The intersection of Montrose and North 3rd Streets in Susqeuhanna Township, Dauphin County (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)
Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
If there is a textbook definition for ‘sleepy suburban neighborhood,’ it could very well Montrose Park, an enclave of well-kept homes and broad lawns that sits just on the other side of the Harrisburg city line in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County.
But if you drive through the neighborhood these days, the chances are pretty good you’ll take note of the yard signs, planted at regular intervals, that read “They said nobody walks here;” “Don’t sue your neighbors,” and “Save Montrose Park.”
As our friends at TheBurg report, the signs are a very visible manifestation of a dispute between local officials, residents of the neighborhood at the intersections of North Third and Montrose Streets, and developers who want to plop a medical office building among the pre- and post-war homes that became a locus of Harrisburg’s vibrant Jewish community.
What started as a zoning dispute, and has since turned into a court fight waged in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, has brought residents together in an unexpected way, TheBurg reports.
“I’m starting to meet people who I didn’t know where they lived, and now I do,” long-time resident Jeb Stuart told the community monthly. “I’ve been to their homes. I’ve had them to mine. It’s been a really cool thing, where the neighborhood has come together around the banner of Montrose Park as an identity.”
Resident Ray Davis agreed, telling the magazine that the common opponent is “a perfect case of ‘adversity brings a community together,’ because that’s what has happened. There’s good that has come out of all of this.”
According to the TheBurg, the dispute began this spring when the lot’s owner, Riveroaks Associates, and developer Lindo Properties pitched their plan for the medical office building, which was to include a dialysis center.
The pair sued neighboring property owners on nearby Front Street, which faces the Susquehanna River for relief from decades-old deed restrictions, according to TheBurg. The developers defended the proposal, which they said was easily accessible and not a big traffic magnet. The building’s design was also revised to fit in with Front Street’s historic feel, the magazine reported.
The Montrose Park neighbors behind the site didn’t see things quite the same way, citing fears about drivers cutting through the neighborhood, flooding and medical waste. They also argued the proposal didn’t match Susquehanna Township’s comprehensive plan, TheBurg reported.
In August, the Susquehanna Township Commissioners rejected the proposal and the whole thing eventually ended up in court. But even with the proposal currently in legal limbo, residents are sticking together, according to TheBurg.
They held a block party not too long ago, and remain vigilant, attending township meetings and keeping up with developments.
As TheBurg notes, if you’re a developer looking to avoid organized opposition, picking a fight with a neighborhood in a company town where the company is state government might not be your best opening move. Montrose Park boasts a LinkedIn’s worth of lawyers, engineers, and other professionals, the magazine reported.
“There is a tremendous amount of really knowledgeable people—knowledgeable about different things,” resident Ray Davis said. “We have somebody who is an expert in stormwater management. We have someone who’s an expert in the medical aspects of what they were trying to do. There’s someone knowledgeable about engineering and flooding.”
Adds resident Debbie Tramontin: “We’ve begun to feel we have this body of knowledge at our fingertips. If you have a question about almost anything, I can probably give you the name of a person in our neighborhood who has knowledge around it.”
The dispute in Montrose Park, and its resulting political mobilization, echoes a similar dispute on the other side of the Susquehanna River in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, where neighbors banded together in 2019 to fight a Chick-fil-A restaurant proposed for the edge of a residential neighborhood where children walk to school every day (Full disclosure: I live in Camp Hill).
Jennifer Hoover, a Camp Hill resident who helped lead the opposition to the fast-food restaurant, and who was elected to borough council in November, explained the galvanizing effect these very local, and often, very personal battles can have on people who might never have otherwise gotten off the bench and gotten involved.
“Like Montrose Park, Camp Hill Borough has a heritage that is special and unique. When plans for a proposed Chick-fil-A were announced, residents and I felt that heritage, character, and quality of life were immediately at risk and, worse, dangers for our children walking and biking to school would intensify because of increased traffic congestion,” Hoover told the Capital-Star in a text message.
“….Whether we lived in the borough for decades or just a few months, we wanted consideration to be given to our concerns and deserved to be represented in discussions. That’s why concerned residents of Camp Hill Borough mobilized,” she continued, referring to the community group that worked to oppose the fast-food chain’s application.
“That’s why we worked together for greater participation and representation – even if we were up against one of the nation’s largest fast-food chains. Our children mattered more,” she said. “And for some of us, that’s why we decided to run for local elected office – to work for the betterment of our borough and perhaps prevent the creation of similar problems and insensitivities.”
Back in Montrose Park, residents told TheBurg that they also feel their neighborhood has something special that’s worth protecting and “made people realize we’re taking something for granted,” longtime resident Sam Levine told the news magazine.
“Everyone kind of banded together with the cause that they wanted to preserve the special-neighborhood feeling we have,” he said.
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Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt will resign his post in January to become the new head of the reform-minded Committee of Seventy, Marley Parish reports.
Cassie Miller also explains how you can help Pennsylvania’s more than 800,000 active service members and veterans this holiday season.
Correspondent Katherine Reinhard explains how federal infrastructure money will be used to improve and connect Pennsylvania’s network of rail trails.
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Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:
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What Goes On
10 a.m., Penn State Hershey: House Republican Policy Committee
11 a.m., Capitol Steps: Pro-abortion rights rally by Planned Parenthood and others
Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.
You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association CEO Alex Baloga, who celebrates today.
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Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Carolina dropped a 4-1 decision to Dallas on Tuesday night. Today’s a new day, lads.
And now you’re up to date.
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