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Source: Chestnut Hill Local
Date: August 14, 2003
Byline: James Sturdivant

It could have gone another way

Keystone Hospice's plans for keeping site intact were on the table

At one point during last week's meeting on the Black Horse Inn in Springfield Township, community activist Kathleen Lunn held up a copy of the July 31 Chestnut Hill Local and referred an article by Tom Namako outlining Keystone Hospice's expansion plans. The article mentions that the hospice, which is trying to build a larger facility, had hopes of buying the Black Horse property and turning the inn into a "visitor and family bed and breakfast."

"We have heard that there is a credible buyer that wants to leave the inn in place," Lunn told the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners.

Board member Timothy Lawn replied that such offers have been on and off the table for years and that none of them have ever led to a viable alternative to the agreement worked out last year with current owners the Mendelson Family Children's Trust, whereby the inn would be moved from its current location along Bethlehem Pike.

While available evidence suggests that Lawn is correct, the story of Keystone's attempt to buy the land reveals that Springfield may have come closer at one point than many realize to getting what township residents have said they most wanted: a period-themed, non-intense development with plenty of green space and a fully-restored inn preserved in its original location.

The proposal dates back nearly two years, when Keystone Hospice began the process of looking for land on which to relocate from the cramped, 1853 house they currently lease on Stenton Avenue. Working pro bono, architect Andrew Jarvis (who is married to Springfield Township Historical Society member Liz Jarvis) drew up plans for a 22,000-square-foot 24-bed facility with a Victorian-style design. The new building would include amenities lacking in the current 20-bed facility: elevators, all private suites, a "Tuscany style" kitchen that allows residents to see food being prepared ("we want it to look and smell like home," Keystone director Gail Inderwies said) and expanded facilities for music and art therapy training. Keystone is currently trying to raise money for construction and is working with a realtor to secure a location in Springfield Township or Chestnut Hill.

Building designs were originally put forward in conjunction with detailed site plans for the Black Horse property. The building would have been built amid children's gardens, a playground and fruit trees, well behind the inn but screened from neighbor's sight by dense plantings. Parking would have accommodated between 40 and 60 cars, interspaced with trees and shrubs. An original proposal to build a new retail facility on the property's north side abutting Bethlehem Pike was later dropped from the plans; the existing liquor store on that corner would have been refaced to match the colonial style of the entire complex.

"There would have been a whole theme. We wanted it to look like that [colonial historical] period. We imagined a lot of green space, water, children — the whole idea being to promote life," in the face of issues related to dying, Inderwies said.

Keystone, which has had experience repairing, maintaining and retrofitting their current home, would have restored the inn to house a bed-and-breakfast serving patients' families, a cafe, and an "upscale second hand store," similar to Chestnut Hill's Bird in Hand, designed to raise money for the nonprofit institution. The Springfield Township Historical Society would have been invited to use part of the building for a town museum and an heirloom garden was to be planted around the inn, Inderwies said.

"The Black Horse would have been a home for weary travelers, which is what the hospice is all about," she said.

Inderwies reports that a meeting in 2001 with a lawyer from Mendelson's real estate development corporation, the Hampton Group, produced no results. A better opportunity for purchase came up this past May when CVS, the site's original anchor tenant, pulled out of the deal and Mendelson was looking to sell the property. (According to the Springfield Sun, CVS terminated its contract with the developer because of delays in beginning construction). Discussions with the Hampton Group ended when Walgreen's entered the picture, Inderwies said.

"We had very serious meetings before Walgreen's" she said. "We went from a lot of discussion to no discussion."

Inderwies declined to speculate on why the developer cut off its negotiations with Keystone. Give enough time, she says she is sure that her institution could have raised enough money to meet Mendelson's asking price. At press time, the Hampton Group had not returned a call requesting information about the matter.

Springfield Township manager Don Berger told the Local that the township played no role in the negotiations.

"They were going on between two private entities," he said. When asked if the township had considered assisting Keystone in its efforts to purchase the land, he said that they were never approached with the idea.

Bob Gutowski, a board member at the Springfield Township Historical Society (which was not itself officially involved in the proposal), believes the plan would have satisfied at least two of the community's primary concerns regarding this Black Horse issue.

"Two big issues would have been addressed by the hospice's plan — destruction of the building's historical context by moving it, and intensive development of that site as a traffic destination, which will load more traffic incidences onto Bysher Avenue and Bethlehem Pike and an already dangerous intersection. That kind of intensive development is not good development. It's legal development, but its not good development," he said.

"It's interesting that you can have a good plan and a bad plan," he mused. "How do you empower the community, through information and awareness and political will and legislation, to ensure that the good plans are adopted for the community, those that will see us through the next 20, 30, 50 years instead of exasperate our problems?"

Inderwies agrees that Keystone's plan would have been good for the township.

"We are a nonprofit, we have different goals ... when you service a community, you need to do things to benefit it. I think the community would have liked our plan...

"I feel like at this point they [The Hampton Group] were using us as a pawn in a bidding contest ... it's pretty frustrating."