Highland Avenue resident Sharon Dean has no problem with the proposed future location of as part of the , proposed on the former site of Lans-Bowl on East Main Street.
What she does have a problem with, she said, is the type of people that will be in and out of her neighborhood.
Dean, , brought her concerns to the Lansdale Public Safety Committee last Wednesday. In the end, Lansdale Police Chief Robert McDyre told her that the borough cannot prevent a landowner from building what it wants within code and ordinance, but it can be proactive in making sure problems don't happen in the neighborhood.
There is also a plan in the works for those involved in the collaborative project to sit down with area residents to iron out issues.
According to the building plans of , Manna on Main Street is to be housed at the rear of the large complex that will also be home to the new and expanded , The PEAK Center and .
Dean began by telling the committee that she was told that Manna would use its portion of the site for a homeless shelter, but found that wasn't the case.
"I don’t have the problem with the facility, but I do have a problem with the type of people we’re going to have in and out of our neighborhoods," Dean said.
She added that her children go to the YMCA for fitness and to attend other programs.
There's also a lot of programs dealing with children in and around YMCA, and the type of people we are going to attract are the people who have a mental illness," she said.
Dean works at Northwestern Human Services, located on Chestnut Street in Lansdale near East Main Street. She said the borough is aware of "problems we have in that area alone" all the way to the border with Hatfield Township.
She said Manna's move to the collaborative project will "impact our community severely."
"I'd like to know what the police are going to do about it to ensure our safety, whether it be panhandling, whether it becomes a hangout area of some sort," she said. "It's really going to bring our property value down tremendously."
McDyre told Dean that residents need to discuss concerns with the parties involved in the project: North Penn YMCA, Manna on Main Street, The PEAK Center and Advanced Living Communities.
"We can address public safety concerns. I can't tell Manna they can't go there, nor can I pick and choose what clients they have."
Furthermore, McDyre said the police department has a relationship with Northwestern Human Services and meet with them regularly. He said the police are aware of NHS clientele and "do everything" they can to handle issues. The same goes for Manna, he said, and the police will meet with Manna when the project comes together.
"It's not about saying, 'No, you can't have it here.' But I do have some concern because I don't think the police department has a real upper hand on anything that goes on entirely with the type of people that we have on Chestnut Street."
Dean said she was not trying to put down the police department in a real negative way.
Then, Dean got into a debate with councilman Mike Sobel, who chairs the public safety committee.
"Where are you talking about on Chestnut Street?" asked Sobel.
"We have Northwestern Human Services there that has a day program where people are consistently loitering up and down the area. I work there," Dean said.
"I live two blocks from there, and that's not an issue," Sobel.
"Really?" said Dean. "Maybe you don't have an issue, but have you spoken to your neighbors in that area?"
"I don't see it's an issue where there's people wandering around all over the place. I live right there," Sobel said.
"Well then, you know what you do? Why don't you go down there after a program and observe?" said Dean. "Instead of going into your house when you go home."
Dean said the issue has been "going on for years" at Northwestern, which is in an area where Dean does not reside.
"What I'm saying is, now you're going to put it up in my area, and I would like to know what the police department is going to do to keep my children, my family safe," Dean said. "I don’t want to run in my house when I get out of my car."
McDyre said the police would "absolutely" patrol the area.
"If it becomes a problem, definitely, we will put resources there," he said. "Just as you said there's speeding in the area, you're going to see more patrolmen there when it's reported. Make us aware, we'll be there."
Councilwoman Mary Fuller extended an invitation to anybody who would like her to organize a meeting with the collaborative and the principals involved in it.
"We can discuss concerns, generally speaking, that are related to the realm of the new project outside of the borough," Fuller said.
Dean reiterated that the police deal with issues at Northwestern on a regular basis "because I've been around it when police are called many times."
"Now I am forced to deal with it closer to my home, and I'm sure anybody else who lives in their homes feels the same way, like this man said," Dean said, referring to Sobel again.
"I don't know what you're accusing me of there?" Sobel said.
"I was repeating what you said: You have no problem," Dean said.
"Right," Sobel said. "Again, I just don't run into my house. I don't see an issue. I've lived there since 1972. I don't have neighbors knocking on my door telling me they have an issue with it either. They full well know I'm a borough councilman."
"OK," said Dean, "but some people get to the point where they just go into the house, shut their door and mind their own business."
Dean said her neighborhood - which comprises Highland Avenue, Forest Avenue and Wissahickon Avenue - doesn't do those things and won't start.
"We are a neighborhood that's not going to shut our door, lock our door and mind our business. We are a close-knit neighborhood where we speak to each other in the eye. We talk about issues. We're not a neighborhood that goes, 'Hey, how you doing, John?' down the street," Dean said.
Sobel said the committee listened to Dean's issues and said the police department is not going to "let maniacs run around in a neighborhood."
"This will be monitored. They will be watching. They will patrol as they need to and donate resources to it," Sobel said. "We do take this really, really seriously."
That prompted Dean to "force her hand" and tell the committee that a Lansdale Police officer - who she did not name - told her to be aware of the clientele.
"He said, 'You guys are talking about traffic lights, this and that, stop sign, I hope you are bringing that part up of the type of people that you're going to have in your area.' That's from one of the officers, clearly," Dean said.
Fuller said the important thing is that residents like Dean bring concerns to the committee in their forum.
"Help us help you," Fuller said. "Help your police help you. You can be the eyes and ears in the neighborhood."
Fuller said when she had a problem as a public citizen, prior to becoming a councilwoman, she called the police and they were on her street within minutes.
"They cant be everywhere all the time, unless they are made aware," she said. "You are doing the proper thing by bringing your concern forward."
Fuller hoped borough police will be proactive before a step-up in patrol is needed when the project, if approved, develops in 2017.
"We are meeting with Manna to be proactive about it before. It's five years before the project happens," she said.
McDyre agreed that the police's stance is to stop any issues before they become problems.
"We realize it’s a switch from a commercial to semi-residential and we realize it will be an impact," McDyre said. "The YMCA owns that property. The borough cannot stop them. The borough can only guide them to make sure they follow the codes and ordinances and it's built safely."
Dean said all she wants is a community that is safe for the families and children around the project.
"Knowing the history some areas have to go through, I just don’t want it," she said. "I'm sorry. I work with them, but I don’t want to have it in my area. If I'm going to, I'm making sure my police department, that my taxes pay for, makes sure it's going to be a safe neighborhood."
Resident Ray Liberto asked if there were many issues with Manna now or when it was next to St. John's United Church of Christ. McDyre said police would get the occasional call, but it wasn't greater than anywhere else.
Dean said, on the contrary, that there was a history with Manna. Dean related issues with Manna with issues at Northwestern Human Services.
"The loitering, that could be the problem because what comes with it is panhandling, using your backyard for a bathroom, digging for trash, looking for cigarettes on the ground. When I say it is directed at Manna, it's not what goes on inside. We've had loitering from the outside, all up and down Chestnut Street," Dean said.
"At times," she said, "we have had to pick people up from in front of Manna. The problem is the outside that leads from Manna to people coming from everywhere."
Manna on Main Street was asked to comment and react to the statements made at the public safety committee meeting.
Kristyn DiDominick, development associate at Manna, said Manna had no comment for the moment.
She said Manna directors are scheduling an open house for residential and commercial neighbors of the collaborative project. A date and time is to be determined.
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