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Can this Muncy building be saved?

By Staff | Sep 2, 2014

This historical building in Muncy, built in the early 1900s, used to be an Opera House. It is in danger of being demolished for a new street scape plan on the intersection of Main and Water Streets which is owned by PennDot to accommodate heavier truck traffic. Local businesses and residents want to focus on reviving the community by looking at an alternate route. "Could the old opera house be a theatre again?"

MUNCY – This month there was much discussion on the landscape, changing needs, and increasing truck traffic to the center of town in the heart of the Muncy community. There was agreement within the business community to change its structure, to find an alternative to the congestion, noise and environmental threat of the formidable truck traffic crossing Main and Water Streets at the Rt. 405 intersection.

Muncy Mayor John Ort spoke to a well attended audience about tentative plans from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. This is a state owned road and the widening of the intersection to create high visibility with better lighting is part of the proposed streetscape he announced. “The state is involved with the decision making.”

Things have been on hold for awhile due to the Biggert Waters legislation and the new map codes. “FEMA is bringing everything up to codes. We have to make a plan and move forward. Open up the clogged intersection and create some nice landscaping, possibly put a mural on the side of the theatre, build new curbing, sidewalks, and new asphalt.”

He spoke at an MPBA meeting at Orlando’s Deli & Market while business members and concerned citizens looked upon the continuous congested and noisy traffic flow through the spacious store window front.

However many felt that this would only increase the traffic flow, and the $600,000 grant from the federal government could be utilized for a better solution. “There is no walkability any more in this town,” said Arno De Villiers, a concerned resident and business architect who expressed concern over the fact that no more families walk the streets. “Let’s not cause more traffic in town.”

Earlier this month, Muncy Mayor John Ort spoke to a full audience during the MPBA meeting regarding the widening of the Rt. 405 intersection on the corner of Water and Main Streets in downtown Muncy. Members agreed that this will only increase traffic flow, not calm it, and asked to seek an alternative route.

Many agreed stating that the traffic problem is causing a breakdown of community involvement in the downtown area that used to be a destination area for pedestrians only. Mayor Ort went on to explain that the Myers Auto building is no longer structurally safe. “Its foundation is starting to cave.”

Discussion interacted among members regarding the historical aspect of the property and its adjacent building which used to be the old Opera House. The buildings may have to be removed to widen the intersection to allow turning truck traffic. According to Mayor Ort, the property owners have relinquished decision making to the borough of Muncy. One possibility is to make a “pocket park” at that intersection in place of the buildings.

Why not focus on reviving the commercial part of town, not demolishing the buildings. “We are not defending ourselves against outsiders who want to come,” said John Schaeffer. “Should we let it happen or try to resist it?”

Bill Poulton from the Muncy Historical Society said that this is the oldest continuing intersection in Lycoming County, and he proposed looking for an alternative route. “Is it possible to make a shortcut or alternating route for the traffic?” he asked. “We need a Muncy by-pass! It’s time to look at alternatives.”

“The woolen mill, the oldest multi story factory building in the county was demolished. Now Auto Parks, the oldest building in the county built as a store, faces the same fate,” stated Tom Taber in an e-mail to the Luminary.

“There is so much here that is very unusual, and every effort should be made to keep it that way,” said Malcolm Barlow.

More traffic is going to destroy the buildings and more beautiful Main Street properties could be ruined.

Several more concerns were expressed such as the constant dirt in the air, and to look at calming the traffic, not increasing it.

A letter campaign to the Sun-Gazette and the Luminary was urged as well as a visit from State Representative Garth Everett. Linda Stein stressed the importance of partnerships, both public and private to assist. Shaeffer added, “It boils down to assisting native peoples to learn how to resist big development so their way of life is changed from outside developers. The residents are not willing to see the destruction of this town.”

Mayor Ort welcomed the comments and alternatives, and perhaps, there might be a way out to bypass or avoid this traffic in a very historic town.

The consensus was that the majority are fed up with traffic congestion and to turn Muncy back into “a nice little community the way it used to be.” Ort left, he said, “with a bit of spark tonight to get the ball rolling.”

Meanwhile Borough Council passed a resolution with PennDot to add new sidewalks and curbing plus high visibility crosswalks to the intersection. Borough manager, William Ramsey expects the project to begin in March.

The next MPBA meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 4.