The Greater Bustleton Civic League is a big organization that wields a mighty stick when it wades into zoning issues, such as whether a neighbor should be allowed to erect a too-tall fence in his front yard or build an oversized garage.
How the neighborhood group handles these nitty-gritty issues is key to the board election members will conduct next week.
It’s going to be a rare contest, too. During the league’s April session, a full slate of five challengers was nominated to run for president, vice president, corresponding secretary, recording secretary and treasurer. Four incumbents are running for all but the vice presidential post.
It’s hard to pinpoint the last time the 71-year-old organization had this competitive a race. Best guess is: not recently.
• • •
Competition for every board seat in any volunteer group is just about unheard of anywhere in Northeast Philadelphia. Many organizations have enough trouble finding anyone to fill its board slots, let alone have contests for them.
Last year, Jack O’Hara beat out incumbent vice president Myles Gordon, but nobody else competed for other board seats. O’Hara now is running for president against the incumbent, John McKeever, who said he and other board members are running individually.
Maureen Greene, former corresponding secretary, is seeking that post again. The incumbent is Lillian de Krafft. Joan Rhoades, incumbent treasurer, is being challenged by Bob Hall. Marlene Markowitz is vying to unseat recording secretary Diane Caruso.
Only Harry Haberkern, a member of O’Hara’s slate, has no opposition. He was the only person nominated for vice present, and nominations were closed during the league’s April session so no one else may run for the seat. Haberkern, who had once served as league zoning officer, has been a member of the league since 1982, the year he moved to Bustleton.
McKeever joined the league when he moved to Bustleton in 2003. He has been president since September 2009. He had served as vice president. McKeever said the election is about who is going to represent the organization on zoning issues, which more often than not dominate the league’s monthly agendas.
Rhoades has lived in Bustleton for 46 years and has been a GBCL member for six years. She has been treasurer for more than two years. De Krafft has served as corresponding secretary for two years; she’s lived in Bustleton for 47 years and has been a league member for 10 years. Caruso has been recording secretary for more than four years. She’s been a member of the civic for about 20 years, four of which she’s been in office; she’s lived in Bustleton for 40 years.
O’Hara, a lifelong Bustleton resident, lives in the house where he grew up. He’s been a member of the league for four years.
Hall has lived in Bustleton since 1996 and has been a league member for more than four years. Markowitz has lived in Bustleton for 42 years and has been a league member for 25 years. Greene joined the league in 1989, a couple years after she moved to Bustleton. She first served as recording secretary. She was corresponding secretary from 1990 to 2009.
• • •
Greene said the league was formed in December 1941, just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as an association of four area churches.
Seven decades ago, the neighborhood was like a village, and a small one at that. As Bustleton has grown, so has the league. It is a very big organization.
More than 400 families are members, and the league’s territory runs from Red Lion Road to the Pennypack Creek, from the Boulevard to Montgomery County. The group has its own Web site, its own hot line and about $47,000 in the bank. Its meetings at the American Heritage Federal Credit Union are so well-attended that even when there is a low turnout, the league’s numbers still are the envy of other neighborhood groups.
McKeever said he expects more than 200 members will vote in the May 23 league election. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at American Heritage Federal Credit Union, 2060 Red Lion Road. An eligible voter must be 18 years old, a resident of the 19115 ZIP Code, and a member in good standing as of the league’s April meeting.
Victors will serve from June 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013.
• • •
Zoning — or land use — is 90 percent of what the league does and its biggest draw, said Bernice Hill, a former league president. People come to the league’s meetings when they have a zoning problem next door, she said.
Immediacy makes zoning, clearly not the sexiest subject, important to residents, even if only temporarily. The height of a neighbor’s fence, the size of a shed, how far a parking space must be from a curb, are all regulated by city code. Business operations are governed similarly.
Anyone who wants to do anything on a property that is not allowed by the code must ask for permission from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.
For example, the owner of a home in a neighborhood zoned only for single-family houses must get a zoning variance if he wants to convert his property to a duplex or a triplex. The zoning board wants to know what the owner’s neighbors think of his plan, so the owner will first go before the local civic association to pitch his idea.
During the Greater Bustleton Civic League’s 10 monthly meetings a year, McKeever said, members will vote to oppose or not oppose about 30 zoning proposals.
In the past year, for example, members have made decisions on music at local restaurants, expansion of a church building and shed sizes. Not every applicant left happy.
• • •
The challengers said they’re not happy before zoning applications are discussed. In a flier handed out during the April meeting, they said zoning issues currently are poorly described, confusing and provided late to members.
McKeever countered that he sends out the information via e-mail or by post 10 days before the league’s meetings, which usually are conducted on the fourth Wednesday of a month. He said the league obtained a $7,800 state grant for computerized projection equipment so members can see clear images of properties during their meetings.
That’s good, Greene said, but she added that the information members get before a meeting is sketchy and doesn’t give any indication of how important particular zoning applications might be.
“It’s not sufficient,” she said.
“It’s inefficient,” O’Hara said.
In their flier, the challengers said meetings are poorly run, board members are unprepared, bylaws are ignored, minutes are not read and correspondence is not summarized and presented at meetings.
McKeever said he and league zoning chairman Carl Jadach spend a lot of time on zoning issues in preparation for meetings or in going to Zoning Board of Adjustment sessions. He said he checks the ZBA’s online hearing calendar, but for the most part, zoning applicants come to the league.
He said he can spend 30 to 40 hours of his own time per month on zoning issues. In mailings to members, McKeever said he describes why the zoners say a variance is needed. He said people have opportunities to speak and ask questions, but he said there are a few people who ask most of those questions, keeping others from speaking. As far as correspondence goes, he said he doesn’t get any.
He agreed that the board has to do better in reading minutes of previous meetings aloud.
“That will have to be corrected,” he said. ••EndFragment