Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Out With The Old, In With 2016

While the seasons don’t seem to have varied much around here this year, a number of changes did come our way in 2015, with more headed our way for 2016. Some are positive, and for others, the jury is still out. 

·        With relatively little fanfare, the cloverleaf intersection at Trooper Road and 422 was completed and opened. Outdated when it opened back in the early 80’s, not having a full interchange led to extra traffic being funneled onto Egypt Road as cars made their way to the Oaks interchange in order to be able to head westbound on 422.  About ten years ago, representatives from several local townships, including LP, went to Washington to ask for money to be appropriated to complete the interchange (as well as widen 422 and complete Sullivan’s bridge, under construction now). Now complete, it’s open, and traffic appears to be flowing better through Audubon with less congestion at rush hours. Hallelujah! 
·        Repairs to the Arcola Road Bridge are slated to be completed and the bridge re-opened to traffic no later than July 5, 2016. Given the warm fall we’ve had thus far, and the flurry of recent activity (crews were spotted working on the beams for the decking on Christmas Eve!), and presuming weather stays relatively mild and/or dry early in 2016, it’s a real possibility we may see the barricades removed early, sometime next spring. Fingers crossed!

·        In a stunning upset, for the first time ever, the Methacton School Board is now controlled by Democrats. The losing incumbents had been entertaining the possibility of closing an elementary school or two due to declining enrollment and projected higher pension costs on the horizon as an alternative to raising taxes, but the CARE (Community Advocates for Responsible Education) team disputed all of that, and took issue with the manner in which the school board was conducting its business.
CARE, which claimed to be bipartisan despite being primarily Democrat in political registration and orientation, and despite receiving primarily Democrat party funding, now has a voting majority on the school board. While I’m trying to keep an open mind and hope they are approaching the tasks before them grounded in reality, I suspect we will find ourselves needing to hold onto our wallets more than ever in 2016.
·        Speaking of Methacton, after decades of stalling and delays, we finally got a new turf football field constructed, bringing Methacton into the same era as most local school districts’ athletic programs. Available for play just as the current school year began, making this project a reality was the culmination of hard work and serious fundraising by dozens of people. While there is some evidence that turf fields contribute to more sports injuries, time will tell as to how that plays out at Methacton.  
·        After a 39-year career in law enforcement, LP Police chief, Francis “Bud” Carroll, appointed as chief in LP in 2000, is retiring. Stepping into his big shoes as incoming chief is Bud’s second-in-command, Lt. Stan Turtle. Many of our veteran officers have retired in the last two to three years, all after distinguished careers serving in Lower Providence, but this is a de facto ‘changing of the guard’. Best wishes, Bud, in your well-deserved retirement. Perhaps I’ll see you around down at the courthouse in Judge Ferman’s courtroom.
·        Bud’s Bar (also known as the historic Jack’s Tavern, and no relation to the aforementioned Bud Carroll), which stands at the intersection of Egypt/Park Avenue/Pawlings Road, has long been closed and become something of a dilapidated eyesore. One of the limitations of the property is the small lot size and the zoning, which results in a negative building envelope requiring numerous waivers for anything viable to be built or operate there. 

      Since having the bar repainted in 2011 as part of my campaign for township supervisor, I've been contacted from time to time by several of the real estate agents carrying the listing, with clients interested in the property and hoping to marry the two. Several interested clients wanted the possibility of a drive-through, and moved onto other properties in different communities when told that was off the table by ordinance (along with all the other challenges that property represents). 
Much to the township’s credit, they voted this month to authorize advertisement of a Zoning Ordinance Amendment revising Audubon VC Village Commercial District (in which Bud’s Bar is located) to permit facilities with drive-through services as a conditional use. Our township solicitor noted that the ordinance would permit this usage just in this portion of the Village Commercial District, which already has several drive-throughs existing on nearby commercial properties. Both the Township’s Planning Commission and the Montgomery County Planning Commission reviewed the proposed amendment and surfaced no issues, making the supervisors more comfortable with it.  If passed after public hearing, it gives the Township the ability to evaluate, on a case-by-case basis, applications for use of the property that contain a request for a drive-through and decide whether it works for the requested use on a given property. 

I think this signals a realistic approach by the Board of Supervisors to try to get a viable business in that spot. The alternative is that businesses will continue to bypass the location due to the numerous challenges and restrictions, and Bud’s will continue to deteriorate until the only viable option is to demolish it. Hopefully an interested business will come along that’s willing and able to afford to purchase and rehabilitate the building, and the Township will be amenable to making that happen.

As for me, 2015 brought new wheels and a terrific new guy into my life, so I haven’t had as much time to write as I would have liked, but I’ll be back at it full force in 2016. I hope your holidays were as fantastic as mine were (both kids were home, including my daughter, who lives down South) and that, like Lower Providence and Methacton, your New Year is full of wonderful developments too.