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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: September 10, 2003
Byline: Bonnie L. Cook

Historic-inn plan gains steam

Two groups praised a developer's plan for the Black Horse Inn in Montco. The rest of the site is at issue.

A developer's plan that would leave the historic Black Horse Inn where it is on Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown has received the first tentative plaudits from two citizen groups in Springfield Township.

The Springfield Township Historical Society and the Flourtown-Erdenheim Enhancement Association expressed satisfaction this week that the inn would stay put, but said the overall plan for the site needed rethinking.

At a public meeting before the township commissioners Monday, the Historical Society said it was "encouraged" by the plan aired last month that would make the historic inn the centerpiece of the site at 1432 Bethlehem Pike, with a Walgreen pharmacy and retail-office complex around it.

At the same time, the society pressed vigorously for the developer, Moreland Development of Bryn Mawr, to drop a requirement that would keep the 259-year-old inn from being used commercially.

Taking a public stand on the issue for the first time, the enhancement group, made up of merchants and civic leaders, called the plan "viable." But it, too, urged Moreland to allow commercial use of the inn.

Without that possibility, money could not be raised to restore the crumbling structure, both groups argued.

Joshua S. Petersohn, a partner in Moreland, which is negotiating to buy the property, had no comment yesterday.

A third group, the newly formed Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike, addressing the crowd of 70 at the Township Building in Wyndmoor, lauded the plan to keep the inn where it is, fronting the pike.

But the group urged finding a less-intensive use for the rest of the site, with input from all quarters of the community.

"We would like to arrive at a solution that will enhance Bethlehem Pike and also be profitable to the developer," said Ellen Manning, a Friends spokeswoman.

Neighbors on Bysher Avenue near the Black Horse site contended that the inn was being saved at their expense.

Resident Mark Lunney complained that the proposed plan was simply too dense. He also said the developer's plan to meet costs by increasing the footprint of the retail-office building troubled him.

"I've been hearing that it's imperative that they [Moreland] have 14,000 square feet in order to meet the profit margins," Lunney said. "That's of little consequence to people like me who own property there."

Though preservationists have pressed to save the Black Horse, neighbors have focused on what will go on the site, how the structures will be buffered, and how traffic will flow.

Moreland said it would address the traffic issue by acquiring a property at 8 Bysher Ave. owned by Brown & Partners, a publishing firm next to the Black Horse Inn, and moving a driveway to limit congestion on Bysher.

To cover the acquisition cost, the developer said it would enlarge the two-story office-retail building from 11,126 square feet to about 14,500. That prompted some residents to ask for what they called a "gentler" use of the site.

In an Aug. 27 letter to the township, T. Scott Kreilick, an official of the Historical Society, offered an example.

"We believe the intensity of this plan can be softened significantly by moving any new construction closer to the roadways, by moving all parking to the rear of the building, and by leaving as many parking spaces as possible in reserve," Kreilick wrote.

John Roberts, who spoke for the Historical Society, said the Black Horse should be used as an inn. He asked to have $350,000 that Moreland would have set aside to move the inn used for preservation instead.

The inn, a watering hole for farmers in the 1800s, and adjacent property have gone through numerous stages of planning. In one proposal, the building would have been razed, but that was challenged by the township. In another, the inn was to be saved but moved to the back of the property.

More discussion of the project is expected at another meeting of the township commissioners tonight.