When it comes to the opening of Hagys Mill Road at the border of Whitemarsh Township and Philadelphia, there's nothing left for residents to discuss except hard feelings. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter saw to that personally.
In a recent meeting with Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors Chair Robert Hart at Philadelphia's City Hall, Hart says Mayor Nutter gave the township an ultimatum: close the gate except for eight hours a week, or lose emergency services from the city side of the border.
Hart took option A.
The road has been at the ever since it was opened for the first time in decades after Hurricane Irene washed out Manor Road last August.
Nearby residents were left with little option to exit their neighborhood, particularly when heading east into Philadelphia. Whitemarsh officials decided to open the gate, enabling those residents to head directly east rather than having to travel southwest to River Road and then north on Harts Lane all the way to Ridge Pike.
However, it didn't take long for word to get out about the new shortcut from Montgomery County to Philadelphia. Traffic increased.
One Philadelphia resident that the gate was originally closed "to ensure that the rural character of the area would be safeguarded from undue traffic, and that Hagys Mill Road would not become a back-channel thru-way from Manayunk to Conshohocken or farther. Nearby Whitemarsh and Philadelphia citizens and their children were protected from the hazards of too many vehicles moving too fast along roads that were not meant to bear them."
In addition, the resident wrote that they were originally told the road would be open only for the bussing of children, and that it would be closed by the end of October. Whitemarsh Chief of Police Michael Beaty that the road would remain open until Manor Road was repaired.
While Whitemarsh expects Manor Road to be reopened by July, Hagys Mill is now closed except for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, after the meeting with the Mayor.
"I went with our solicitor down to City Hall, and the Mayor came out and was very direct," said Hart at last month's Whitemarsh Supervisors meeting. "He said Tuesday and Thursday, ten to two, or I'll put a jersey barrier across it and you'll get no emergency services personnel in or out of there, period."
Philadelphia emergency services are crucial
Hart explained to Patch that it is difficult for large emergency vehicles to access the area through Whitemarsh controlled roads due to bridges in the area. In a worst-case scenario requiring multiple ladder trucks, access through Philadelphia would be crucial.
"We had some residents say 'fight it, call his bluff,'" said Hart. "But God forbid something were to happen--then that's on me."
One such resident was William Murphy, of 3 Williams Court, whose public comment at the supervisors' meeting sparked the discussion.
"We're just trying to get something for the residents," said Murphy, who proposed an access card gate as one possibility. "They closed off River Road, they closed off Hagys Mill Road-- what are they going to do next, close off Ridge Pike and say go to Germantown [Pike]?"
Residents talk to Patch at the gate
In addition, a Whitemarsh resident whom Patch spoke with at the gate says the road is important during heavy rains. She says that River Road often becomes impassable due to flooding, which when coupled with the closed Manor Road, leaves residents with no option to get out.
"We appreciated the access that we had to Ridge Pike, then it was taken away," she said, declining to give her name. "Neighbors are upset because we lost Manor, and then we lost [Hagys Mill]."
Some residents have targeted their ire at two Philadelphia residents just on the other side of the gate, whom they believe have been in the ears of Philadelphia officials over the dispute. However, those residents say they are being unjustly, and illegally, targeted.
One Philadelphia resident whom Patch also spoke with at the gate, said that someone had put feces on her walkway and a warning sign from the gate on her front porch. Police were called at least twice: once when in late March, and another when near the Philadelphia homes.
"I don't know why it's become this thing where the people who live here have done wrong to people," she said, freely adding that she was out of the country during the meeting with the Mayor. "Everybody bought a cul-de-sac, it was never an open road."
It turns out it might not have taken much to prompt Mayor Nutter to make the decision. Nutter was at the center of many agreements with Whitemarsh during his time as councilman for the adjacent fourth district of Philadelphia, including one that gave township residents access to city utility lines.
However, there may have been a sour moment or two.
"He had a bad experience with Whitemarsh [about] River Road, from his perspective," said Hart. "The city provided Whitemarsh with access to water…and they felt they were very giving to Whitemarsh, that they were being a good neighbor, and Whitemarsh wasn't being. That's their perspective."
So for now, Mayor Nutter has the final say: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. And until Manor Road reopens this summer, Whitemarsh residents are out of luck.