They tried to stop it with 41 names on a petition.
They have attended numerous public safety committee meetings and planning commission meetings for months to get their concerns resolved.
They came out in full force Wednesday night and requested Lansdale Borough Council deny and table a vote on preliminary and final land development approval for the YMCA/PEAK Center/Advanced Living Communities/Manna on Main Street project — at least until all resident concerns are addressed.
All they wanted was a restriction on the entrance into the property from Forest Avenue, which has served as one since as long as Lans-Bowl and the North Penn YMCA have been in existence.
Yet, the efforts of the residents of Forest Avenue, Highland Avenue and East Main Street to get the YMCA to do it were unsuccessful — and council unanimously approved the land development plans.
What roadblocked the residents in the present was the actions on Lansdale's forefathers of the past.
The Forest Avenue portion of concern exists between Highland Avenue and the edge of the development property.
However, this small piece of roadway is private, and according to borough solicitor Mark Hosterman, owned by the two property owners at the corner of Highland and Forest — Barry Halvorsen and John Guernaccini.
Therefore, the borough has no jurisdiction over the roadway and entrance — and neither does the YMCA.
In fact, since 1955, the roadway has been private and, since 1955, access rights for the entranceway have belonged to most of the residents of Highland Avenue, and the YMCA.
"When 21 years went by, Forest Avenue, as it's laid out, reverted to ownership of adjoining property owners to the center line. For that reason, Forest Avenue is private property. The borough cannot do anything at this time to accept dedication of Forest," Hosterman said.
According to Hosterman, Lansdale Borough Council had an opportunity to accept dedication of the private portion of Forest Avenue in 1934 — it didn't.
That opportunity remained for 21 years, and nothing was acted upon. After the 21-year mark, the roadway became permanently private. The only way to lift this private restriction is if all those with access rights, including the YMCA, give it up to the borough for dedication.
"All the properties on (a) 1934 plat have private rights of access, that includes their own access to the tract, as well as business invitee access to the tract," Hosterman said. "It appears to us that the owners of the YMCA property have always accessed the property through Forest Avenue. There would be no way to cut it off unless the YMCA volunteers to do that."
Hosterman said council is required by law to act on a land development application within 90 days, which will occur before the October work session. Furthermore, if a deadline is missed, then the application is deemed approved under law as is.
Attorney Frank Bartle, representing the YMCA, said his client has adopted every consideration by the planning commission and zoning hearing board and has now met deadline requirements.
"Forest Avenue is not our issue," Bartle said. "It's not even our property. The property that they are talking about ... is John Guernaccini's property, and it was Mr. Guernaccini who moved his property asserting rights he through he had into the Forest Avenue right-of-way."
"It's not our property to give, it's not our property to sidewalk, it's not ours to touch in any regard," Bartle said. "What we use the drive for is appropriate ingress and egress to our site and leave alone neighboring property of residents that we have no right or title to."
Resident Jessica Behrle, who resides with husband Andrew at the corner of Forest Avenue and Church Road, two blocks away from the entranceway in question, said the petition addressed numerous safety concerns, namely no sidewalks leading up to the entrance.
"There are no sidewalks and are not possible under the current private ownership," she said. "(On) only one side there are sidewalks. It stops at the residential driveway and does not proceed to access the site. The stretch of Forest is privately owned and not maintained by the borough. This is the first safety concern. Pedestrians will have to walk into the lane of traffic to access the site."
She said the right-of-way between Highland Avenue and the YMCA property entrance is not wide enough for safe passage of two vehicles side-by-side, which poses another safety risk for cars and pedestrians.
She said the Forest Avenue entranceway was not designed for anticipated increased vehicular traffic along with pedestrian traffic.
A traffic study from March 2012 showed that, at peak morning and evening hours, 40 percent of all traffic entering and exiting the YMCA is using Forest Avenue.
"The current plans do nothing to restrict vehicle access at the Forest Avenue entranceway," she said. "They anticipate in that traffic impact study, 326 vehicles will enter and exit that facility between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Conservatively, 40 percent will continue to use Forest. That means 130 cars or more will be accessing that road."
Behrle said a four-way stop is needed at Highland and Forest avenues.
"We petition the borough to put a four-way stop at the intersection," she said. "We ask in the petition to reject the current proposal. We ask to investigate all options for this entranceway, up to and including restricting vehicular traffic in the entranceway and having the developer fully consult all residents on Church Road, Forest Avenue, and Highland Avenue."
