Thursday, March 26, 2009

THE GREAT DEBATE - Phoenixville Public Library

The decision to pass the Phoenixville Public Library's request for the borough to vacate a portion of Second Avenue has been sent to the monthly Council meeting on April 14, 2009.

This is a normal procedure because a committee is only empowered to take information, discuss the issues, vote in committee, and pass a motion along to the full Council for a decision.

My understanding of the process is Council would then move to advertise and schedule a public hearing on the requested action.

The public input will be sought at the hearning on closing Second Avenue.

I will continue to report on this controversial proposal, as much to inform the public of our concerns as to counter the thousands of pro-expansion brochures placed in the hands of each and every visitor to the library.



Committee approves Second Avenue closing

Thursday, March 26, 2009 11:41 AM EDT

By G.E. Lawrence

PHOENIXVILLE — An overflow crowd approaching 100 in number moved in and out of Council chambers throughout the meeting of Borough Council's Community Development Committee Wednesday evening. It had been a meeting scheduled for one hour, but was extended to nearly two and one-half to accommodate the number of people wishing to make public comment, three minutes apiece.

At issue before the Committee was the proposed closing of Second Avenue from Main Street to Park Alley, to enable the Phoenixville Public Library to expand across that street to the Reeves Park property line.

At its end, the Committee recommended that Council approve the closure, by a unanimous 3-0 vote.

But the vote followed an updated presentation on the scope of the project and its justifications from Phoenixville Public Library Foundation secretary Adam Deveney and project architect Tom Carnevale, Carnevale Eustis Architects, and a round of Committee members' questions of them.

And the vote followed the comments of 27 residents, comments concerning both the
expansion and the street closing.

Anna Zay, Second Avenue, was "in a difficult position," she said. She's a teacher, and said she supports the Library's aims and the preservation of the original Carnegie Library. "These plans may be the best so far," she said, "but may not be good planning." She was concerned with "a building this large planted on this corner," with "new hazards" created by proposed angled parking on Main Street, with a cafée within the Library. She believed a satellite library would be a better option.

Mary Anne Wilk, second Avenue, found "aspects of the proposal troubling," including traffic and parking problems, and significant sewer, water, and gas line changes and their costs, and the costs of managing an underground stream. "Do you reroute it? Who pays?" she asked.

But Dan Fennell — resident of one property on Second Avenue, owner of three others — believed that "refacing" the Library onto Main Street (the current entrance is on Second Avenue) would cut down the traffic on his street, that the safety of the site would be enhanced by the project, and that "suggesting a satellite would just start this whole process over again in another place."

Carnevale said that he was aware of the needed infrastructure changes, and was aware, too, of changes Fire Chief Jim Gable had recommended, but that all such costs would be borne by the project and not the Borough. The Foundation had considered the satellite alternative, Deveney said, but found overhead and staffing costs prohibitive. "We've promised the School District" — the underlying owner of the Library — "that, except for the added costs of a larger building, we would not increase other costs. We will not add staff."

Kirsten VanVlandren, Main Street, noted that, "Our library is the second most-used in the Chester County system, and our children's library is the most-used. The library desperately needs expansion, not only to house the current collections, but to grow the collections.

"Further," she said, "the plans for the new building are beautiful and will create a public space that will affirm Phoenixville as a town that values community, pedestrian culture, accessibility, education and literacy."

The proposal for Second Avenue's closure garnered the approval of the Committee's voting members Dave Gill (D-West), Henry Wagner (D-Middle) and Committee chair Mike Handwerk. The Committee's two nonvoting members, Jennifer Faggioli and Jim Northcutt, also gave the recommendation their support.


Solofloyd said...

According to a poll at The Phoenix website it isn't really much of a debate. 72% of voters are in favor of the expansion with a hefty 43% voting that they absolutely support the plan. Of course, the poll doesn't display how many people have voted.

Karen said...

From the the Phoenix opinion page website:

The following results were taken at 10:56 a.m. on March 29, 2009

Are you in support of the library expansion plans?

Absolutely (38%)

There doesn't seem to be a better option (25%)

Hate it (25%)

I don't know enough about the issues (13%)


Thanks, Solofloyd, I was not aware of a poll at the Phoenix.

My personal opinion is that the number of people who "don't know enough about the issue" is far greater than the number displayed only because the majority of discussions I have had with individual residents indicates that they are not aware of ALL the issues affecting the neighborhoods surrounding the library.

Those in opposition to the expansion plan as it exists currently do not have the resourses to educate the public as the library does.

The library is handing out perhaps thousands of brochures supporting the plan every week, and even with that massive effort, this small poll is not top-heavy with support.


Genevieve said...

Karen, I posted this on another blog earlier today but thought this was an appropriate place for it too:

I read the deeds for both the library and Reeves Park. Each property line is measured as 30 feet from the center of Second Avenue. Now, the way I understand it, in Pennsylvania, if a street is vacated, and the deeds are written as stated above, then property owners on each side of the vacated street, get one half of the vacated portion. After the street vacation, the library would own half, and the park the other half.
I think if the Borough vacates Second Avenue, the only way that the library can get the other side is for the Borough to give it to them.

However, the Council are the defenders of the park as outlined in the deed itself. If the Council gives them that half of the street, which has become park property, then I think this would be a violation of the deed to Reeves Park. The Borough Council is the protector of the park, they are obligated to defend it against intrusion, by the terms of the deed, and not to give park property away. Park property should not be given away to anyone.

I am sure that the people who drafted the deed did not even conceive that this situation would arise. No one in their right mind would have considered putting a building on an established thoroughfare. It would have been a laughable idea. The grid was a given. How many towns are there that would even consider such a ridiculous proposal? How many towns experiencing growth have given up a busy street? It is contrary to common sense.

