Date: August 29, 2003
Byline: Bonnie L. Cook
Plan would let the Black Horse Inn stay where it isBut a new group wants to block construction of a drugstore and a liquor store at the Flourtown site. By Bonnie L. Cook Inquirer Staff Writer
Bowing to public pressure, a Springfield Township official and a developer have drafted a plan for the historic Black Horse Inn in Flourtown to stay where it is.
The proposal was worked out last Friday by Commissioner Jane H. Fisher and Joshua S. Petersohn, a partner in Moreland Development, the Bryn Mawr real estate development firm that wants to build on the site.
The plan for the parcel at 1432 Bethlehem Pike will be presented to the public at commissioners meeting Sept. 8 at the Township Building in Wyndmoor.
Meanwhile, a fledgling preservationist group called Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike has organized around the issue of blocking a Walgreens Pharmacy and a super-size liquor store from being built on the site, near where Bysher Avenue intersects with the pike.
Taking a cue from a group in Chalfont, Bucks County, that recently prevented an Eckerd drugstore from replacing historic buildings there, the friends of the pike are trumpeting their cause by picketing in front of the inn, issuing a mission statement, and pressuring public and corporate officials.
"We just want to make sure that Walgreens or something like it can't get in," Ellen Manning, a founder of the group, said Wednesday.
But Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin, speaking from Deerfield, Ill., said yesterday that the company had no plans to abandon the Black Horse site.
"We've been trying to work with the township all along," Polzin said. "While the e-mails and inquiries we get from the public certainly raise the issue for our corporate executives, we have no plans to pull out."
One of the preservationists' goals is to ensure that the inn, which was built in 1744 and served as a watering hole for farmers in the 1800s, is not moved.
The inn would have been moved across the road under another development plan that Springfield commissioners approved Aug. 5, by a 3-2 vote.
Public irritation with that vote helped kindle the new group's activism, Manning said. But Fisher, the commissioner, said she believed it was the best plan available at the time to safeguard the inn's future.
Under the most recent idea developed by Fisher and Petersohn, the inn would stay where it is, becoming the centerpiece of the development. Other buildings and parking would be arranged around it. The inn would be deeded to the township. Fisher said the township had promised to stabilize the inn and "make it look nicer."
Moreland Development would acquire the home of Brown & Partners, a publishing company at 8 Bysher Ave., next to the Black Horse Inn parcel. The Brown building would be razed, and its occupants would move to the top floor of a 15,000-square-foot, two-story building designed for retail and office space.
To make room for the inn, the building would be built parallel to Bethlehem Pike, with parking in front. On the first floor would be the 10,500-square-foot liquor store, a 1,000-square-foot common area, and warehouse space for the Brown company.
On the second floor would be 9,000 square feet for Brown's offices, 5,000 square feet for a Walgreens corporate office, and 1,000 square feet of common space. Brown & Partners did not return a phone call yesterday requesting details of the plan.
A Walgreens drugstore enlarged by 500 feet would move close to the corner of Bysher and the pike, and a curb cut would be moved back 50 to 60 feet from its position in the Aug. 5 plan, to allow more cars to line up as they exit the site, Fisher said. Another driveway would allow access to Bethlehem Pike.
Parking behind the liquor store would be used by Brown employees, Fisher said. About 40 spaces for customer parking would be created between the inn and the liquor store.
Told of the proposal Wednesday, Manning said she still opposed it because the Walgreens and the liquor store are "still there."
"We want something community-oriented, community-friendly," Manning said. "There are many potential situations that would be fine."
Fisher, a lawyer, said she took the idea for a "gentler, kinder development" on the site to her meeting with Petersohn. "The answer was no," she said. "It won't give us enough revenue."
Petersohn said that in order to leave the inn where it is, Moreland had increased its costs substantially. Luckily, he said, the Brown property had become available, allowing Moreland to "expand the physical constraints on the site, while still maintaining its economic feasibility."
"The issue is not whether or not there will be commercial development or a Walgreens there," said Petersohn, who, with partner Eric S. Seidman, has tackled other historically sensitive projects such as the Albrecht's/Rite Aid shopping center on Montgomery Avenue in Narberth. "There will be a Walgreens here."
But he said Moreland was determined to work with the township and listen to public input.
The Black Horse Inn has been in limbo for more than a decade. The Mendelson Children's Family Trust acquired the tract in the late 1990s and proposed developing it for a CVS pharmacy and jumbo liquor store. Because there is no historic ordinance in Springfield Township, Mendelson was within its rights to demolish the tavern, and it planned to do so.
But residents and township officials opposed the plan, and Mendelson filed suit. Under a court stipulation, Mendelson agreed to move the inn to the back of the tract, and the township would become the owner.
Moreland Development then entered into an agreement of sale with Mendelson to buy the Black Horse parcel.
Moreland's plan, presented earlier this summer, called for the inn to be shifted across the pike to make room for a liquor store and Walgreens. Neighbors turned out in droves to oppose that concept, but commissioners approved it anyway.
Manning said Fisher was not looking out for the community. "That's blatantly, flat-out, the bottom line. Jane doesn't want the Walgreens there. Why does she vote for it?"
"I sweat a lot of blood and tears over that vote," Fisher said. "It troubled me tremendously. But I had to live with it because it was the best plan to save the inn."