Pottstown 101: Required Reading

I promised to put up links to as many reports & studies as I could find, and here they are. I’m sure other people may have more (or less) required reading in order to get up to speed on Pottstown planning issues. My current list is below.

I made a huge score when I found three studies I knew about, but hadn’t seen before, at the Pottstown Citizens for Responsible Government website – items f, j and k, below. Thank you to PCRG for posting.

WordPress has been acting funny today… The “preview” feature isn’t working now. I hope this post comes out okay…

**Added 09/13/2012**

PottstownHAP_FINAL_July2011 – Borough of Pottstown Heritage Action Plan – 2011

a. Pottstown Economic Development Strategic Plan – 2008
b. ULI report – 2009
c. Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Comprehensive Plan – 2005
d. 422 Corridor Master Plan – 2010 (Pottstown Borough-specific brochure)
e. Washington Street Action Plan – 2010
f. Core District Redevelopment Plan – 2003
g. Land Use (multiple sections to choose from) & Zoning Ordinance
h. Health & Wellness Foundation 2008 Needs Assessment Report – 2009
i. Open Space Plan – 2006 (scroll down to Pottstown link)
j. Western Riverfront District Redevelopment Plan – 2002
k. Reconnections: Reconnecting the People of North Coventry Township & Pottstown Borough with Each Other & Their Schuylkill River Heritage – 2004
l. Fire Services Assessment – 2009

A Call to Action – No. 2

This has all been shifting and re-shaping in my brain for quite some time. Sorry if it’s like getting hit by a really big wave 🙂

What we know:
– Pottstown has plenty of talented, creative, knowledgeable individuals and groups who are all stakeholders in the town’s revitalized future.
– They need to be working together in a coordinated fashion, doing work that is meaningful.
– There are plenty of laws and regulations, both internally and externally, which determine and affect what can and can’t be done.
– There are public agencies and public and private funding sources that must be aggressively pursued in order to bring the most possible benefits to Pottstown.
– The town must get its fiscal, administrative and enforcement house in order. That is underway; it must continue.
– The town must determine and then assert a positive public vision of itself.
– In order to make a break with the negative perceptions of the past, the town must go above and beyond what is typical when it creatively markets this new vision.

What must be done:

1. Get copies of the following documents, (re-)read them, refer to them often, keep them in front of you. These are the most current documents that guide everything your community is supposed to be doing… until they are superseded by a new study or newly-adopted ordinance or policy. There might be a few more – the District’s facilities assessment, for sure – but these form the foundation.

a. Pottstown Economic Development Strategic Plan – 2008
b. ULI report – 2009
c. Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Comprehensive Plan – 2005
d. 422 Corridor Master Plan – 2010
e. Washington Street Action Plan – 2010
f. Core District Redevelopment Plan – 2003
g. Land Use & Zoning Ordinance
h. Health & Wellness Foundation 2008 Needs Assessment Report – 2009
i. Open Space Plan – 2006
j. Western Riverfront District Redevelopment Plan – 2002
k. Reconnections: Reconnecting the People of North Coventry Township & Pottstown Borough with Each Other & Their Schuylkill River Heritage – 2004
l. Fire Services Assessment – 2009

It would be really helpful to create a kind of “summary library” of what’s in all these studies and documents, so people could have a quick guide to what’s recommended in each of them. I haven’t even seen all of them yet.

2. Engage the community and discover your vision through a series of community workshops. (Off the top of my head; needs refinement.)

a. Get a volunteer facilitator or facilitating team. Decide on the format (structure of visioning sessions, how to put people into teams, how best to convey info & elicit ideas, etc.)
b. Line up dates and large enough venue.
c. Get a summary of relevant information from the above studies & reports out to people well in advance. Set up your own visioning web page on the Borough’s website to put out information.
d. State clear goals, something like:

i. To come up with the top 2-4 essential qualities that define Pottstown (e.g. Pottstown is… the river or steel/manufacturing or pie or small town America);
ii. To choose 1-2 essential qualities that you want to promote;
iii. To come up with and define the top 1-2 economic development implementation strategies that will highlight that essential quality (e.g. We should encourage… arts & restaurants or pharmaceutical manufacturing or Pie City, USA or green manufacturing);
iv. To develop a community mission statement based on that essential quality & those strategies.

e. Get all interested parties – citizens, civic groups, elected & appointed officials, property owners, business owners – in the same large room for 3-4 Saturdays in a row from 8-11 a.m. Always have coffee & food!
f. Stop during the process to overcome obstacles.
g. Decide who is taking notes. Videotape the proceedings & put up on YouTube with link from Borough web page.
h. Have a report of the proceedings written up within two weeks of the final meeting, posted online and available at Borough Hall. Maybe have Council adopt a resolution supporting the document & the strategies.

