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Black Horse Inn

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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: March 26, 2000
Byline: Cynthia Marone

Fate of Black Horse draws interest of students; Developer cancels March 28 zoning meeting

Jessie Peirce and Hannah Ellis have grown up with the Black Horse Inn as a part of their community. When the two heard the historic property may be torn down or turned into a bank, they decided to take action.

Peirce, 9, and Ellis, 10, went to their parents and teachers, asking how to save the structure. The Erdenheim Elementary School fourth-graders also went to the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners March 8 to plead a case for saving the Bethlehem Pike spot and presented the board with a 58-signature petition in favor of saving the Black Horse.

Commissioner Ken Bradley, who is the board's liaison to the Springfield Township Zoning Hearing Board, said of the opinions expressed, "No one disagrees with the two young women at the meeting. The board is certainly behind that. It's a historic building and it'd be practical to do everything to try and save it."

The Black Horse Tavern proposed development was scheduled to go before the zoning hearing board March 28, but has been canceled per the applicant's request.

The applicant told the township the plans were being revised, code enforcement officer Rick Lesniak said.

The township, he added, has not seen or heard of what changes the developer may make. The meeting has not been rescheduled, Lesniak said.

The commissioners were to send solicitor Joe Bagley on behalf of the township to the meeting because the plan last presented to the township was deemed too congested.

"Our reasoning was the use was too intensive for the property," Bradley said of Bagley's attendance. "[The proposed plan] called for four retail operations — a state store, video store, bank and pharmacy," he said.

The last plan before the township included the state store moving into a 10,000-square-foot building, a relocation of the CVS at the Flourtown Farmers Market into a 20,000-square-foot, two-story structure and a one-story 5,000-square-foot video store — all as new buildings. A bank or gourmet coffee shop were possible occupants of the Black Horse.

Developers Hampton Development, of Flourtown, would spend about $300,000 to remove some additions and restore the Black Horse's exterior, creating a two-story 1,800 square foot shell. Interior renovations are estimated at $600,000.

Hampton representative Neil Stein said changes to the plan will be kept mum until township staff has a look at them.

"I shouldn't discuss it until we share the plans with the township," he said. "There's a meeting in the process of being scheduled for the first week of April — that's tentative. It's just a staff meeting — engineer, manager, lawyer. We'll get a sense if we are heading in the right direction. It'd be appropriate to meet with the neighbors again before going to the zoning hearing board."

Stein said there is also the possibility of a visit to the township Planning Commission prior to heading to the zoning board.

"The more feedback, the better," he said.

With the possibility of revisions, Bradley said, "the board will review the plan, just as we review every application before the zoning board. After we review it, we'll make a determination as to a position."

As for the possibility of Bagley's appearance at a future meeting, Bradley said, "it remains to be seen. If we support it, he may not need to be there. If we support it, he may just go to represent our interests. If we're against it, definitely he'll go."

A change of plans may be in the works, but Ellis and Peirce have their own ideas of what the Black Horse could and should become.

"We think it's the only historic site left. We think they could use it for something else, like a homeless shelter ...," Peirce said.

"... or maybe a Purple Heart location," added Ellis.

"It can be something the township really wants," Peirce continued.

The girls see the Black Horse as possibly a day care, youth center or ballet center.

Bradley said his ideal is, "the Black Horse is restored and becomes a restaurant and tavern. No one seems to think that's feasible."