Date: August 8, 2003
Byline: Joe Barron
Board allows new deal for Black HorsePreferring a new compromise to the old one or to none at all, the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to allow a change of plan for the Black Horse Inn.
The commissioners voted 3-2 to renegotiate the agreement between the township and the owners and developers of the Black Horse property.
Commissioners Robert McGrory, Tim Lawn, and Jane Fisher voted in favor of the resolution. Kenneth Bradley and Marc Perry voted against it.
"It's a difficult vote, and I can't fault anybody for voting either way," Bradley said, "but I don't think I can support it."
Commissioners Glenn Schaum and Robert Gillies were absent from the meeting.
The board's decision followed a contentious two-hour meeting in which Springfield residents voiced frustration at their inability to block new development in Flourtown.
Under the revised agreement, Moreland Development of Bryn Mawr will build a Walgreens pharmacy and a combined liquor store and office building on the property and move the Black Horse Inn to the opposite side of Bethlehem Pike.
The inn's new location was still undetermined Tuesday.
Township Manager Don Berger said a property owner on Bethlehem Pike was interested in accepting the Black Horse, but negotiations were not complete. Berger said the property owner wishes to remain anonymous for the present.
Residents at the meeting assumed the property owner is the Carson Valley School, but neither Berger nor the commissioners would confirm it.
In the previous agreement, negotiated between the township and the Hampton Real Estate Group of Allentown, the inn would have been moved to the back of the lot where it now stands, about 400 feet away from the Bethlehem Pike.
The township historical society has long insisted the inn, if it must be moved at all, should remain beside the roadway. The new plan would fulfill that condition, although under the agreement the Black Horse could still be moved to the back of the lot if negotiations between the township and the new prospective owner fail.
Residents repeated points often raised at past meetings about the Black Horse. They warned about traffic problems. They lamented the loss of open space in the township. And they asked why Walgreens could not settle into the vacant Kmart store at the Flourtown Shopping Center.
At the same time, many acknowledged the difficult position the commissioners found themselves in, trying to balance the rights of the property owner against the community's desire to preserve the Black Horse.
Henry Friedberger, a resident of College Avenue, appeared to speak for many when he said the developer had placed the township between a "rock and a hard place" and was ruining the Flourtown residents have long known and loved.
"We're losing it bit by bit by bit by bit," he said. "I think we all agree that we don't need this store in our town."
But need was never the issue. At bottom, the contest was between a property owner's right to build and a community's aversion to development.
Behind the commissioners' vote lay the realization that the property owner, the Mendelson Family Trust, could legally demolish the Black Horse at any time.
"There are a lot of people in this room who would like to roll the dice on the Black Horse Inn, and I don't happen to be one of them," board President Robert McGrory told the crowd.
Commissioner Tim Lawn said the inn has stood empty for 11 years, and in that time no one has stepped forward to develop it in a way the community or the commissioners would prefer.
"It's just not going to remain three acres of open space forever," Lawn said. "We're looking at losing the inn."
Lawn noted the township planning commission called Moreland's plan an improvement over Hampton's, and he added that he did not want to see photographs of the Black Horse hanging in the township building beside pictures of Whitemarsh Hall and other buildings that have been demolished over the years.
Scott Kreilick, a member of the township historical society, said he was disappointed with the board's decision.
The agreement with Moreland contains no provision for the renovation or use of the Black Horse, he said.
Moving a building is the most invasive preservation option imaginable, Kreilick said, and should be undertaken only as a last resort.
Kreilick said the historical society would continue its efforts to convince Walgreens to keep the Black Horse in place.
"It's not over yet," he said. "If I weren't optimistic, I wouldn't be here."