The Phoenix

Park improvemen­t costs debated at 11th hour

The plan has been discussed for 4 years

- By Evan Brandt

LIMERICK » Poised to vote in two weeks on approving the first phase of a nearly $1 million plan to expand and improve the community park, doubts about the cost and necessity were expressed at Tuesday’s township supervisor­s meeting.

Chief among the doubters is Vice Chairman Michael J. McCloskey III, who voted against authorizin­g the solicitor to the necessary resolution for preliminar­y and final site plan approval — a motion that passed 4-1 at Tuesday’s meeting — and declared he believes the township is over-building its park and trail facilities.

He said the 101 new parking spaced included in the three

phase plan — which also includes with a handicappe­daccessibl­e playground, a pavilion, softball and baseball fields, a basketball court and a rain garden for storm water control — will not be enough. As it is, those who attend the sports tournament­s at the township fields will park on the grass anyway, as they do now. “Entitlemen­t is at an all-time high,” he said of out-oftown visitors to the township’s parks system.

“You’re never going to stop people from being idiots,” quipped supervisor­s’ Chairman Ken Sperring Jr.

Further, McCloskey argued, the township is paying to improve facilities that are used as much by non-residents and residents, but it is Limerick taxpayers who are footing the bill.

“How much more are we going to pay for these parks?” asked McCloskey. “At what point in time do we stop building things for people who live outside the municipali­ty? Having open space, and trails and fields costs money.”

As McCloskey continued to rail, speaking over top of other speakers, Sperring said he had been raising some of these concerns for nearly 20 years, but surveys continuall­y show residents want more parks and open space.

“Parks and Rec in any township is a losing venture,” said Sperring. The townships parks and trail system costs the township $600,000 a year “but it’s a benefit to the community. So you have to decide. Do you want to stop now?”

“This was all part of the master plan. We’ve discussed it and vetted it many times. Now we get to the final vote, and suddenly it’s a storm. I’m getting blown away. We spent all this time in planning and design,” Sperring said. “Where were all these questions two years ago?”

Resident Bill Lacey told the supervisor­s that things have changed in the last two years, particular­ly prices. “Gas was less two years ago,” he said, suggesting that maintainin­g the expanded and improved parklands will now cost more than anticipate­d.

The 318-page plan for the 94-acre park was outlined by Township Engineer Khaled Hassan Tuesday night prior to the vote. He said its components were created “as part of a citizen wish list.”

“I’m done with wish lists,” McCloskey interrupte­d. “What are we going to do, raise taxes? That’s a great idea.”

It was created as part of a years-long park master plan process and put together by the Simone Collins Landscape Architects firm, which also drew up the township’s open space plan and the recently discussed Linfield Master Plan.

The park plan was paid for by the Pennsylvan­ia Department of Conservati­on and Natural Resources through the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservati­on Fund. Constructi­on of the park improvemen­ts will be funded by a $425,000 grant from DCNR and require a 50 percent match from the township in either cash or equivalent services.

“I’m starting to think grants are a scam,” said McCloskey.

And when Supervisor Patrick Morroney said the township could limit the use of the parks to township residents only, and Sperring corrected him noting that Montgomery County Open Space grants had helped pay for the purchase of the park property and so it must be open to all — McCloskey said “See? Grants lock you into things.”

According to the park plan, Limerick’s population grew by 270 percent from 1990 to 2010. An additional 25 acres were added to the park in 2015 and the plan is intended to re-work the park’s design “and adapt to the growing recreation­al needs in Limerick Township.”

Margaret Schweitzer, a member of the park plan study committee, said: “there was plenty of opportunit­y for public participat­ion.”

“The public participat­ion process (for the plan’s goals and objectives) included four public meetings, four focus group meetings, five project study committee meetings, eight key person interviews, and an online opinion survey,” according to the plan introducti­on.

A total of 1,091 individual­s responded to a townwide online survey, available from December 2017 to May 2018. Most, 72 percent of those responding, “were township residents who take advantage of park activities natural areas, or open spaces in and around the township,” according to the plan.

“Respondent­s were asked which facilities and activities should be included in the park: the number one answer was more lighting along parking lots, trails, and fields. The second-most popular activity, in keeping with state recreation planning, was trail connection­s to regional parks and destinatio­ns, followed by open lawn play areas, more restrooms, and nature-based playground­s,” according to the plan.

“I understand this was planned,” said resident Rita Lacey. “We’re making this park so wonderful and accessible, a lot of people using it don’t live in Limerick. It’s Limerick taxpayers who are going to have to pay this bill. Eventually, taxpayers are going to say ‘what the heck?’”

“I’ve been saying this for 20 years,” Sperring said of Limerick Township Community Park plan. “And nobody seemed to care. Now all of the sudden, it’s a problem. I don’t know where everyone else was.”

“The issue is it’s a philosophy. You either buy into it, or you don’t,” said Sperring. “It does add to the quality of life, but it’s a black hole for taxpayers. It’s a doubleedge­d sword. I thought everyone was on the same page.”

The vote for the site plan is scheduled for the May 24 meeting “and maybe this time people will show up in support.”

Supervisor­s Kara Shuler and Linda Erwin, pointing to the meetings and survey results noted: “they already did.”

As recently as last year, more than 80 percent of nearly 600 township residents who responded to a poll believe the township needs to preserve more open space. However, the same poll shows there is less certainty about how to pay for it.

Natural and passive recreation areas and trails were the clear favorites when those same residents were asked to prioritize the kind of open space they would like to see preserved, with athletic and playground areas bringing up a distant third and fourth.

But when it came time to see if residents are willing to pay out of pocket to protect those resources, the June 2021 poll showed far less certainty.

Only 49 percent of those polled said they would be willing to support an increase to the township’s earned income tax to support the protection and maintenanc­e of new open space areas.

However, only 31 percent said clearly they would not support such a tax while 20 percent responded: “don’t know.”

Limerick has a little over 3,400 acres of preserved land, just over 17 percent of its total landmass.

 ?? IMAGE FROM SCREENSHOT ?? The tan portion to the left of the map displayed at the May 3, 2020 township meeting indicates the part of Limerick Community Park which would be upgraded as part of the site plan up for a vote at the May 24 meeting.
IMAGE FROM SCREENSHOT The tan portion to the left of the map displayed at the May 3, 2020 township meeting indicates the part of Limerick Community Park which would be upgraded as part of the site plan up for a vote at the May 24 meeting.
 ?? ?? The Limerick Community Park Master Plan Report was completed in July, 2018.
The Limerick Community Park Master Plan Report was completed in July, 2018.

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