Residents to protest Lankenau proposal Some of the hospital's neighbors oppose a plan to add an access point from Manoa Road.

Posted: June 09, 2004

There is just one way into Lankenau Hospital: a short road to Lancaster Avenue that accommodates visitors, vendors, 2,000 commuting employees, and ambulances hustling to the emergency room.

But the hospital's plan to open a second access road through a residential area on Manoa Road has angered a determined group of neighbors, who plan to demonstrate again tonight at a 7:30 meeting of the Lower Merion Township Commissioners.

Karen Gotlieb of the Penn Wynne Civic Association said that allowing hospital traffic through her neighborhood would endanger children who use Penn Wynne Park and "crack our quiet community open like a walnut." A former police accident investigator, Gotlieb helped muster 100 protesters to attend Monday night's meeting of the Lower Merion Planning Commission.

Entangled with the road dispute is a zoning ordinance awaiting township approval: The Medical Center Overlay District would permit hospitals such as Lankenau to expand without having to seek approval from the township Zoning Hearing Board, shortening the process by three to six months. Township commissioners would review all plans in public meetings, still giving residents the opportunity to raise questions and challenge proposals.

Lankenau Hospital, a unit of Main Line Health, expects to expand its 1 million-square-foot facility in the coming years and proposed the medical district ordinance, which would allow an additional 800,000 square feet of new building on the 90-acre campus.

Lankenau spokesman Richard Wells said a Manoa Road entrance would be locked for all but "extraordinary events," such as the day in 1998 when a burning chemical truck blocked Lankenau's only entrance for 13 hours. As the hospital expands, however, Wells said, it is likely that physicians and other employees would use the road.

The new access road could be built with or without the ordinance, but residents of Manoa Road intend to continue fighting both, saying the ordinance would muffle the public's voice in matters such as the road. Tonight's commissioners meeting will feature minor discussion of the ordinance. A special public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 14 at Lower Merion High School.

Opponents were dealt a setback on Monday when the ordinance got preliminary approval from the planning commission.

At the meeting, Gotlieb raised $1,085 in donations for more buttons, signs and legal aid. She once frantically drove her husband to Lankenau to have a severed hand reattached, cursing the absence of a direct route.

"But even in that panic-driven state of mind, I realized that it's a neighborhood. No disrespect to my husband's hand, but you can't put a whole community at risk for the sake of one."

Contact staff writer Matt Blanchard at 610-313-8120 or mblanchard@phillynews.com.

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