WESTERN CHESTER – The district council voted 5-2 in a meeting Wednesday to close Gay Street in the summer of 2022 and restore an open-air market inspired by the pandemic. Approval is still required and expected from the owner of PennDOT Street.
PennDOT has approved the closure for the last two summer seasons and is now considering a proposal by 2022 to re-add tables, chairs and merchandise to the street scene. The council voted to extend the open-air market from Matlock Street to Darlington Street over the weekend – Friday morning to Monday morning – and from Remembrance Day to Labor Day.
The issue of installing new security barriers that could be more easily moved and maintained within a week should be addressed.
Both Police Chief Jim Morehead and Fire Chief Stephen Peln oppose closing the street in 2022.
The company and concern of the police and fire departments is the PECO Harmony construction project and the placement of pipelines and hatches on Market and Church streets. The work will require overlapping lanes and may take up to a year.
PECO Harmony projects will run from New Street to High Street on the Market and on Church Street from Gay Street to Miner Street.
Firefighters and police are concerned about emergency access. PECO has agreed to bypass the closure this year.
Most shop and restaurant owners are in favor of closing in the summer. The council considered whether to block the street around the clock, without weekends or only on weekends.
The council is considering a full takeover of the state-owned road area, which will give more control to West Chester. PennDOT has ruled that if the district takes over the street, it cannot become the final closure.
Board members Sheila Wakar and Nick Allen voted “no” over the weekend, and all other board members voted “no”.
Councilor McCoy is looking for a more permanent solution.
Board member Sheila Wakara advocates full-time closure.
“There are a lot of suggestions in this community,” she said. “I support the weekend shutdown while we strongly push for a long-term solution.”
Board member Nick Allen said there will always be problems, be it with PECO or Aqua street work. He also said that additional western lanes, in addition to the exit to Chestnut Street, would not be profitable.
Board member Bernie Flynn is in favor of closing the weekend in 2022. He said he has supported full closure since 2017.
Board member Brian McGuinness is in favor of shutting down only on the weekend of 2022.
“Unfortunately, many construction projects are preventing us from completely closing Gay Street at this time,” McGinnis said. “We need to start planning a complete closure of Gay Street for the future.”
Council President Mike Stephen agreed with McGinnis.
“Planning should start as soon as possible,” Stefano said.
One speaker suggested installing a track, and another said from the rostrum that excessive noise should be taken into account. Another resident asked the council to consider options for garbage collection.
Board member Lisa Dora voted to close only on weekends.
Mayor Lillian Debater said much remains to be done.
“I see problems on both sides,” she said. “I hear that West Chester residents and West Chester businesses love the open-air market 24/7.”