Haws Lane neighbors, under deadline, still trying for a possible park

by Barbara Sherf
Posted 12/15/21

About 40 residents turned out on December 6th for a lengthy Springfield Township Commissioners workshop meeting on the 4.7-acre site at 380-402 Haws Lane.  In other business, a group of youngsters and their parents are hoping to put a skateboard park at Laurel Beach Park in Wyndmoor.  And it looks like there won’t be a light installed at the busy intersection of Haws Lane and Church Road. 

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Haws Lane neighbors, under deadline, still trying for a possible park

Posted

There is still hope that one of the last remaining open spaces in Springfield Township might be saved from development even though the developer has a conditional agreement to build a behavioral health facility for adults.

About 40 township residents turned out on December 6th for a lengthy Springfield Township Commissioners workshop meeting to share their views on the 4.7-acre site at 380-402 Haws Lane.  The consensus was to keep it as open space versus townhomes or an institution; the latter of which it is zoned for.   

The land is owned by developer Brian Halligan, owner and managing partner of MEH, LLC, who stated he did not attend the meeting or watch via Zoom.  In a text message, Halligan said he was proceeding with plans for institutional use as shared at an informal meeting of the Springfield Township Planning Commission meeting held on Tuesday, November 16.

But Commissioners Baird Standish and Jim Lee talked by phone with Halligan after the workshop meeting and according to them, Halligan indicated he would not fight the use of eminent domain by the township in order to keep the highly wooded spot free of development.   

At the special Planning Commission Meeting in November, Halligan spoke on behalf of Haven Behavioral Hospital of Philadelphia, a for-profit hospital located at 3300 Henry Avenue, as Haven did not send a representative to the meeting. 

Haven plans to build a three-story 70,000 square foot facility that can house 88 mental health in-patients and provide 98 parking spaces.  Halligan asserted numerous times throughout that meeting that the Haven plan is a by-right plan – which means that because it complies with current zoning, the owner has the right to build it whether or not the neighbors approve. 

A phone call to Haven was not returned.  According to their website, “Haven Behavioral Hospital of Philadelphia is an acute-care psychiatric hospital that offers a full continuum of care for older adults dealing with mental health issues.  We treat a complete array of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, personality disorders and many other illnesses.”

Many residents were concerned about the proximity of a mental health facility to the nearby Erdenheim Elementary School. 

At the Planning Meeting, Richard Metz of Erdenheim, who wishes to keep the area as open space called Halligan’s behavioral health facility plan “a sham,” stating that it was meant to make neighbors so fearful that they would agree to a townhome plan instead. 

Standish said he and Commissioner Lee talked to Halligan for 50 minutes the day after the workshop meeting. 

“He (Halligan) said he can’t wait any longer and he has a bird in hand and if he doesn’t move ahead he could lose it (Haven).  “Although he will not sell us the property as he has it under agreement, if we want to acquire the property we can take it through eminent domain.  I’m going to propose we order a third party appraisal to see what the value might be so that the community can raise the necessary funds to keep it as open space.”

At the Wednesday night December 8 commissioners meeting, the board voted 4-3 in favor of getting a third party appraisal of the property. Standish said an appraisal of the property could take several months.  He said the township would pursue grant funding and would ask the community group how much money they could raise on their own to keep the property as open space. 

Commissioner Lee said he was disappointed Halligan was moving forward before exhausting all options. 

 “I had proposed a request for him to wait four months for us to really exhaust preservation options and he wasn’t willing to do that,” said Lee.  Halligan had previously proposed putting townhouses on the property, but many neighbors (including Commissioner Lee) objected to that.   “I have been pretty consistent that even 30 townhomes is an egregious density for this parcel.  I also recognize that of the two bad choices, many would prefer townhomes over some institutional use.”

Resident Richard Metz was in the parking lot after the Wednesday night’s meeting handing out Save Harston Woods signs and had this to say about the direction the project is going: “MEH’s decision to make an agreement with Haven Behavioral Health is one step in a long process. I am still confident that the behavioral health facility will not be built on that location. We are working on the creation of a wooded township park for that location, and this process will take time. I believe a large percentage of township residents, both nearby and all over, including, of course, the Friends of Harston Woods, support the creation of a park at the Haws Lane location. This is part of a larger and longer effort to preserve green space in Springfield Township for the physical and mental health of all our residents.”

Flourtown resident Ellen Stevenson, upon hearing of the issue of a third party appraisal was pleased with the news. 

“Our community supports retaining the Haws Lane lot as open space and is encouraged by the Commissioner's desire to find a solution that protects it.  With recent weather events due to global warming and continuous overdevelopment of the small towns around Philadelphia, residents are concerned, engaged, and ready to work with community leaders to retain the tree canopy, environmental health and esthetic of our communities.  The time to begin is now," said Stevenson. 

Panning a Skateboard Park

In other business, a group of youngsters and their parents are hoping to put a skateboard park at Laurel Beach Park in Wyndmoor.  Carmel Archdekin, whose 12-year old son is an avid skateboarder, said the group has acquired 115 Facebook followers on Springfield Skateboard Group since the first week in September. 

She said her 12-year-old son has been skateboarding since he was three and that the closest skateboard park is in Ambler.  The skateboard park would be next to an existing playground off of Willow Grove Avenue. 

A Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant would cover half of the cost of approximately $450,000.  The parents and children would have to raise the other half.  The Parks and Recreation Board approved the proposal earlier this month. 

Springfield High School Senior Class President Eli Rubincam came out in support of the park.

“Me and a bunch of my friends at the high school have been missing a skateboard park in Springfield.  Skateboarding means a lot to us.  Everyone wants to try it.  It’s a good way to meet new friends and stuff,” said Rubincam. 

Anna Marie Cantiello spoke about the need for a skateboard park in Springfield.

“I’ve been to a few of the skateboard parks and there is a respect factor with each child having their turn.  I believe it gives them a life lesson on respect for a fellow person.  I think it’s an amazing idea that this should be introduced in Springfield Township.  I really hope you consider the situation for the children,” said Cantiello. 

The commissioners want to hear input from nearby neighbors. 

No new traffic light

In other business it looks like there won’t be a light installed at the busy intersection of Haws Lane and Church Road.  Township Manager Mike Taylor, a Traffic Safety Officer, reported that for the past five years there were five reportable crashes and seven non-reportable crashes at the intersection.  A reportable crash is when someone is injured or a vehicle had to be towed from the scene.  A non-reportable crash is a fender bender.  Based on the Traffic Safety Officer’s report, the fact that a tree has been removed from a property at the intersection, and PennDOT relined Church Road and the number of accidents is down, means that no traffic light needs to be installed. 

“That would have cost the township a quarter of a million dollars to put a traffic light in at that intersection,” said Taylor. 

The Commissioners at their regular board meeting on Wednesday night adopted an $18 million dollar budget that calls for no tax increases and a reduction in refuse service fees. 

They also honored Bonnie Davis for her 13 years as tax collector and treasurer for the township and read a proclamation hanking her for her years of service. 

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