Township, borough clash on $451K grant for access road at the Ridge

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Jul. 14—The two municipalities that own the Ridge in Upper Yoder Township are showing signs of disagreement about whether to accept a hefty state grant that would lead to changes at the event venue.

Through the West Hills Recreation Commission, Upper Yoder Township and Westmont Borough jointly own the Ridge at 3984 Menoher Blvd. The 62-acre property includes picnic areas, a banquet hall and hiking area that are rented for reunions, weddings, graduation parties and other events.

In April, Upper Yoder Township secured a no-match grant of $451,900 for a new public access road to the Ridge.

After exploring the stipulations for spending the money, Westmont Borough President Don Hall said, Upper Yoder Township is lukewarm, if not completely opposed to following through, while Westmont Borough is supportive of accepting the funding.

"The use of that funding, while not ideal, does improve the Ridge," Hall said Tuesday after the Westmont Borough Council unanimously voted to again inform Upper Yoder of its support for the grant.

Deadlines to finalize the grant are coming up at the end of July.

Upper Yoder Township supervisors' next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the township building, 110 Sunday Drive. The supervisors are able to decline the grant, and the funds would be returned to the state's Multimodal Transportation Fund.

Attorney Robert Shahade, solicitor for the Upper Yoder Township supervisors, said he is recommending they not finalize the the grant because it applies to road improvements only and cannot be spent for sewer and water needs at the Ridge, which was the township's main reason for applying for the grant.

The application, which Shahade provided to The Tribune-Democrat, lays out a plan to create a new access road off Route 271 on part of the acreage belonging to the Ridge.

"The access area would provide safer access for vehicles and accommodate vehicles pulling trailers and loading snowmobiles," the application read. The plan also called for "extension of a sewer and water line for use by the Ridge's users and construction of off-road pathways for use by hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders that would connect to other existing trails to form a loop that will allow users to leave from and return to the new access area."

The funding has been awarded and is pending the approval of a contract by Upper Yoder Township, but it would only apply to the vehicle turnaround and access road — "a road to nowhere," Shahade said.

But Hall said he believes accepting the grant would lead to future state grants to continue upgrades.

The Ridge currently has a restricted private drive, and the grant would fund a new public access road or reconstruct the existing road to make it public. Either option would increase policing responsibilities of Upper Yoder Township, Shahade said. He also said a new public access road and turnaround would detract from the private, secluded atmosphere of the venue's ball field and event facility.

Shahade said instead of rushing ahead with that grant, the township should stay with its master plan, including a survey of the community's wants and study of the West Hills Recreation Commission. That survey is to be funded by $10,000 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

As of June, Westmont Borough, Upper Yoder Township and the Westmont Hilltop School District have approved entry into that grant program.

School board President Robert Gleason Jr. said the result of the study could be the formation of a new recreation commission that includes more governmental agencies, including Westmont Hilltop School District, Westmont Borough, Upper Yoder Township and perhaps a few other municipalities.

More municipal partners would mean a bigger pool of tax dollars for maintenance and projects, he said.

The study will include a community survey to show what residents want, and the Ridge will be part of that study, he said.

"It (the Ridge) can be a lot more in the future," Gleason said.

In addition, the Westmont Hilltop School District is continuing to pursue a $900,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to install bike lanes and walkways to the school district's isolated junior-senior high school at 200 Fair Oaks Drive.

"It will allow students the ability to get to school without a bus or car," Gleason said. "The school is isolated. This is the way to go. We've been working with an engineer and will apply to meet the July 31 deadline."

Gleason said he is confident the funding will come through in time to be included in a PennDOT paving project in 2022.

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