It's a brouhaha in Bustleton civic elections

The in­cum­bent board mem­bers of the Great­er Bustleton Civic League (left to right) Lili­an De Kraft, John Mck­eever, Di­ane Karuso, and Joan Rhodes - pose for a photo in the com­munity room at the Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Cred­it Uni­on in Bustleton, May 7, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Brad Lar­ris­on)


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. ••


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