3. Hold yourselves accountable to the vision. It should not be hard because you will have figured it out yourselves and should believe in it. If there is not enough buy-in, then there was a mis-step earlier in the process or in the community’s commitment to work together, in which case you should not have gone forward. Stop during the process to overcome obstacles!

4. Implement the vision. (More on the nuts-and-bolts of this in future posts.) My first suggestion, though: refer to the Economic Development Strategic Plan; don’t re-invent the wheel.

So, who will do it? And what’s the timing?

The Pottstown Partnership should take the lead on this. For that to happen, the individual member agencies – Borough Council, School District, County Redevelopment Authority, Chamber/PAID – need to finalize their agreements, mission and by-laws and hire someone. It’s been reported that they’re close to that.

On the other hand, maybe this is not how they see their Executive Director or Economic Development Director working. In many other places, an economic development director would be coming into an already functional department. All of this would have been decided, and they would hit the ground running and start implementing incentive programs, targeting funding sources, working with property and business owners, etc.

But that’s not the case here. In fact, because of the complicated and failed history of trying to change Pottstown’s economic future, I would caution against anything other than an initial, all-out engagement of the community. People need to be brought in, in a meaningful way. That’s something I forgot – one of the first steps in the visioning is to list your assets. If I did a chart of the community’s assets, I’ll bet you’d be surprised at how good you look on paper! Remember way back when we talked about the work of the community? I used a basketball analogy to describe everyone moving in a coordinated way, creating space and openings for each other so that everyone participates and looks good. That’s an ideal to continue to strive for. I have also said that I don’t think there’s any “savior” that’s going to perform any miracles. If enough people don’t buy into some economic development czar’s vision, you’re going to be bumping up against the same old limitations.

This visioning process doesn’t have to take more than 2-3 months to reach some consensus and then you’d rally all your resources behind that. There is urgency here, after all.

But what if the Partnership is not ready, or doesn’t come to fruition, for whatever reason? There is actually nothing to stop citizens from organizing and carrying out all of this planning and visioning activity – it’s just that there will be no underlying commitment that the elected officials will adopt it or pay any attention to it or implement any of it. That’s why there’s got to be an officially-sanctioned forum for all this to take place.

Frankly, I have no idea if this is something that the community or the leadership of the community even wants to pursue. Again, my m.o. is to throw out (reasoned) ideas and see what sticks.

I’ll look around and post a few suggestions for books that describe how to do these visioning projects. Of course, anything can be adapted for the needs of a particular community. Oh, yeah… then there’s the money. Usually you pay top dollar for a consultant to come in and run things. My take on that is to get a facilitating team that’s a cross-section of the community – not too large & no one controversial! – who will organize and run the sessions. In fact, there is some other economic development groundwork that you could take on as a community and not pay for. You could even use this “fiscal responsibility” in your future marketing materials. “Doing more with less… and doing it well” – that kind of thing.

Now you see what I mean about this only being the beginning of the real work that desperately needs to be done.

Profile: Jason Bobst, Borough Manager

The view from Jason Bobst’s third floor office in Borough Hall provides a glimpse of the work he faces every day, managing what is essentially a small city that has a small-town feel.

As Pottstown’s Borough Manager, Bobst oversees not only the typical activities of local government, but three other entities that are more often associated with cities and usually governed by separate entities. These are the Pottstown Area Rapid Transit system, the Pottstown Municipal Airport and the Borough Authority, which provides water and sewer to residents and businesses. That’s a lot of responsibility for any manager, but 28-year-old Bobst takes it all in stride and is already making his own mark on the position.

“One of my biggest goals is to get citizens more active,” he said. And the key to that is communication. By using technology more effectively and holding face-to-face meetings in every ward, Bobst hopes people are encouraged to get involved.