I hope the members of council realize their obligation to the memory of David Reeves, as laid out in the deed. A library can be built anywhere, but a park, especially this one, which is so close to the hearts of many in Phoenixville, because of the character of the man who inspired it, cannot be replaced. If the Council will not defend the park, then the citizens really need to. Hopefully, the members of Council will do the right thing and keep that intrusive building out of Reeves Park.

I think the people defending Reeves Park should seek legal counsel. The forces of developers are very strong, they have moneyed interests backing them. They stand to make a lot of money from this project. I think the people defending Reeves Park really need to get together, find a lawyer to represent them, and fight this construction project.

Karen said...

Excellent commentary, Genevieve, on the multi-faceted problems surrounding the proposal by the library board.

Thank you for adding this to the ever-growing concerns about the project.

Ed Naratil said...

See the ad on page 8 of the new publication "Echo":
Looks like the Library is still planning to take over the corner of Reeves Park.

Solofloyd said...

Wow, the poll on the Phoenix website has swung heavily in the other direction. Most have now voted that they don't support the expansion plan. How many times have you voted Karen? Be honest!!

Karen said...

The issue is in a court of public opinion, Solofloyd.

The library proposal is polarizing our community.

Karen said...

I received the following open letter via email for posting to this thread.

To: Phoenixville Public Library Staff

Mr. John Kelley, Executive Director
Ms. Sandra Giannella, Director of Children’s and Young Adult Services
Ms. Michelle Covey, Children’s Storytime Coordinator
Mr. Mark Pinto, Reference Librarian/Director of Adult Services
Ms. Susan Mostek, Director of Development/Volunteer Services
Ms. Kay Price, Circulation Manager/Interlibrary Loan

I have been a resident of Phoenixville Borough for more than five years now. I have a library card, and I use the library on a regular basis. I have read the flier you are distributing at the check-out desk, and I have studied the “Master Plan Design Concept.” I am sympathetic to the need for more space in the library for meetings, offices, publications and resources.

In the spirit of the invitation on your website to “please e-mail us with your comments, suggestions, or concerns about the Library or this Web site,” I must tell you that I am disappointed, disheartened, and dismayed with the proposed library expansion and renovation project, and with the approach that library leadership is employing to move this project along.

It is not necessary to close 2nd Avenue and disrupt traffic patterns in the neighborhood in order to find more room for story time. It is not necessary to further diminish the beauty and historical legacy of the Carnegie Library, both inside and out, in order to increase office space. It is not necessary to build onto Reeves Park in order to have a larger section for computer resources. It is not necessary to impact property values in the area in order to have a dedicated teen reading room or to increase the volume of books and materials available. It is not necessary to have a café, period; Borders and Barnes and Noble can provide food and drink for those book lovers who cannot go more than an hour or two without sustenance.

In short, the expansion, as currently conceived, is not necessary – not because the needs of the library are unimportant, but because there are so many other options that would meet those needs without damaging the fabric of the neighborhood.

I think you know that you are being less than straightforward and honest when your flier notes that the library is seeking “approval to vacate a very small portion of Second Avenue.” I think you know that your proposed expansion of the library will violate the integrity of Reeves Park, although your “Master Plan Design Concept” as presented on the flier and the large poster across from the check-out desk cleverly conceals that reality. I think you know that most of the supporters you have mobilized to write letters, send e-mails, make phone calls, sign petitions at your sign-out desk, and sponsor fund-raisers neither fully understand what you are proposing nor are they personally impacted by the downside consequences; they are simply “supporting a good cause.” I think you know that, had you presented your ideas to the neighborhood first and truly considered our input before locking in on this one option, you’d have returned to the drawing board in the face of our overwhelmingly negative response.

You and the other leaders and supporters of this proposal would not tolerate the Borough Council landing this building on your own street, in your own neighborhood; it is selfish of you to support landing it on someone else’s street, simply for your own convenience, comfort, and good feelings.

It is not clear to me why it must be this structure in this location – there are so many options within Phoenixville Borough that would accommodate virtually every need of the library while maintaining, if not enhancing, the quality of the neighborhood. So much energy is being devoted to this issue by those who feel strongly, one way or the other. I would venture to say that most of those individuals are passionate supporters of both the library and the community. It would be wonderfully exciting if all of that energy were devoted to a common purpose. Unfortunately, sadly, the library’s win-lose approach to this issue is forcing many of us to take sides.

I am asking you and the other supporters of the current library expansion proposal to withdraw your request to have Borough Council close 2nd Avenue. I am asking you and the other supporters of the current library expansion proposal to show true leadership by working with Borough Council, library employees and patrons, neighborhood residents, and any other interested parties to create a truly elegant solution that resolves the interests of everyone and damages no one.

I would be happy to speak with you personally about my feelings and suggestions on this issue, and I would be delighted to be a part of a fairer, more open, and ultimately more gratifying process.



Ed Jones said...

I would only hope that this "open letter" was sent to all Borough Council members and to the editors of both "The Phoenix" and "The Mercury" for publication

Genevieve said...

This gets even better. In Chapter 91 (PA Borough Code) Article XVII. Streets (e)Vacating Streets "Petition for vacating streets it states that a MAJORITY (my emphasis) of the owners of the real estate abutting upon the street or portion thereof need to petition the council to vacate such portion of the street.

There are only two owners on either side of the portion of Second Avenue in question. Those owners are the Phoenixville School District(library) and the people of Phoenixville (Reeves Park), represented by the Borough Council and the mayor.
So it seems that the Borough Council not only has got to decide on the School District's request to vacate; they must decide to join with the School District to petition themselves to request the vacation. Add to that their role as protectors of the park as stated in the Reeves Park deed, and you have a lot of conflicting roles. This gets curiouser and curiouser.