Whitpain Township Staff Shared Updated Cook Tract Plan, Residents Voiced Pro and Con Concerns
Viewpoints were politely shared in a point and counterpoint informational hearing with township staff about developing eight athletic fields on the largest remaining tract of open space in Whitpain.
Whitpain township staff and consultants explained updates to athletic field plans for the Cook Tract to more than 100 residents at an informational meeting Monday at St. Helena’s Church gym. Residents expressed concerns and ideas about the project, to which township officials and Whitpain Recreation Association (WRA) officials responded.
Township manager Roman Pronczak said five changes, based on resident input, were made to the updated plan shared with the audience (which Patch previously reported):
- Storm water management – plans continued to be tweaked to capture storm water in underground storage facilities. A parking lot rain garden would help water seep into storage facilities below; the water would be used to irrigate fields and plantings, said planner, David S. Cavanaugh of LandConcepts. Infiltration pits would also be used. One designed for Lewis Lane now prevents flooding in that area, said Cavanaugh. Peak flow runoff would be reduced by half, and that water quality would be improved through bio-swales and rain gardens, he said.
- Environmental impacts – for woodlands would be lessened because a smaller parking lot was eliminated from the plan, thus preserving a stand of trees.
- Quality of the fill – would be limited to soil tested and found “clean” by a private laboratory, and rocks no larger than 18 inches long. Soil test reports would be sent to Pennsylvania’s Dept. of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) and turnpike commission. Daily township inspections would be held and recorded that the public may view.
- Traffic – would be less congested on Yost Road by using St. Helena’s exit-only driveway at Route 202 and Jolly Road. Neighbors called for the Yost Road entrance to be closed. Pronczak hesitated to agree, and said it would be needed as an access road. After Route 202 is widened, Pronczak said the exit-only driveway at Route 202 would become the main, two-way drive for the park.
- Visual impacts – will be improved by adding a berm near neighbors’ property.
When residents raised concerns or asked questions, the crowd was polite, and almost evenly split in its applause for: concerns about potential problems, and the need for athletic fields. Point and counterpoint was the tenor of the comments.
This is partially explained by an email sent by WRA boy’s travel soccer coordinator, James Dandy, on Friday, July 8 to nearly 100 recipients that stated, “I would like to challenge all of us as a group to present at least one speaker for everyone from the Opposition; and I can guarantee that everyone who is opposing this project will be showing up and making an effort to speak.”
Each “side” was respectful of the others comments that are listed below, most of which Patch previously reported:
- More playing fields needed – WRA coaches, parents and young boys and girls expressed the need for more fields a number of times. Two coaches spoke who had just come from practices. One coach said he his team practiced in another township because there are not enough fields for practices. Several coaches said they spend hours searching for practice fields for their teams. The young children want better fields so they can practice more and so their younger siblings would also be able to play more. O’Brien said young players get very little practice time because there are not enough fields for practice.
- Calls for WRA to buy land itself – O’Brien said buying land in the township would be a multi-million dollar venture that the non-profit organization cannot afford.
- Maintenance of fields – will be paid by WRA and Wissahickon Lacrosse for Girls. Cutting grass, reseeding, fertilizing and watering, toilet facilities and picking up trash will not be the township’s responsibility.
- WRA disbanding – the 50-year-old organization is “fiscally very conservative, and has funds from wise management,” said president Dan O’Brien. He sees continued growth of WRA’s five programs. When pressed, Pronczak said if WRA disbanded, the township could not assume care for the park and would allow the fields to return to their natural state, and would be mowed twice a year.
- Lighting – Pronczak said there are no current plans for lighting fields, but he and O’Brien said they cannot rule out lighting for the future.
- Dust – Walsh Construction was cited with two air pollution violations by PA DEP on June 2 for dust while working on widening the turnpike. Neighbors are concerned about dust affecting the breathing health of 900 school children at Stony Creek and St. Helena’s. An estimated 44,000 truckloads of fill would be moved from the turnpike onto the Cook Tract. Pronczak said the township would hold financial security from Walsh to make sure work is done correctly. PA DEP Community Relations Coordinator, Lynda Rebarchak, confirmed Walsh’s violations and said the driver for the water truck, which wets soil to prevent dust, did not report to work June 2. Walsh hired a new driver and has no further air pollution violations for turnpike widening work.
- Concern fill will really be clean – asbestos was covered over and a recreation area in Ambler was created, “we didn’t know” asbestos was harmful. Residents pointed out things considered “clean” today, may be found harmful in the future. Pronczak said comparing lab-tested “clean” fill to asbestos was an unfair comparison.
- The township as a whole is not benefitting from the project – minimal dumping fees per load assessed to Walsh Construction could be used to: restore library hours, pay the open space bond, give as a “thank you” to township police and fire personnel, or help fund Second Alarmers’ building project. O’Brien said WRA is not the sole beneficiary of the project, and that “the park would be open for public use, kids and dogs.”
- Property values – neighbors are concerned home values will plummet, while others point to Wentz Run Park. One called it “the jewel of the township.” Some say the Cook Tract would be a dump site, while Wentz Run is a nice park.
- Liability – one resident said the township is taking on a lot of risk for very little return.
- Field elevation of 25 feet – one resident wondered about creating fields at the existing grade, without having to dump 450,000 cubic yards of fill. Pronczak said the fields will reach 25 feet only near the back of the park, and at some points will be at existing grade.
- Environmental concerns – the Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum wants open space left pristine, mature trees spared, and fields maintained without using chemicals that could pollute Stony Creek. She is concerned about soils being compacted.
Pronczak said these ideas will be considered to see if they may be included in the project by next week. The final plan will be presented Tuesday, July 19 to the board of supervisors. A public hearing on the project will be held, and supervisors “may or may not vote” on the project that night.
A one-mile, unpaved walking path will be constructed around the perimeter of all the fields, which is also new to the plan.