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Black Horse Inn

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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: May 25, 2001
Byline: Chris Lilienthal

Zoners deny Black Horse relief requests

After about seven months and five zoning hearings, the Springfield Township Zoning Board unanimously denied all requests for zoning relief in the proposed development of the Black Horse Inn tract on Bethlehem Pike.

The Hampton Real Estate Group, developer of the Black Horse, is planning to appeal the May 21 decision in the Montgomery County Court of Common Appeals.

"We expected that this may be the decision in light of the number of people who came out to the meetings," said Neil Stein, the attorney representing Hampton, Tuesday. "We recognize it's a controversial issue."

Stein said Hampton would re-evaluate what steps to take immediately, including those with regard to its application for a demolition permit, filed May 9 with the township. At the end of last week, the township returned the application to Hampton because certain items were not complete, according to Township Manager Donald Berger Jr. The developer had not refiled the application as of Tuesday.

Throughout the zoning hearing process, residents and community members voiced strong opposition to Hampton's proposal, which would raze the 280-year-old inn and a neighboring liquor store to make room for a CVS, an expanded liquor store, a third retail structure and a parking lot.

Hampton was seeking zoning relief to allow the liquor store and a portion of the CVS in the C-Residential zoning district, to extend the less restrictive B-1 Business zone to a more restrictive C-Residential, to permit a parking lot contiguous to the C-Residential district and to reduce the number of required parking spaces.

After the last zoning hearing on April 16, the Springfield Historical Society mobilized to form a committee to garner support for preserving the inn, which was constructed in 1744 and later expanded in 1833. The committee circulated a petition to preserve the inn, gathering more than 3,000 signatures.

"Our purpose with the petition was to demonstrate to the community and ourselves that there was broad community support for preserving not only this historical inn but other historical resources in the township," said T. Scott Kreilick of Oreland, who is heading the Black Horse Committee.

Kreilick and historical society President Richard Buck, of Wyndmoor, presented the petition to the township May 17, with 3,113 signatures. Kreilick anticipates more will follow.

In late April, Kreilick and Buck, along with Berger, met with representatives from Hampton to discuss the community's concerns. At that meeting, Hampton suggested two potential changes to its current proposal — one preserving and moving only the 1744 section of the inn and the other eliminating the third retail structure.

In a letter of response to Hampton, the historical society expressed opposition to demolishing the 1833 portion of the inn and moving any part of the inn, unless it was the only option for preservation. The historical society also said the proposed development was still too intense, even less the third retail structure.

The historical society received no formal response, but shortly after that, Hampton applied for a demolition permit.

"I think the developer was trying to convey to us what he could do," Buck said.

Before the zoning board voted on Hampton's application Monday, Chairman Daniel Clifford emphasized the board's decision was based entirely on the township's zoning ordinances.

"The fate of the structure of the Black Horse Inn is a matter that lies outside of this board's jurisdiction," Clifford said. "Whether or not the inn remains standing is a decision that can only be made by the property owner, an applicant working in conjunction with the township, and/or the historical society and/or interested parties. ... Our decision here tonight must be made on the merits of each very specific zoning request that comes before us, not on the basis of speculation of what may or may not happen to the inn as a result of our decision."

"There's some very serious legal issues here that the board has to decide, and unfortunately, we can't decide them emotionally or based upon conjecture," added board member Marc Perry. "We have to decide them on fact and the record before us."