Borough to pave road
Church Avenue makeover: Officials have debated cobblestone alleyway’s future for three years
PHOENIXVILLE » Some consider Church Alley, or Church Avenue depending on who you ask, a charming vestige of a bygone era in a town trading on its history and historic architecture.
To others, it is a dangerously outdated remnant made even more so in the rain, sleet and snow.
Public opinion on whether to pull out the Belgian block cobblestones and repave it in the conventional way is split about 50-50, according to Borough Council President James Kovaleski.
After what Councilman Jonathan Ewald said Sept. 11 has been three years of prevaricating, it was time for council to act, but not before those who want the street preserved the way it is had one more chance to have their say.
Daniel Donohue told council he moved back to Phoenixville after graduating high school several years ago and is delighted to see how it has revitalized. It’s little things like the cobblestones on Church Alley, as the road sign says, or Church Avenue, as the council agenda calls it, that add to Phoenxiville’s charm, he said.
“It’s part of our history and it should be preserved,” Donohue said. “Some things are worth preserving and handing on to the next generation.”
“Phoenixville is popular, due to pocket parks, strong civic involvement, cute alleys and a sense of history,” resident Karl Bucus said. “That 150 feet of roadway is a symbol, a signifier of how we want to do development moving forward.”
Cathy Ingham questioned whether the $34,000 it will cost to pave the oneblock street between Bridge and Prospect streets and whether the $150,000 cost for the option of preserving the road as it is was entirely accurate.
“This was difficult to bid on,” she said noting that there was only one bidder, Charlestown Paving. She argued that with the use of grants, the current arrangement could be rehabilitated for less than the new paving will cost.
But Borough Manager E. Jean Krack said the 12-percent grade on the road made it unlikely PennDOT would allow any grants to be used. He too expressed surprise there was only one bid for the project.
However, he pointed out, the cobblestones will not be lost but rather stored for use elsewhere in the borough. He said they have already been moved once before, in the 1930s when they were removed from the lead in to a previous version of the Gay Street bridge.
His plan, which was also approved by borough council, is to have the borough’s traffic consultant’s McMahon Associates, reuse the cobblestones in a new streetscape design for the intersection of either Church and Main streets, or Church and Gay streets, or both.
Both intersections would give the cobblestones higher visibility than they have now, and would also be on flatter intersections, removing the safety aspect of having them on a 12 percent grade, he said.
Councilwoman Catherine Doherty said Krack’s idea “is a lovely plan. The block was moved from Gay Street about 100 years ago, I would like to see it used where people will actually see it,” she said.
Councilman Edwin Soto said he has mixed feelings on the question, but said as it looks now, the cobblestone street “is not very charming.”
“This issue has weighted on all of us, and with the public, judging by the amount of interaction we’ve had with them over this,” said Kovaleski. “But we have a responsibility to take action.”
The action they took was to vote 7-1 to move forward with awarding the bid, removing the cobblestones and having the road paved. Councilwoman Dana Dugan provided the only no vote. Dugan also provided the only vote against having McMahon move forward with a streetscape plan that will re-use the cobblestones at one or both of the other intersections.
Brick has been inlaid between the cobblestones and the curb on Church Alley.
Many of the cobblestones on Church Alley, particularly along the edge, are loose.
Phoenixville resident Cathy Ingham told borough council she believes, with grants, would be cheaper to rehabilitate Church Alley with the cobblestones, than to remove it and repave it.