In Germantown, Betty Turner saw an increasing number of properties getting redeveloped, and an increasing number of neighbors concerned that new owners were not building in a way that kept the diverse and historic character of the community.
Since the neighborhood did not have a neighborhood plan at the time, there wasn’t an easy way for developers to see what sort of projects community members were interested in.
Betty’s organization, Germantown Community Connection, and others, asked developers to present their project ideas openly to neighbors before it was required by City government. “A lot of different residents and organizations attended this development series,” Betty said. “Germantown residents were concerned.”
Betty noticed that developers were more welcomed by residents when they presented their ideas ahead of time and were open to input on how their project could better serve the community.
One developer, Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail, was investing a lot in the neighborhood at the time. “Initially, the community wasn’t so happy with some of Ken’s projects,” Betty said. “There was some give and take on Ken’s part...When he [was] open and upfront with the community, there were fewer problems.”
Learning how to work with the community in Germantown led Weinstein to create Jumpstart Germantown, a program to increase the number of people who are investing in the neighborhood in a community-minded way.
Jumpstart Germantown connects novice and less experienced developers with more experienced real estate professionals and provides acquisition and construction loans, not typically offered by area banks, for their projects.
Betty teaches Jumpstart Germantown’s important class on community relations. Ken asked her to do so because she has lived in the neighborhood a long time, knows its history, its key block leaders, and has developed trusting relationships with many of them.
“When the program started, there was a big pressure for residents to be part of the mentoring process,” Betty said:
This would help developers see the importance of community relations and provide helpful hints for how to make that happen.
Betty is quick to note that her class is very different than public relations. This class teaches people interested in building in Germantown the community’s demographics, how to be good neighbors, who to talk to on the block to find out what’s important to people, and the most valuable lesson of engaging community members in decisions at all levels as soon as possible. As she described:
We ask the developers to put themselves in the shoes of people being impacted by development and think about what it means to them.
The result is what Betty sees as “the best thing to happen to Germantown.” It’s a win-win: not only are more properties renovated more quickly, but in a way that’s better for the community because of the input offered by neighborhood residents. Neighbors are informed, and developers have the resources to help make Germantown better.
Jumpstart has even inspired many developers to live in Germantown themselves!
Learn the City's rules for development and zoning, as well as when you have influence
Give developers examples of projects that the community likes
If you don’t have a neighborhood plan, define the needs (street lighting, signage, etc.) with your community before meeting with the developer
When negotiating, focus on what is most important: Germantown Community Connection learned that the best results happen when instead of saying “no” to development, they work with developers to help them build something that is a positive contribution to the neighborhood.