Citizens group files petition,
August 12th, 2009
Following months of circulating, the citizens group We the People of Cheltenham filed its petition to amend the township’s charter Aug. 4.
The petition, with more than 3,000 signatures, was filed with the Montgomery County Board of Elections. If the board does not challenge the signatures, a question will be on the ballot of the general election in November asking residents if they want a vote on future development projects by public interest corporations.
“You cannot vote at a township meeting. You cannot vote at the public hearings. But you can vote at the polls for the changes we need, and we thank the citizens throughout the township for their vote of confidence by signing the petition,” Theresa Camerota, one of the proponents of the charter amendment, said in a press release.
If the amendment is approved by voters in November, it will require public interest corporations, such as SEPTA, to have resident approval of major development plans. As of right now, however, the amendment would not extend the measure to private developers.
“If there was a further pursuit in the spring or even next November, the groundwork is there for this to go through in a much easier way,” said Brooke Welsh, a leader in the movement, when asked about how this could eventually affect private development.
“At the moment, the wording of the petition came up very specifically around the SEPTA project, because we didn’t have a full awareness of the other projects that are going on.”
Welsh and Camerota were quick to point out that the petition and the possible amendment is not anti-business and it is not a statement against the local government. Simply stated, it is a way to ensure more say by residents of Cheltenham.
“It’s about being included. We’re making a stronger message to the corporations. They don’t live here. We do, and we have the right to determine our quality of life. This is in support of our commissioners,” Welsh said.
One concern that residents have had with the proposed amendment is that it could put the township at risk of litigation from developers. Welsh said that the organization that helped design the petition, called Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, will provide free or low-cost legal services to townships that support their residents’ wishes.
“If this gets passed in November, and becomes a law in our books, and SEPTA says we’re going to sue you, the township supports what the residents voted for, then CELDF is willing to offer the legal services to combat that. We’re not hanging out here on a limb by ourselves,” Welsh said.
The amendment, if passed, will give residents of Cheltenham the opportunity to vote on proposals on developments by public interest corporations. The proposals would still go through the zoning board as usual. This measure is to ensure that residents have a say in keeping their communities “livable,” Welsh said, and to encourage “sustainable and intelligent” development in Cheltenham.
“This isn’t about corporate law; this is about constitutional law. It is about the rights of the people, not the rights of the corporations,” Welsh said.