‘Dire need’ for a second access way South Orange Family YMCA’s expansion remains in limbo until the required second access way is approved; officials to present an amended plan to Village of Monroe on Jan. 15
Photo by Nancy KrizThis is the area where the South Orange Family YMCA wants to create an access way crossing the county’s Heritage Trail by the Y and emerge between Wally’s Ice Cream stand and the laundromat, connecting onto Route 17M.
By Nancy Kriz MONROE — The South Orange Family YMCA’s $2.1 million expansion project remains on hold and may remain in limbo with the Y’s expansion in Monroe possibly at stake unless, and until, a required second access way to the facility is approved. This comes after Y officials announced this past October that over $625,000 was raised from the community to support the expansion and renovation at the Y, which includes building a new community pool and new community programs and services. Y officials met with Village of Monroe and Town of Monroe officials last Friday in another effort to secure the second access way required by the Village of Monroe Planning Board. That didn’t happen, Ira Besdansky, YMCA of Middletown CEO, said. Y officials will next present a modification of a second plan previously discussed with village officials on Tuesday , Jan. 15 to the Monroe Village Board. Access, then approval The Y’s intent is to get the board’s attention as to “the dire need” it has to get the access way approved so it can submit plans for the necessary construction permits to the planning board, he added. “It’s our opportunity to make a full-blown presentation on our proposal, and how we amended it, to what now constitutes the new village board, and make our case on updating them on we believe was the plan of the prior village board,” Besdansky said. The requirement to have a second access way to the facility dates back to 2010 when the planning board approved plans for the Y’s construction and renovation work for its current site on the Gilbert Street Extension. As part of that, the planning board told the Y that any future expansion plans would require a second access way to accommodate the additional vehicular traffic. Turning onto Gilbert Street ExtensionCurrently, motorists get to the Y via Route 208. Depending what direction they’re coming from, there’s a tricky left hand turn to make onto Gilbert Street Extension at merge of Route 208 and a connecting road. Also depending where they’re going, some drivers also need to negotiate a left hand turn out of Gilbert Street Extension onto Route 208. Over the years, Besdansky said, the Y discussed two access road plans. The first required the support and approval from the Town of Monroe. It was proposed to be private access drive way for the Y to build and hand over to the town as that second access, off Orange & Rockland Road. That plan was initially considered during tenure of former Town Supervisor Harley Doles, Besdansky said. But contentious issues tied to the former movie theater, an annexation proposal and public outcry against Doles’ administration caused Y officials to abandon that idea. Instead, Y officials focused on a secondary plan in Village of Monroe boundaries beginning in 2013, during former Mayor James Purcell’s time in office. It would be to create an access way crossing the county’s Heritage Trail by the Y and emerge between Wally’s Ice Cream stand and the laundromat, connecting onto Route 17M. That plan included the required engineering and traffic studies and was approved by the county (in a 19-0 vote by the County Legislature in September 2015) and, later, the state Department of Transportation, Besdansky said. Purcell said he worked with two different village boards on this issue and kept them up-to-date on the status of activities. He said board members knew the county approved the plan. But he wasn’t able to bring it to a vote by the village board, because at the time, the DOT had not yet given its approval of the plan. “So there was no reason to give up a piece of village-owned property or enter into a contractual agreement without NYSDOT approval,” Purcell said. “Without the approval, the YMCA would then have to look for another option.” That same plan was presented to Mayor Neil Dwyer, who was a village trustee during Purcell’s tenure. Purcell said Dwyer was part of meetings with the Y and was kept up-to-date on activities. In 2018, when that same plan was again re-presented to the village, Dwyer - as the new mayor - said the new board would not support it, citing safety issues. So Y officials went back to the town, asking it to look at the initial plan considered during Doles’ time in office. At an August meeting, town officials said they were eager to support the Y and committed to helping find a resolution, going as far as asking its engineer to review the plan. But months later, there’s still no resolution. The town’s proposalTown of Monroe Supervisor Tony Cardone disputed the idea that the town wasn’t committed to helping the Y, saying the town board offered a license agreement to use the road for a five-year term. This was discussed at a recent board meeting. Those five years would give the Y a lifeline to find a new second access way elsewhere to continue to meet the requirements of the Village Planning Board, according to Cardone. “We have been forthcoming with what we legally could offer, which is a license agreement for the YMCA to use the road for a five-year license term,” he wrote in an email to The Photo News. “Additionally the YMCA maintains the ability to continue to seek the less cumbersome egress onto (Route) 17 (M) from that same town property. The town’s offer remains standing today.” His email added: “The YMCA had rejected the offer as the YMCA was not satisfied with a license agreement. However, anything more than a license agreement would require encumbering the town property and that would implicate permissive referendum requirements since it would constitute a sale or lease of town property. The Town Board has provided a proposed plan of secondary access to the YMCA via a proposed license agreement.” ‘No funding, no Y’Besdansky took exception to Cardone’s remarks. “With all due respect, the comment by the town supervisor is not only disappointing, but simply only a part of the answer,” he said. “Here is the entire story. Since our purchase of the building is predicated on the full Phase 2 expansion, the notion that a five-year licensing agreement for the required second means of egress will not satisfy our lender.” Besdansky offered a potential stark reality about the Y’s expansion. “No funding, no Y,” he wrote. “Additionally, why would a board of committed volunteers obligate the Y long-term and spend $2 million on construction of the road when there is no guarantee we will still be able to use the road in year 6? Furthermore, the notion that we come up with another access point to Route 17M (proposed by the town) over that five year period is, from a practical and engineering perspective, unworkable and prohibitively expensive.” Also, Besdansky wrote: “The leadership of the village and the town must understand that we are here because we were invited by their constituents and the larger community, and our limited financial resources go toward serving the community and providing financial assistance to those who may have difficulty with the fees. And yes, layered on top of these issues is the fact the Village Planning board must feel comfortable in the long-term plan for the second means of egress.” The plan to be presented next week has been amended to hopefully make it more appealing for the village’s consideration, Besdansky said. “The Village Board is very supportive of all businesses, organizations and people who want the village to be a better place to live,” Dwyer said in an email to The Photo News. “If, and when, the Y makes a presentation to the board, the board will give it serious consideration and make a decision that is in the best interest of all the residents of the village. I cannot speak for the board and will allow them to hear from the YMCA.” Purcell, the former mayor, was blunt in his perspective. “What a shame it would be if the mayor and current village board were to let all the hard work of myself, multiple agencies and community’s involvement be for nothing, he said. “The YMCA plays a major role in our social fabric but just as important is the private public sector relationship that has brought such a community-based business to the Village of Monroe.” Responding to the communityBesdansky stressed he hoped village officials understand the importance the Y has in the community, noting it’s the village’s third largest employer and contributes to the hyper-local economy. He also stressed municipalities want to have Ys in their communities. “I don’t want to underestimate the fact that everything we do, particularly this expansion, is relative to the community’s request for the YMCA to provide more services to the community,” Besdansky said. “It’s not me sitting in my office thinking about what can we do in Monroe? It’s me responding to the thousands of people living in Monroe saying, ‘We love the Y and see the value of services of the Y we want more services from the Y.’ It’s very important that the way the Y works is in response to community request for services.”