The Borough now sends out a newsletter three times per year, and there is a monthly show on PCTV about various aspects of local government. On the odd-numbered months, the program features Bobst and an elected Councilor. On the even-numbered months, a department head is featured, talking about what exactly their department does.

Another use of technology is the implementation of the Swiftreach Network, or Swift911. Residents and businesses can sign up to receive calls in the event of an emergency or for getting important information. More about this service can be found on the Borough’s home page and, if you’re interested, you can then fill out this form.

These communication efforts are coupled with the recently-instituted ward meetings, which take place in the neighborhoods and give residents a chance to get to know and directly address their elected officials, police, a public works representative and Bobst.

Jason is a 2004 graduate of St. Joseph’s University, where he majored in business administration and political science. He stepped up to Borough Manager a little over a year ago, after starting out as Assistant Borough Manager in September 2007 and serving as interim Codes Manager and interim Finance Director before taking the helm.

In view of the recently proposed amendments to the rental ordinance and the Pottstown Partnership coming to fruition, he said, “There’s a concerted effort now to get things done, being pro-active rather than reactive. We need to keep setting goals and benchmarks and have a plan of attack. I may not always have the answers, but I know where to get the answers.”

Eventually, he’d like to get his master’s degree in public administration.

“It’ll happen, but I’ve been kind of busy since starting this job,” he said with a smile.

What does he listen to on his iPod to relax?

“I like the whole range of classic rock. Chicago, Led Zeppelin, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, Phish. I grew up listening to WOGL.”

Jason Bobst, Borough Manager

That’s 98.1 FM, an oldies radio station that plays a lot of songs that some of us – ahem – listened to when they first came out in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

And Bobst admitted to being a Parrot Head, a commonly used term for a Jimmy Buffett fan. He hasn’t missed a concert since he was 15! So, we’ll let Jimmy wrap this up, tug on our heartstrings and carry us through the weekend. This is his 1974 hit, “Come Monday.”

Thanks, Jason!

Citizens for Pottstown’s Revitalization – Take 2

So I went to the CPR meeting last Friday night at the PAL building because the speaker was Dave Garner, former Borough Councilman, and the topic was the Urban Land Institute’s advisory report that was released in January (Pottstown, Pennsylvania: Transformation Strategies.) I’m a nerd when it comes to just about any kind of planning report, more so if it’s from ULI.

Garner made clear that the views presented were his own. He mainly encouraged broad participation in the redevelopment efforts, by citizens and groups well beyond the official partnership that has formed among the Borough, the School District, the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority and Pottstown Area Industrial Development Corporation, Inc. (PAID). He spoke of the need to establish a process by which decisions are made and to rigorously follow that process. Everyone should be challenged to do their homework, to know what’s going on, every step of the way. Then, when it comes time to actually make a decision, everyone should already be on board. Still, there must be a full & public discussion of the rationale behind anyone’s vote, for the record. But if the broader community has been doing their homework up until that point, they should already see/know/understand the direction that’s being taken.

There were some questions regarding where things stand now. A Memorandum of Understanding among the four principal partners was now with the School District. Some seemed impatient to not lose momentum while this agreement is ironed out and PAID hires a new executive director. Several comments were made to the effect that citizens can/should continue paying attention to, and participating in, various aspects of the revitalization efforts, yet it’s unclear what specific role could be played. Still a lot of “ironing out” to be done. I realize this post doesn’t get at the heart of the ULI report’s contents, but I’ll get to that in another post before too long — it’s all interesting, good stuff! And, bottom line, it’s not rocket science, i.e., its all quite do-able.

CPR reiterated its offer of Neighborhood Watch signs for anyone, anywhere in town, who wants to step up to be a Block Captain – a contact point for people in the neighborhood when issues arise. For that and to get on CPR’s email list, send an email to vivapottstown@hotmail.com.

There was a very good turnout for this meeting – maybe 30 people? – and they were from all areas of town. All Pottstown residents are invited and encouraged to attend CPR’s next meeting on Friday, May 21 at 7 pm at 146 King Street. The speaker will be Tom Carroll, president of Preservation Pottstown, an organization with a 6-pronged approach to its community development efforts.

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