility will primarily be used as office space for Around The Clock employees, according to a recent NewsWorks article. “It will also provide additional room to expand training programs for its employees so the company can ultimately provide more diverse services to seniors,” wrote Queen Muse.

This business district is full of life with two new businesses as near neighbors, Sandalwood Yoga Studio and the soul food restaurant Tasties. Developer Ken Weinstein, also of Philly Office Retail, is currently renovating 5301 Germantown Avenue, a six-story property next to Holsey Temple at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Penn Street. 5301 is the largest building on the block and will feature a 1,600 sq ft cafe and restaurant space on the ground floor and 11 market rate apartments, in addition to an unknown residential use on the upper floors. Weinstein has said he cannot legally disclose the name of the non-profit or the nature of the additional residential use, which is rumored to be a shelter.

Prior to the NewsWorks story, there was much online chatter and speculation about what was coming to the construction site. Co-owner Patricia McKinley noted that outreach was done to nearby community groups, businesses and institutions, but that still left many other Germantowners clueless. Some residents who misread the banner advertising McDonald Building Co. were relieved to find out that the fast food chain McDonald’s was not coming! A quick Google search of McDonald Building Co. leads to a rendering and project description for the new building.

Recent confusion about this development and others has revealed that Germantown (and Philadelphia at large) needs better practices for getting information out to the greater community. Improved signage at development projects would be one quick solution. Take a look at these two signs outside of construction sites in New York City and Toronto.

Click to enlarge photos by Emaleigh Doley (R) and Ashley Hahn (L) snapped while traveling via Instagram.

Informational signage works to both squash speculation and engage residents in the development of their neighborhood.

After a trip to Toronto, Ashley Hahn wrote about the city’s smart signage for PlanPhilly’s Eyes on the Street blog: “This simple but robust public notice requirement is exactly the sort of move that could help Philly neighbors get key information and be aware of when a meeting is scheduled for major projects. It would also help developers make sure fewer people could claim they never were informed about a particular development.” (Read the full story: Five ideas Philly should steal from Toronto.)

It would be to Germantown’s benefit to establish a standard sign template for high profile projects that goes beyond the often confusing (and tiny) zoning, construction, and permit postings required by the City of Philadelphia. Perhaps this is something the local community development corporations G’Town Restoration CDC and Germantown United CDC can collaborate on with the neighborhood’s Registered Community Organizations.

What’s Happening

  • New construction
  • Business: Around The Clock Home Health Care
  • Current Address: 5226 Germantown Avenue. Info: (215) 991-6222
  • Builder: McDonald Building Co.
  • Architect: Blackney Hayes Architects
  • 10,000 square foot office space
  • Partial-vegetative roof system
  • Completion scheduled by the end of 2014
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