Why I voted NO on the YMCA Proposal
For the last 7 years, the Abington YMCA has been one of the pillars of my family. From daycare to preschool, from holiday camp to summer camp, the exceptional people of the Abington YMCA have helped Caroline and I raise two strong and independent daughters. We have made great friends at the Y and we have memories to last a lifetime. The Abington YMCA will close in 2018 and consolidate with the Hatboro YMCA at a new facility near the Willow Grove Mall.
While the relocation of the YMCA is a loss, I choose to look at the move as an opportunity. Combined with the Abington Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, the Abington Y property is located at the historic heart of our Township. Indeed, over the course of the last two years, the Township has been assiduously at work to purchase the buildings kitty corner to the Y which encroach on and blight the intersection of Old York and Susquehanna Roads. These improvements will change the face of our Township, and will make the intersection safer for pedestrians and motorists alike. The future of the YMCA property should be part of the Township's plans for this historic intersection.
BET Investments has submitted a proposal to the Township for the redevelopment of the YMCA Property. Their proposal would require 1.) rezoning the YMCA property from a community service district to an apartment office district; and 2.) amend the apartment office district to permit high density senior citizen apartment housing. The Board of Commissioners considered the proposal at our meeting on January 11. While our vote this week was simply procedural to allow BET's proposal to advance through the committee process, I voted NO.
As your Commissioner, I will not stand in the way of responsible development. While I initially favored moving BET's proposal forward for informational purposes, I found the proposal to be completely inconsistent with community expectations and not worthy of the Board's consideration. In particular, I found it odd that BET's proposal would take the building all the way to the sidewalk's edge while at the same time we had been working for years to open the sidewalks on the Northwest corner. Indeed, based on sketches made available at the Board meeting, BET would build on every last available square inch of space. I was also frustrated by the developers insistence that we resolve all zoning issue before March. While I am sure that the developers proposed timing was necessary to make settlement, I am simply not wiling to, nor is the board required to, resolve this matter quickly especially when so much rides on our decision. Indeed, the Board can simply reject the proposal without hearings, which is what I voted to do.
Ultimately, my decision came down to two factors: 1.) I am tired of the township reacting to development proposals; 2.) the Abington YMCA property is too important to screw up. On the first point, we are only considering rezoning the property as Apartment/Office district because that is what the developer wants. In reality, the property may be better suited for other zoning but other appropriate zoning options will not be discussed in a developer driven process. Second, the Sale of the YMCA presents us with a once in a life time opportunity. The property is literally in the center of Abington and embodies so much of our history. If we want it to be redeveloped, it should be consistent with our plans for the Township as a whole as embodied in our zoning ordinance and it should contemplate the work we are undertaking at the Northwest corner of Old York and Susquehanna.
The Commissioners voted 8 to 7 to allow the proposal to advance to committee hearings. To be clear, I believe that the property should be re-zoned from Community Service to one of our Business or Village Districts. However, I believe that the decision should result from the proactive deliberation of the Commissioners and not as a reaction to a developer's request. This property is simply too important to allow someone else to dictate its future.