By Katie Crawford
The March 7th meeting of Swarthmore Borough Council was devoted to consideration of the report and recommendations of the borough’s Aging-in-Place Task Force.
Anne Torregrossa, community member and leader of the task force, began the meeting by thanking council for considering the creation of an implementation committee in response to the task force’s 119-page report. Torregrossa spoke with excitement of the continuing conversations regarding aging-in-place being heard among residents in multiple venues such as churches, newspapers, and Swarthmore’s own Gathering Place.
The bulk of the council meeting involved individual council members giving their general response to the report, and allowing them to describe their vision of what an implementation committee charged with responding to the report’s recommendations might look like. There was universal praise for the thoroughness of the report and the tremendous amount of voluntary time and effort given to create such a document.
Planning and Zoning Questions
Mary Walk, chair of the planning and zoning committee, expressed concerns about some of the zoning recommendations found in the report. She questioned the actual number of people who are leaving the borough for reasons cited, and conveyed her uneasiness about changing certain aspects of the zoning code which would affect the entire borough.
She noted specifically the committee’s recommendation to change zoning code to allow for more multigenerational housing opportunities and/or rental units on one’s property to supplement income, stating that she “doesn’t like the idea of lots of rental properties around town.” Walk also indicated that much of what is recommended in the report probably already exists, and suggested that perhaps a senior coordinator could navigate these services.
Paying for the Services
Michael Carey, chair of the finance committee, questioned the actual cost of the recommendations in the report, noting that the borough is on a tight budget. He encouraged council to consider what would need to be cut in order to pay for certain services, or where council might find new sources of income.
Both council members David Murphy and David Creagan suggested that the first task of the implementation committee might be to discern which goals are pertinent to council, and which are more appropriate to address at the county level. Creagan also noted how the Aging-in-Place Task Force could have a positive affect on the ongoing debate about funding Emergency Medical Services, since the elderly feel particularly strongly about maintaining reliable and continual operation of these services.
Hiring a Senior Coordinator
Council president David Grove sought to correct what he found to be misleading information in the report regarding the planning commission’s lack of action on accessory dwelling units (ADUs). He cited his work on the Planning and Zoning Committee and the many hours of discussion regarding the potential effect of these units on the community. Grove did not see the need for any major revamping of the current zoning laws, but did support the creation of a small working committee to review the report’s other recommendations. Grove also indicated that he would be supportive of allocating borough funds to contribute to the hiring of a senior coordinator.
‘Personal loss when neighbors move’
Mayor Kearney spoke of his desire to make Swarthmore a more welcoming town in which to age in place, commenting on his own personal sense of loss when an elderly neighbor moves away from his block, taking their institutional knowledge and a comforting set of “eyes on the street.” Kearney also noted the “robust” discussion regarding ADU’s but stated that he would be happy to have that discussion again.
Echoing Mayor Kearney’s sentiments that part of the sense of community in Swarthmore comes from the feeling that “We are all in this together,” David Grove, age 78, shared a recent conversation he had with his wife of 54 years, Barbara.
As he was typing his response to the task force’s report, he wondered aloud why he should care so much since many of the proposed changes might not take effect in his lifetime. As a Swarthmore resident since 1969, having watched his now 51- and 48- year old children participate on their Big Wheels in the annual Fourth of July bike parade, he feels the simple desire “to do the right thing.”