Friday, September 28, 2012

Planning On The Y

Looking to get a feel for what Lower Providence Township officials might be thinking, Freedom Valley YMCA officials got a real workout when they presented optional sketch plans to LP’s Planning Commission, an advisory board to the Board of Supervisors, at an informal meeting September 26. At issue: does the Planning Commission think this project is a good use of the land at this location?

Sketch plan review is an optional step for applicants and is not subject to an approval process at this juncture.

In addition to the Planning Commission (PC) members, Lower Providence Supervisors Colleen Eckman and Jill Zimmerman were in attendance, as was Supervisors’ liaison to the Planning Commission, Jason Sorgini. Architect George Marks from Kramer Marks and engineer Tim Woodrow of Woodrow & Associates presented on behalf of the YMCA.
I've written about this subject before; the link is here.
Before anything can move forward in Lower Providence, the YMCA is concurrently trying to get a determination from the Montgomery County Commissioners as to whether they will lift a deed restriction on the property stemming from money provided to the Township for the initial purchase of the land in 1994, and what they will accept in exchange in order to be made whole for the funds they provided. They may want other open space in lieu of that which would be built on at the Club at Shannondell location, a full or partial cash repayment, or a combination. If they want alternate open space, Lower Providence needs to determine what and where those potential properties are. No meeting with County officials has yet been scheduled.

The YMCA indicated that they believe the County is taking the request seriously, but if the County isn’t interested in lifting the deed restriction, or suitable compensation cannot be worked out, the YMCA cannot move forward at this location.

As the applicant explained the project, they again noted that the initial phase calls for an 85,000 square foot building, with a 6,000 to 7,000 square foot lobby, and a large gym. In a Phase II, the total square footage could go up to 120,000, and include the addition of 3 indoor pools and slide, program space, indoor track of 1/10 or 1/12 mile, 3 outdoor pools, and a 12,000 to 14,000 square foot wellness center. If the County, Township and PennDOT approvals go as hoped, which would take about six months, the facility could potentially open sometime in mid-2014.

The pool currently on the property next to Chadwick’s restaurant would remain as they serve different customers than those served by the YMCA.

The operating agreement for the current Club at Shannondell facility would need to be modified to reflect the changes should the plan obtain all approvals.  While the YMCA would operate their facility under one operating agreement, Audubon Land Development (ALD) would continue to manage the Club at Shannondell’s remaining 9 holes of golf, the Chadwick’s restaurant, and swimming pool under a second operating agreement. Undetermined at this time is which entity (ALD, the YMCA, or a third party) would manage the operation of the driving range, miniature golf course and batting cages proposed for a third, separate operating lease.

PC Member Kristina O’Donnell asked what benefit there is to ALD to allow the change to their operating lease. The YMCA responded that you would have to ask them, but that the YMCA would not be presenting to the Township without their cooperation. ALD representatives were not present at this meeting, but the YMCA indicated that ALD was taking a back seat in this matter as the YMCA had come to them with the project and the idea of modifying the lease, so ALD, understanding that they have to go through a process to modify the lease if the project meets with Township approval, was letting YMCA officials take the lead for now.They are letting the YMCA drive the process until such point as a clear picture on the project’s viability and the Township’s position can be ascertained.

The revised plan now shows access to the property via an extended Crawford Road which will cut through the property and provide public access between Rittenhouse Road and Egypt Road, a solution which is expected to alleviate current cut-through traffic on Thrush and Lantern Lanes. ALD is doing a comprehensive traffic study which will encompass Crawford & Rittenhouse Roads, Rittenhouse & Egypt, Shannondell Drive to Park & Egypt, and Trooper Road to Park Avenue. YMCA engineer Tim Woodrow indicated during PC questioning whether the road would be public or private that the YMCA’s initial thought is to make it a public street, but if the Township thinks otherwise they are open to keeping it private.

Many of the Planning Commission members’ comments and questions, as well as those of residents, were reported in other publications (see links below), so I’m not going to repeat them all here. 

When asked what operating hours were envisioned for the driving range, mini golf and batting cages, YMCA responded that their primary hours when they are most in demand are in the evening, so they’d need to be lit, but the plans show these amenities located in the middle of the site so there is minimal impact on residents. Any lighting must comply with Township lighting standards. The busiest hours for the YMCA facility would be from 5-9 am and 5-9 am.
There was some discussion around parking. The current parking count of 674 spaces anticipates a total buildout of 120,000 square which is consistent with what other Y's in the region's needs have been. It’s approximately.400 or 500 feet from Egypt Road to where the parking area begins.

Sean Metrick, Montgmery County Planning Commission’s representative to LP was present and went over their review letter on the project. Mr. Metrick reiterated that in 1994 county helped LP buy the land to preserve as open space and the need to have the deed restriction released. The site has been used for active recreation since 1965. Now it's 'commercial' recreation. LP needs to decide if the added intensity is appropriate for the site.

Casey Moore of Traffic Planning & Design (TP&D) the Township’s traffic engineers, noted he's also a Township resident besides being the Township traffic consultant and is sensitive to the need to make all roads safe for residents. He will have TP&D’s letter with recommendations regarding the sketch plan to the Supervisors by next week.

 Public Comment

From the perspective of the approximately 30 residents in attendance, the comments and questions directed to the applicant and the Planning Commission reflected the same themes as those that arose at the initial July presentation: traffic, road improvements, intensity of use, stormwater runoff, and other aspects of the project that would be addressed later if the project makes it to the point of submitting formal plans for land development review.

