UPPER MORELAND >> The commissioners have authorized township staff to develop proposed zoning amendments that would allow for a YMCA facility at 3400 Davisville Road, currently the site of the Willow Grove Day Camp.

The commissioners’ 7-0 vote followed a presentation Jan. 11 by representatives of the YMCA. The community development committee had heard a presentation from the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA in December.

Sean Elliott, executive director of the Abington YMCA, told the commissioners that the proposed facility on Davisville Road would be “state of the art” and that it would consolidate the locations in Abington and Hatboro.

“A new location would be a dream come true,” Elliott said.

He also told the commissioners that it was estimated that the facility would employ more than 400 people.

George Marks, a principal of Kramer and Marks Architects, displayed a number of images from YMCA facilities that his firm had designed in places such as Ambler, Haverford and the Upper Perkiomen area.

“Each of these Y’s has a different flavor,” he said.

Marks indicated that the building proposed for Upper Moreland would include a lobby, wellness center, gymnasiums, a gymnastic facility, two indoor pools and locker rooms, as well as a babysitting area to provide free-of-charge service while parents were at the facility. He added that allowances would also be made for future expansion of the building.

On questioning by Commissioner Kevin Spearing, Marks said the building footprint would be about 70,000 square feet, with a total area of 95,000 square feet because it would have two levels. According to him, a master plan for the facility would provide for expansion up to 120,000 square feet.

Marks also said there would be outdoor pools and a 592-space parking area. The existing baseball fields and tennis courts on the property would remain, and there would be a walking trail open to the community.

Marks assured the commissioners that there would be no facilities in the flood plain. Structures to the left of the existing driveway would be removed, he added.

Of the total of about 40 acres on the site, probably only 12 acres would be used, Marks said.

“I like what they’re trying to do,” said Commissioner Kip McFatridge. He asked if the facility would be named after Willow Grove, while fellow Commissioner Donald Warner stated a preference for naming it after the township.

When Spearing referred to what he called flooding and traffic challenges in the area, Marks acknowledged that a pipe in the area of Terwood and Davisville roads had created drainage issues.

“We’re going to investigate” that, he added.

As for traffic, Marks said studies would be conducted, and any issues would be addressed with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the county and the township.

Spearing said he was “excited” about the project, but added that “I see several technical challenges.”

Vice President Joseph Lavalle asked whether the proposed size of the facility was determined through a feasibility study, or based on a prototype or the property size.

Elliott answered that a primary marketing analysis for the site had been conducted. He estimated that the proposed facility would have between 22,000 and 24,000 members.

Lavalle asked if the Abington and Hatboro locations would be closed.

“Most likely,” Elliott replied. He said “most likely” one or both of those facilities would be sold. According to Elliott, a search for whether there were any restrictions on selling those sites had not yet found any.

Commissioner Bud Tucker asked how many people would be at the facility at any given time. In a worst-case scenario, Elliott said, there would be 700 to 800 people there.

President R. Samuel Valenza said traffic would be the biggest problem for residents in the area. He asked about the possibility of having two entrances for the site.

“We may have two entrances,” replied Marks. “We have no objection to it.”

Barbara Arthurs, of Pennypack Road, commented that “it is impossible, traffic-wise,” to get out of her street.

She also asked whether there would be before- and after-school day care at the new facility.

Elliott told her that Abington, but not Hatboro, had such programs, and they were held offsite. However, he added that there would be a summer day camp, which would probably have as many as 700 children.

Arthurs asked if the commissioners had considered having the township purchase the site.

Solicitor Kate Harper responded that, following a presentation about a proposal to place townhouses on the tract, the township had gotten a property appraisal, but found it would be expensive to buy the property. Additionally, the township would be responsible for the cost of addressing the stormwater and traffic issues, she added.

Harper said the YMCA’s proposal “looked like a much less expensive solution.”

She also pointed out to Arthurs that “this is just a concept tonight,” and the public would have many other opportunities to weigh in on plans for the property.

Harper explained that the commissioners’ vote would be on an agreement by which the YMCA would pay for the township’s professionals to develop the necessary language for the zoning ordinance changes that would be needed for the proposed facility.

While the vote was “a positive step forward” for the YMCA, it would not commit the township to any land development details, Lavalle said.

“It doesn’t obligate you to do anything,” Harper confirmed.

“This is not saying this is going to happen,” Valenza told the audience. “The people on Pennypack Road will be heard.”

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