New life comes to St. Nicholas Area Preservation

New life comes to St. Nicholas Area Preservation
Mary Howerton, Michel Moses, Lisa Collins, Scott Glass, Theresa O’Donnell Price, Renee O’Donnell, Ali McGowen, Patricia Phillips, Selecia Young-Jones, and Erik Kaldor attended the first meeting of St. Nicholas Area Preservation May 7 at the Mudville Grille.

After 10 years of being nearly comatose, St. Nicholas Area Preservation (SNAP) is coming back to life.

Thanks to the efforts of Alex Varkonda, a St. Nicholas resident who moved to the neighborhood four years ago with his wife, Jennifer, SNAP, a neighborhood organization that serves approximately 300 households, is on the verge of a revival.

Eighteen residents responded to Varkonda’s emailed notice of an organizational meeting, and 11 homeowners, including Varkonda, attended the gathering May 7 at the Mudville Grille. Since the meeting, the number of willing SNAP volunteers has doubled with 23 now committed to give their time.

SNAP Organizer Alex Varkonda

SNAP Organizer Alex Varkonda

Before the organization is fully set in stone, Varkonda plans to call a second organizational meeting for neighborhood volunteers in mid-June to name members of the group’s board of directors, to discuss new bylaws, and to establish various committees aimed at bettering the neighborhood.

“It’s great. We now have a really strong base of people who are willing to work,” Varkonda said.

Serving the area bordering Atlantic Boulevard from Mayfair Road to Holmesdale Road, SNAP went on hiatus in 2005 due to a lack of neighborhood interest. The group officially fell apart when President Dan Fassbinder was unable to find a replacement to lead the organization, said Varkonda. At that time, Beth Pavlicberry assisted Fassbinder with communications, keeping in touch with residents through email, while Tamara Grooms Baker handled the money, he said.

“Beth has really been the only presence over the past 10 years,” Varkonda said, noting as treasurer, Baker kept the preservation organization officially active by keeping track of money raised through Christmas luminaria and dues, which a few residents voluntarily continued to pay. “She kept our status going with our account,” Varkonda said. “Because some people paid their dues during the past 10 years, we have a healthy bank account to put toward our initiatives.”

Although the organization was officially “on pause,” during the past decade, Pavlicberry continued to connect with neighbors through email, sending neighborhood alerts and other information pertaining to St. Nicholas residents until Varkonda volunteered to take the job over four months ago. “She would send out emails a couple of times a week, and there are 400-plus people on the mailing list,” he said, noting messages were also sent to many South Shores residents as well.

Varkonda said his motive in reigniting SNAP comes from his desire to spark more social interaction between neighbors.

“About a year and a half ago, I noticed there was a lack of connected community in St. Nicholas,” he said. “I knew the neighbors who live alongside of me to the left and right, but not as a whole. There wasn’t anything happening for the whole neighborhood except for the annual Christmas party, where 150-200 people would show up, and we would have a blast. At the party we would meet and get to know each other, but other than that we hadn’t seen each other since the year before at the last Christmas party.

“I thought Facebook would be a great way to get people connected,” he continued, adding that in November 2016, he set up a closed Facebook group called St. Nicholas Neighbors.

“Within a couple of weeks, we had 150 people in the group,” he said, noting membership has risen to 242. “Over the past year, through the group, I could see a lot of people had a lot of things they wanted to see get done in and around the neighborhood, but with no organization, there was no effective way to make these things happen. I got tired of all the complaining without action,” Varkonda said. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to get people organized so we could have formal representation of our neighborhood and get some work done. We need to establish a strong structure so that SNAP doesn’t fall apart in the next five years. We want it to be around for the long term.”

Once board members have signed on, SNAP will most likely include several committees – membership, beautification, events, traffic and safety, and preservation, which will keep the history of the neighborhood.

At this time SNAP has no interest in installing a historic overlay like Riverside/Avondale Preservation or becoming an “HOA”-type organization with a lot of strict rules homeowners must abide by, Varkonda said. “We do like the idea of preserving the integrity of the neighborhood,” he said. “We don’t want to be in the business of highly regulating what you can and can’t do on your property.” Dues-paying membership will be voluntary, and new St. Nicholas Area Preservation house signs, which currently adorn several residences, will be given to those who join the organization, he said.

Although some South Shores residents and homeowners who live east and west of Holmesdale and Mayfair Roads have expressed interest in joining SNAP, the organization’s final membership boundaries will be determined once a board of directors is in place, he said. “Many South Shores residents are in our Facebook group. They have a yearning to have a stronger voice,” he said.

A former member of the San Marco Preservation Society (SMPS) who helped establish SMPS’s Wine Down in the Park and San Marco Nights events, Varkonda said he reached out to SMPS President Bryan Mickler for advice and has received full “mentoring” support of the San Marco organization.

SMPS has offered to let SNAP use Preservation Hall for its meetings until a local, quiet meeting place can be found. “They (SMPS) will hold our hands through this process and give us some of the structure to keep going,” he said, noting eventually he would like to have SNAP sponsor “cool” social events like Wine Down in the Park, which may draw San Marco people to St. Nicholas.

As SMPS actively supports the San Marco Merchants Association, SNAP will want to interact and help the St. Nicholas Merchants Association, said Varkonda. “Our goal is to get to know the merchants and to encourage them to be more formal. We want to work closely with them to see what we can do to help them develop their businesses. SNAP can be a great marketing tool. If they want to do certain things, we can push it to our residents, and if they want to give discounts to our members, we can do that, too. Part of SNAP might be helping to recruit small businesses to come to our commercial corridor.”

Even though he is spearheading SNAP’s rebirth, Varkonda said he has no intention of becoming president or being on the board. Instead he prefers to chair either the membership or events committees. “I’m organizing it, but it will be run by people much more intelligent and talented than I,” he said. “I’m a project development guy. I build relationships with my (day) job. Membership and how to get people involved is my skill.”

“The biggest thing the people at the meeting were looking for is to build a better sense of community,” Varkonda said. “They said safety and neighborhood improvement all begins with getting to know your neighbors better and getting a sense of community built.”

All St. Nicholas Area residents are welcome to join or volunteer with SNAP. To participate, contact Varkonda at [email protected]

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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