It’s a go ... everybody in the pool!

MONROE. Village of Monroe Planning Board approves WMCA’s site plan and issues special permit for expansion work using only a single access to facility.

Monroe /
| 21 Aug 2019 | 07:58

The Village of Monroe Planning Board unanimously voted to give site plan approval and a special use permit to the South Orange Family YMCA for its $2.1 million expansion on Aug. 19.

The decision paves the way for the expansion to begin using only the single egress currently in place and eliminates the roadblock some in the community felt was created by the Village Board of Trustees.

Now, the Y can move ahead to expand its Monroe facility and add new community programs and services plus a 25-yard, four-lane lap pool, a full-court gym, additional program space for children and a yoga studio.

Officials were optimistic pool construction will begin this fall, with the project completed by fall 2020.

Up until Monday night, a planning board requirement was for the Y to have a second egress to the facility to accommodate the projected additional traffic.

Years of work by the Y, county, state and village officials led up to the final proposal of that access road crossing the Heritage Trail between the laundry mat and Wally’s Ice Cream on Route 17M. It had received county approval and state Department of Transpiration traffic studies deemed the proposal to be a safe one.

In order to make that happen, the Village Board needed to approve the plan, which the planning board needed in order to give its final approval for work permits.

Months passed without Village Board action, despite pressure from members of the community and requests by Y officials to act. They reminded the board about all the work completed by the previous village administration, along with others, to advance the plan.

The needed DOT approval came later.

To date, Y supporters say they don’t fully know what work the village board was doing to address the Y’s request.

'We support their mission ... and the good work they do in he community'

Village Mayor Neil Dwyer disputed that, writing in a statement: “... the Board of Trustees has spent many months doing its own due diligence and as we learned during our review, the PB {planning board) did not condition the YMCA expansion plans on a second egress.”

Also in his statement, Dwyer said the board was excited the Y was now moving forward with the expansion.

“We support their mission as a YMCA and the good work they do in the community,” he wrote. “We look forward to seeing the YMCA project completed and its members enjoying this new addition.”

But Adria Gross, who led a group to create the Y, has been a member since it opened and has a business headquartered in the village, felt Dwyer didn’t do enough.

“I’ve had conversations with the mayor,” said Gross, who said she regularly attended village board meetings. “I told him that we’ve got to do this expansion. It was previously approved and I wanted him to follow up with previous board decisions for where the road would be. It was like pulling teeth to get him to do anything. His response to everything was safety. The planning board looked at the safety issue. People are happy it’s going to happen, but they’re angry at him for the time he wasted on this. The amount of money and time we had to put into this, I think it was outrageous.”

As the village board continued with its due diligence, Y officials submitted additional proposal modifications to the planning board. These were reviewed along with additional traffic studies and accident reports.

Y still considers a second access road would be beneficial

“Although the Planning Board’s approval doesn’t require the Y to construct a second access road, we believe that such a road is beneficial and will continue our efforts to construct one,” Y Board President Kevin Preston and Y CEO Ira Besdansky said in a joint statement. “We’re thankful for the planning board’s hard work and its research in carefully analyzing the issues.”

The planning board’s office did not respond to a request for comment, although The Photo News later learned Chairman Gary Parise was out of town.

Preston and Besdansky noted over the last eight years, the Y put a lot of time and money into efforts to secure an access to Route 17M, including working with village officials to obtain an easement to cross the Heritage Trail and with the DOT to get approval to build a driveway entrance to Route 17M.

“Unfortunately, after all that hard work the village board wouldn’t grant the easement needed to utilize a long-unused strip of land known as Gilbert Street Extension,” the statement said. “We remain hopeful that the village board will reconsider its position, or that the Y can find another way to access the facility.”

'Let's get it behind us'

John Karl, the former village mayor who said he regularly attends village board and planning board meetings, urged Dwyer and his trustees to approve the second egress.

“I was at the planning board meeting on Monday when board gave its approval,” he said. “I was certainly glad to see the Y could move on and bring the pool in. I’m glad for everybody involved. Everything that the Y committed to do, they kept their word and that means a lot to me.”

He added: “I was also at the Tuesday (Aug. 20) board meeting. I told them, ‘Let’s get this road opened up,’ and they told me ‘no.’ I hope the village board works through whatever it needs to work through to make this happen. Open it up. Let’s get it behind us.”

'The future growth ... will have a larger impact'

Karl’s successor, former Mayor James Purcell, who was part of the group working on the access road during that eight year period - during which Dwyer, the current mayor, was a trustee - praised the planning board for its work.

“It was very exciting to see the planning board resolve this and make sure the Y is a viable business in Monroe,” said Purcell. “It did its due diligence. It took action. They really vetted the process on behalf of public safety and they did a great job. I hope the village board still moves forward to approve the access way on Gilbert Street Extension. The future growth at the North Main and (Route) 208 areas will have a larger impact, so hopefully that option stays open.”

'Planning board members are the heroes in making this happen'

Y Executive Director Ross Miceli said he’s informing members and others in the community of the good news. He equally felt the second egress will provide improved access and must be addressed by the village board.

Miceli said he’s grateful to the planning board for its action, as this allows the Y to remain in Monroe and bring the first community pool into the town in addition to new programs and services to benefit children, teens, adults and senior citizens.

“It shows how good things can be achieved when the parties work together,” he added. “The Planning Board recognizes the value the Y brings to the community. Planning board members are the heroes in making this happen.”