Behrle's husband, Andrew, spoke of a September 5 letter written to select council members regarding the entranceway that expressed concern with the decision of the borough planning commission to recommend approval of the plan.
"We believe the planning commission is more worried about an application deadline for the YMCA expansion than assuring all matters have been fully addressed in that final land development plan," Behrle said.
The main concern, he said, is the traffic impact in their neighborhood. He said recent traffic assessments do not include Church Road and Forest Avenue.
"We feel that the planning commission should not have approved the plan without considering matters brought before the public safety committee," Behrle said. "The members of the public safety committee have, and continue to, take the concern seriously, but there needs to be a mechanism to align the two units."
Behrle said council should not "have the right to provide final approval on the YMCA expansion plans" until all current ongoing public safety concerns have been evaluated, discussed in an open forum and resolved.
"While we understand concerns have not been lost and the committee does take them very seriously, we find it disrespectful to residents to press ahead," Behrle said. "We feel it's negligent on the borough's part to allow McMahon Associates and Pennoni Associates to determine, behind closed doors, the most viable solution for that entryway, especially the four-way intersection on the YMCA property itself."
Behrle said the legal precedence set forth more than 20 years ago does not supersede the applicant's ability to restrict vehicular traffic on the entryway.
"We acknowledge public access cannot be restricted, and we therefore recommend the entrance be restricted to pedestrian traffic, while allowing for emergency vehicle access as required," Behrle said. "We respectfully request that you delay approving these plans until a complete traffic study is done."
Community Development Director John Ernst was asked to speak on the development, and told council that the planning commission recommended approval of the project, one that has already received zoning hearing board relief related to parking.
"(The planning commission) recognizes that this is a project that would benefit residents and visitors of the borough, is a logical and practical need of combining complementary public/private partnerships in one location, and will provide amenities to residents that are currently not available," Ernst said.
Nearly every council member expressed full support on the development plan.
"When I hear what residents say that are here tonight, that troubles me; it makes me wonder if I'm doing the right thing," said Councilman Jack Hansen. "But as I said, I've been involved in this a long time. I believe the developers of this project are going to do the best that they can for the residents."
Hansen said he's lived in Lansdale for 27 years and had not heard of a problem about the entranceway before.
"For all of the borough, I've got to support this final land development proposal," Hansen said.
Councilman Mike Sobel, who chairs the public safety committee, assured that the committee will continue to work on concerns, and they will work with the developers and vice versa.
"Research is still being done. These things take time. We want to get together with you folks. We are going to do that and keep moving forward," Sobel said. "We don’t want cars careening through your neighborhood, running over children. We will monitor the situation and adjustments can be made in the future as we move forward."
Councilwoman Mary Fuller, who represents the concerned neighbors of her ward, appreciated and respected the neighbors making their concerns know publicly to council.
She said she also appreciated what the project is doing for that portion of Lansdale.
Fuller said she has a fear of the unknown, should council deny the plan.
"The bowling alley property has been in the condition it's been in for five-plus years now. I know I would like to see it improved on," she said. "Taking into consideration what the neighbors said, I will publicly and personally commit time and energy in assuring we address the concerns."
Councilman Steve Malagari said he was in full support of the project.
"I think most of us are in support of a project that has all of those services for all those people that would benefit. I don’t see how you couldn’t be in support of that," Malagari said. "However, there are safety concerns. There are things still being worked on that wil take time. Knowing (the public safety committee) track record, I believe very firmly they will come to a solution that we can all compromise on."
A resdient who said he lived next door to the YMCA said there are numerous safety issues that are not being looked at by council.
"There are an awful lot of things you are sweeping under the carpet that need to be considered," he said.
Council Vice President Paul Clemente empathized with the residents, and took serious issue with the statement that things are being swept under the rug.
"That’s a ridiculous statement," Clemente said. "In my opinion, we have a certain obligation in terms of governing this town and it can't always be a fresh blackboard on which to draw. I would also like to say this project is beneficial in so many ways."
Councilman Denton Burnell echoed Clemente's opposition to the resident's statement.
"In all due respect, we are not sweeping anything under the rug," he said. "I will add my voice to the commitment to work together with you to resolve these issues. We owe that to you. You deserve that."
Read More on This Project
- Residents 'Blindsided' by YMCA Expansion
- Lansdale Collaborative Project Raises Concerns
- Manna Meeting with Concerned Residents 'Clarified' Misconceptions
- Resident Fears Manna Clientele Will Endanger Neighborhood