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YMCA Presentation Brings Up Traffic and Open Space Issues

Lower Providence residents again voiced opposition concerns over potentially increased traffic conditions and reduction to open space by the proposed Freedom Valley YMCA project.

The Freedom Valley YMCA presented planning sketches at the Sept. 26 Lower Providence Planning Commission meeting.

The sketch plans show the potential developments of and surrounding a new YMCA facility on the grounds of the Club at Shannondell in Audubon.

Tim Woodrow of the consulting engineering firm Woodrow and Associates presented the plans.

During his presentation, Woodrow demonstrated how the finished YMCA project would occupy approximately 40 acres of the 108-acres tract. He said the tract, which is owned by the township but leased and managed by the Audubon Land Development, would be divided into three sections.

The first section would remain independent of the YMCA proposed development. This section resides in the southwestern portion of the tract and currently contains Chadwick’s Restaurant and a golf course. According to the sketch plans, the golf course would have to be reduced to nine-holes.

On the northeastern portion, with Egypt Road to its north and Rittenhouse Road to its south, will be the YMCA facility itself. Sitting in between these two portions, in the middle of the tract, will be a YMCA development area that includes a public driving range, mini-golf and batting cages. This area was described as a way to help define the new YMCA as a community center and destination.

In addition, the sketch plans show Crawford Road being extended to cut through the property and become a public access connection between Egypt and Rittenhouse roads.

Considering that the YMCA development area would occupy designated open space, Woodrow said the purpose of the presentation was to seek the Planning Commission’s recommendation to the Lower Providence Board of Supervisors. The recommendation would be to formally request a withdrawal from the township’s open-space contract with Montgomery County.

In addition, the township would have to create different zoning for the commercial use of the area, as the Club at Shannondell property is currently zoned as residential.

“Do you think the YMCA location would be a good use for the community?” Woodrow asked the commission.


The Planning Commission Responds

Initial questions and comments by the Planning Commission revolved around the proposed development’s impact on area traffic conditions and use of the open space.

“When we look at a plan, it’s not just one area,” Kristina O’Donnell, Planning Commission member, said. “We need to know the effect on the entire community.”

O’Donnell explained that the township has a considerable traffic congestion issues, particularly at the Egypt and Rittenhouse roads area.

George Marks of Kramer Marks Architects, who gave the initial public YMCA presentation on July 26, told the commission that the YMCA is currently working with the Traffic Planning Design group to define traffic impact and what would be needed to create the new road. He added that the road would be expected to alleviate traffic in the area.

Susan LaPenta, the commission’s vice charwoman, said that major road improvements would have to be considered to line up Egypt and Rittenhouse roads, but added her approval of the proposed development.

“I think this is what the township needs,” LaPenta said.

Other commission members also spoke in favor of the project, including David Atkins, who said he expected much support from community members, particularly for the public recreation portion of the development. He added that the increased traffic to the YMCA area would benefit Chadwicks.

Another member, Mark Kuberski said he had reservations over the change in open space, but recognized that the current tract’s use is predominately outside public recreation.

“I was concerned about losing open space, but, in a way, this is another kind of open space,” he said.


Public Response

At least 30 people attended the YMCA planning sketch presentation. Over 15 people went up to speak.

Most were in favor of the YMCA and its public and membership features. But not one spoke in overwhelming favor of having it on the current Club at Shannondell site.

Many of speakers echoed Planning Commission and township officials’ concerns over the area’s already congested traffic condition and open space reduction.

“It’s a wonderful project, but in the wrong place,” Kathie Eskie, Lower Providence resident said.

Eskie, as with most of the public speakers that night, strongly desires preservation of the township’s open spaces.

Should the township agree to the YMCA proposal, then it would have to either give back the approximately $1-million county open space grant or find township parcels the equivalent to the open space loss.

Karen Smeyne also expressed dissaproval of the development, as she and her family live along Egypt Road, directly across from the proposed 100-foot buffer leading to the YMCA parking lot.

She explained that the only reason why her family moved onto the busy road 11 years ago was because her family researched that across the road was residential zoning and open space.

“I will feel extremely disappointed if that is changed,” Smeyne said. “I would not have purchased our property if I did not have the assurance of those two factors.”

At next week’s business meeting, the Lower Providence Board of Supervisors are expected to decide on sending the formal request to the county, concerning its open space agreement.

According to George Marks, should the board approve the YMCA construction, the new facility and public recreation area may be completed by the spring or early summer of 2014.

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