The issue of the Freedom Valley YMCA's plan to build an 85,000-square-foot facility on the Markley Farms Tract was expected to once again be the topic of discussion at tonight's West Norriton Township meeting, but officials from the YMCA say that they weren't able to make it on to the agenda for the March board of commissioners' meetings. They are hoping to make it onto the agenda in April.
While they may not be an official topic of discussion for the agenda, YMCA officials are urging residents to attend tonight's meeting to speak out on behalf of the proposed facility and to counter what they say is misinformation that many who oppose the facility are hearing.
To set the record straight, the YMCA has released a "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQ) informational sheet to answer some of the questions that persist about the project – questions like "How much more traffic will there be?" and "Will taxes go up?" You can download and read the FAQ in our PDF section.
Dating back to , township residents have been sharply divided on the topic, with critics and supporters voicing their opinions at previous meetings, as well as expressing their views in the comment section of local news websites.
Those who support the planned YMCA point to the value of organized youth sports, adding that the facility would not only provide a place for people to go, but it would also add some much-needed recreational open space to the township.
"We have no place in the area where we can enjoy the outdoors and open space with swimming," said Virginia Rueber, in a comment posted to the Norristown Patch. "Sure, there are other pools in the area, but nothing as peaceful as Markley's area."
Another Norristown Patch reader, Candy Allebach, said she thinks the new YMCA is a great idea for the residents of West Norriton and surrounding townships, and many other comments point to the various benefits the YMCA would provide to the community.
Those who are opposed to the plans – many of whom live in properties that connect to the Markley Farms Tract – point to issues of decreased privacy and safety. The potential for increased traffic led to a comprehensive traffic study at the behest of East Norriton officials, who were especially concerned with the effects of additional traffic at the intersections of Burnside Avenue and Trooper Road at Germantown Pike.
"I personally checked with the neighbors, and we're not in favor of a YMCA in the back of our houses," said Dominic DeAstero, during the Aug. 9 meeting. "This is a residential neighborhood. That property has been zoned residential. We do not want to see a commercial enterprise in a residential neighborhood."
According to an October report by The Times Herald, officials of the Freedom Valley YMCA planned to ask the West Norriton Board of Commissioners to rezone 24 of the 56 acres from Residential to Recreational.
“This will be a recreational (zoning) request and not a commercial request,” said Jay Schaeffer, president of the Freedom Valley YMCA, in an article by Carl Rotenberg. “It ties in with the balance of the land which is recreational. Next door is Oakland/Padden Park which is also recreational.”
If the rezoning were to be approved, it would clear the way for the Freedom Valley YMCA to begin construction, which would take roughly a year following final approvals from the board.
At a cost of $19 million, the 85,000-square-foot facility would feature multiple indoor and outdoor pools, a gymnasium, an indoor running track and child-watch rooms. Additionally, there would be significant outdoor space as well.
Despite the heated debate, residents can count on one bit of good news as a result of the proposed project – according to Freedom Valley YMCA Member Services Director Barbara Koch-Santoro, the Y will open and operate the pools at Markley Swim Club this season regardless of the outcome of the zoning request.
"We owe it to the community," said Koch Santoro.