Although it was intimate and missing one candidate, the forum hosted Wednesday by the Narberth Civic Association was full of candor, focusing on a range of issues important to borough residents.
Five-year incumbent Michael "Sam" Quinn, who is seeking another term, was out of town, but that didn't prevent council candidates Mike Alexander and Bob Weisbord from responding to the questions of Narberth Civic Association members and other residents.
Following the forum's opening, Alexander and Weisbord were questioned about their willingness to oversee the Narberth Borough administration budgets and spending, including the Narberth Avenue Bridge project.
Regarding budget oversight, the candidates noted that township Manager Bill Martin holds an annual public meeting to go over the budget. Alexander emphasized that the budget is published and available for residents to see specific line items.
Both Alexander and Weisbord agreed the council is responsible for making sure borough administrators do their jobs. They added that there is documentation available online and in the borough office that lists administration members and their salaries.
Deborah Lonsdorf, vice president of the Narberth Civic Association, asked Alexander and Weisbord about the funding of the new Narberth Avenue Bridge.
"We have an obligation to pay for it and it's our orphan, so we're responsible for [some] of the cost," Alexander said.
Resident Katharine Kurtz asked why Narberth can't get a coffee shop.
"One of the things I love about living here is that you can get almost anything you want in downtown Narberth, and if you can't you probably don't need it," Kurtz laughed. "I like the quality of small shops and it disturbs me to see them open and close, open and close."
Alexander explained it had to do with meeting the zoning requirements for off-street parking for spaces designated for certain or mixed-use areas. Alexander suggested a parking study be conducted, which could possibly lead to a change in zoning to allow a coffee shop while still allowing people working at the center of town to park.
Weisbord wanted the question opened up to all residents. "I personally live [near downtown] and the thought of having a restaurant having any old use ... would be a problem for me and my family, especially if we ended up having the kind of congestion and parking I've seen happen in Manayunk over the last several years," he said.
After a handful of residents and civic association members disagreed with him and pointed out "Narberth would never become Manayunk," Weisbord suggested finding middle ground: building Narberth the way community members envision for social cohesion and the right mix of businesses, while satisfying concerns about zoning, parking and traffic.
Liz Brown, board member of the Narberth Civic Association, expressed concern over the Narberth Train Station repairs. Gigi Tevlin-Moffat, a resident who runs Narberth Community Food Bank, joined in, and said she thought it didn't meet requirements for the American Disabilities Act, because of accessibility issues.
"The next station available to those in a wheelchair is Paoli," Tevlin Moffat said. "For individuals in a wheelchair, you have to be driven to Paoli to get on a train to go to Philly, which to me is a bigger issue than how nice it looks."
"If it were up to me, I would tear the whole thing down and rebuild [the station] that was there before," Alexander laughed.
Weisbord added that it might be an issue that Narberth Borough has to lobby for, since the station is owned by SEPTA.
Before the close of the meeting, Weisbord pointed out the benefit Narberth's intimate nature in that all council members are accessible to the public.
"You could get the home phone number for practically anyone on council and call them with a concern," Weisbord said. "To me that's an amazing thing about this town, that's what I love about this town."