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Aspinwall park access road project makes sense if done right

Aspinwall park access road project makes sense if done right

| Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

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I love my town and care deeply about its future. I, like others, support the Eastern Avenue entrance to the Aspinwall Riverfront Park and connecting the access road to the Riverfront 47 development — but only if it is done right.

When I first learned of the potential of the R47 project, I was delighted. More parkland, more public access to the waterfront, trails that will hopefully connect us all the way to downtown — an addition to the community conceived by a developer who has a reputation for working with residents and building projects that enhance everyone’s quality of life.

What’s not to love?

As I have learned more about the project in recent months, many other positive aspects have become apparent. For instance, although realigning the park entrance from River Road to a new Brilliant Avenue entrance was pitched and approved for funding, it was always considered a compromise solution. The high cost of purchasing the Sunoco and designing and building a new entrance at Eastern Avenue would have been cost-prohibitive for the park. However, when the scrapyard became available for purchase and R47 began discussions of funding large-scale costs — such as buying the gas station and paying for a traffic light installation — then Eastern Avenue became more of a realistic solution.

In addition to occupying a more central location, an Eastern Avenue entrance is safer because it doesn’t have the visual impairments of train trestles at the Brilliant location, and it can be designed to be linked with traffic light timing, as well as crosswalks and more parking. We need a traffic light and safer crosswalks at Eastern Avenue regardless, as the ability to make a left onto Freeport Road is currently difficult and I always worry someone will T-bone me.

There are statistics available to anyone that show that a park has significant positive impact to home values — that is a bonus to all Aspinwall residents.

A connecting bike trail is my dream — I don’t want to drive to Millvale any more — I want to ride my bike to the trail and downtown. If this area becomes developed for commercial use only, it will probably not be the bike trail that I would rather have. I want to ride my bike along the river on one side and a beautiful development on the other … not a commercial zone that may decide “no” to a bike trail because it is a liability to them.

As a respectful person, I feel that it is important to refer to the residents of Sharpsburg in this commentary. A development of their waterfront area is a huge bonus for them, and having lived there for eight years, I can say it would have been incredible for me to be able to walk to a beautifully developed area and walk my baby in the stroller along the river. The 13th Street landing — already enjoyed by many — is ripe for a bike trail connection and I see the R47 development as a catalyst for that connector. Friends of the Riverfront is up for supporting this — so should we. It is important to support our neighbors in their quest to make Sharpsburg a more beautiful town, and our council members have committed to discussions to share the burden of this opportunity. It is an ethical win for Aspinwall and a financial win for Sharpsburg. I am OK with supporting that.

The resolution that council presented to the Aspinwall residents last week shows its intent is to honor the residents’ concerns. I applaud their efforts to listen and learn about all angles of this complicated opportunity. The R47 partnership is also working hard to come to the table with ideas of how to quell our fears. I thank them for their integrity and engagement. This will work if we come together — of that I am sure.

Lorraine Marks is an Aspinwall resident and member of Aspinwall Progress.