About a dozen or so residents got up to speak about the project. Most loved the idea, but not in that location.  One, Kathie Eskie of Trooper, a current alternate member of LP’s Zoning Hearing Board (the second ZHB member to comment on the proposal thus far) and whose daughter Kristina O’Donnell fired many of the evening’s sharpest questions from the Planning Commission to the applicant, said that ‘It’s a wonderful project, but it’s in the wrong place…you lose the only big piece of property available to all residents…it’s not good financially, other small parcels that may be swapped will cost us to maintain and retrofit. Are there even any such parcels left?"

She added “We’re giving it to a commercial venture. The YMCA is a nonprofit but still a 'business". We were told the Township would get revenue of $40,000 and maybe more, but we'd use that up for services to support the facility and in upgrading the other sites. '

Ms. Eskie is close friends with supervisors Rick Brown and Don Thomas, who were not in attendance at this meeting.

Resident Joanna Nutley asked the applicant if there is a playground planned or racquetball. The YMCA responded that a playground is very likely, and would most likely be in the babysitting area; racquetball courts are not planned for this site. She also wanted to know if the formal designs would incorporate the Township’s new solar ordinance and the YMCA indicated that they will have to, but that they are not yet at that step. .

 Joe Niccolo of Crawford Road stated that he was the owner of one of two open space parcels that were scheduled to be purchased by LP last year with county matching funds, which the County withdrew for budget and political reasons. His parcel is located off of Crawford Road near the proposed YMCA facility. The deal never went through, so Mr. Nicolo mentioned that if LP ‘still needs to find some open space to trade, to consider his, as “it’s a good piece of property -  if there has to be a swap, it’s still available”. He said that he ‘felt disenfranchised’  when he and the Township had gone to the trouble of trying to have his 9 acre parcel left open and preserved as open space only to have it go nowhere.

Resident Steve Smeyne complained that ALD had “promised to extend Shannondell Boulevard to Park Avenue but that it never came to pass." While this is part of the overall plan for the retirement facility, a trigger to mandate the completion of the road involving a milestone number of units sold has not yet been reached. In the past, representatives of ALD have told me directly that while their intention is to honor the commitment if and when the milestone is reached, they remain flexible and open to other alternatives if they make more sense to the overall evolving Audubon area

Smeyne also said that the 9 holes to remain ‘will fail’ as they are a swamp when it rains. Residents Patrick Duffy and John Shumaker also gave this did resident Mark Million of Audubon. He said that his corporate golf league plays at Shannondell, as do other corporate leagues, and that the Club at Shannondell will lose that business if the current facility loses 9 holes. He noted they'd probably also lose other business such as the Methacton Post Prom fundraiser golf outing and possibly weekend golfers who don't want to keep playing the same 9 holes over and over. Million also noted that he felt that the 9 holes remaining would probably have to be redesigned or realigned. I would think that when the project undergoes stormwater review, the problem of 'wet' holes would likely be addressed then.
Other residents’ comments have been captured elsewhere, here (Patch) and  here  (Times Herald).
In a repeat of comments made at the initial July presentation of the project, several residents reiterated their belief that the project should be located within the former Valley Forge Corporate Center (between Rittenhouse and Trooper Roads) now known as Park Point at Lower Providence. However, there are several problems with that.
One, as Randi Elton, LP’s Community Development Director, explained, the Township has done a good job of marketing that site, which now only has 15% vacancy so, as she said ‘there isn’t much room down there’.  There are only 3 open parcels; 2 are empty buildings that just went to sheriff’s sale and one is the former Commodore Semiconductor (and Superfund site) located at 950 Rittenhouse Road. A representative of the site was on hand, Jake Hect, indicated he’d been working with the Township to develop and market this 14-acre site, which he said would require EPA approval before it could be sold and reused. The Y has previously indicated its feasibility studies indicated a need for parcels between 15-20 acres. A 1992 EPA report about the site can be found here. ( ).
However, even if there is a large enough, viable parcel available within Park Point, when I spoke with architect George Marks after the presentation, I confirmed that the YMCA simply doesn’t have funds to both purchase AND construct the facilities. They have funds set aside for construction, but they are looking to lease precisely because to purchase land in any location would cost money they just don’t have.  So, this is a dead issue unless someone is ponying up the money for them to purchase land someplace.
Next week at their October 4 meeting, the Board of Supervisors is expected to take a vote on whether to formally request the County consider revisiting the open space agreement with LP and lifting the deed restriction.
Overall, the YMCA has a lot to bring to the community, but they clearly have at least one significant hurdle to overcome before they can proceed. It should be interesting to see where the supervisors line up with respect to this project at next week's BOS meeting.


Michael Siegel said...

Janice, Use the commodore site for the YMCA. It is multistory and big enough for several indoor swimming pools and a running track. The water being pumped out of the ground can be used to fill the pools. Put a connecting bridge and huge walking/running/Bicycle trail around the golf course to the YMCA and make the connection to the Schuylkill trail. Use federal brownfield grants to retrofit the Commodore site and get the county to support it rather than fight them. This would be the project that the newly hired township consultants in Washington DC can use to acquire the funding for Township projects. Lastly, use the 8 acres at Shannondell for a joint relocated audubon fire dept/LPT ambulance Corp Building with the rest of the land left in grass for fairs and other community outdoor activities (fireworks fun day etc). The land currently occupied by these emergency services can be sold to developers for single family homes or commercial projects as zoning dictates to pay for the new building. This would be great since most calls are to Shannondell which is right across the street and plus they promise to support the ambulance corps. This would be a win/win for everyone. No need to build the Park Ave connection except as an emergency service road connection only.

staciedale said...

Wasn't the YMCA going to pay Markley's 2+ million dollars for their property? What happened to that money? Now they say they can't afford to buy land and build and have to lease property? Am I missing something?