BERN TWP., Pa. - Frustrated residents of Bern Township packed the municipal building Tuesday evening to stress their apprehension regarding Reading Hospital's proposed behavioral health facility and the roundabout that would need to be built to grant the facility access to Route 183.
The township voted to approve a conditional use permit for the proposed access to Route 183, but not before the residents voiced their frustration and alarm with the roundabout and the facility itself.
Greenfields resident Marianne Brady-Marks was vocal throughout the meeting, stressing concerns for the traffic effects presented by adding a roundabout on the busy route, facility security, and specifics regarding the type of facility. She also asked if there had been a public hearing to discuss the hospital.
Brian Potts, the township manager, explained there was a meeting to discuss the conditional use application and that the township has a zoning overlay ordinance, which requires that developers who want access to Route 183 from Greenfields to Werley's Auto Service Center file for a permit that comes before the board.
"If there's a zoning issue, the zoning hearing board votes on that. The board of supervisors cannot give zoning approval," he said.
Brady-Marks asked if the residents were too late to give public comment, to which the board responded no, but said the zoning meeting already took place and cannot be undone because the applicant hasn't agreed to it.
"Some of us didn't even know it was happening and was that far along, and didn't know Tower Health was involved," Brady-Marks said.
Several other residents echoed her sentiment and felt they had been misrepresented.
"The zoning allows for the use," Potts said. "That's how you regulate what can and can't be built. Once you have zoning, it's very difficult to say no to the developer. The roundabout isn't coming beforehand, and it can't be put in until the development is approved," he added.
"What type of facility is it? What medical services are you providing? Is it going to be a full psychiatric hospital? We don't even know what you're putting in there," shouted one resident.
Acadia Healthcare chief strategist Andy Hanner approached the podium to field some of the questions that had been directed to the board. Hanner said the proposed facility would be a full-service facility, but residents were more concerned with security.
"Will there be security? What type of security? We don't know what types of people will be coming in and out of this facility," said another resident.
"There will be security," Hanner said.
Toward the end of the lively discussion, Brady-Marks started a sign-up for residents to begin a petition to prevent the roundabout, and potentially the healthcare facility itself.
Brady-Marks said they will try to seek legal advice to see what course of action would best suit the residents.
The board and Hanner agreed that a special meeting would need to take place to fully comprehend and listen to more questions and concerns presented by the residents.
They agreed to hold the meeting on January 8 at 7 p.m., with the location to be announced on the township's website.
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