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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: August 7, 2003
Byline: Bonnie L. Cook

Developer can move historic inn

By a one-vote margin, commissioners in Springfield Township, Montgomery County, have given a Bryn Mawr developer approval to move the Black Horse Inn elsewhere on Bethlehem Pike and build a Walgreens pharmacy and a liquor store in its place.

The seven-member body, with two absent, voted 3-2 Tuesday night to allow Moreland Development to proceed with plans for the site at 1432 Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown.

Moreland needed the approval to meet a deadline for buying the property later in the week.

"I'm very happy with the results of the meeting the other night," said Joshua S. Petersohn, a partner in the development company. He declined to comment further.

The vote was taken during a meeting that drew 70 residents to the Township Building on Paper Mill Road in Wyndmoor, and followed a drumbeat of objections from speakers who said the inn should not be moved.

Some residents urged the commissioners to stall for time so that a plan could be redrawn for "adaptive reuse" of the inn, but that argument didn't prevail.

Under Moreland's plan, aired in public July 15 and updated Tuesday night, the firm pledged to pay more than $325,000 to move the historic inn to another site fronting Bethlehem Pike, saving it from demolition.

Another potential developer, the Mendelson Family Children's Trust of Allentown, had stipulated that it would move the tavern to the back of the site and build a liquor store and CVS pharmacy in front.

But Mendelson had not ruled out demolishing the 1744 tavern, and would have been within its rights to do so because the township has no historic-structure ordinance.

If the board had not approved Moreland's plan Tuesday, Mendelson's would have been back on the table.

The threat of demolition prompted Commissioner Timothy Lawn of Erdenheim to give Moreland Development his vote, he said.

"We're looking at losing this, and it could become a pile of bricks," he said. "I believe strongly if we don't move forward with this developer [Moreland] we won't have a Black Horse Inn."

Lawn, Commission President Robert McGrory, and Jane H. Fisher voted for the Moreland plan.

Commissioners Marc C. Perry and Kenneth Bradley opposed it. Perry said Moreland's was not "a good plan," and Bradley advocated holding out for a better one.

The vote paves the way for Moreland to sign an agreement of sale tomorrow with Mendelson, the current property owner. If that happens, Mendelson is out of the picture, and Moreland principals would consult with township officials to work out engineering details.

The plan calls for a 14,259-square-foot Walgreens store and an 11,172-square-foot upscale wine and spirits shop with 5,000 square feet of office space on the top floor.

The structures would face Bethlehem Pike. There would be parking and a common green area, as well as entrances and exits from Bethlehem Pike and Bysher Avenue.

Many of the objections from residents centered on whether it was socially responsible to build stores at the expense of disturbing the area's historic treasures.

"I think the majority of people are concerned about the whole [historic] area, and we're losing it, bit by bit by bit," said Henry Friedberger of College Avenue in Flourtown.

At a meeting planned for this morning, township planners and Moreland Development are to address unresolved elements of the plan, Assistant Township Manager Michael Taylor said.