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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: August 29, 2003
Byline: Joe Barron

Battle for Black Horse continues

Frustrated by the compromises between Springfield Township and developers, opponents of a proposed Walgreens pharmacy took their message to the street last week.

The Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike, a grass-roots organization founded this month, began a series of twice-daily protests Aug. 21 in front of the Black Horse Inn on Bethlehem Pike.

Picketers said they would continue to demonstrate until Moreland Development of Rosemont abandons its plan to build a Walgreens and a combined liquor store and office building on the Black Horse property.

"We're going to keep going until we get what we all want," said Buffy Epps, a resident of Wissahickon Avenue. "We want the property to be developed in a gentle manner."

A plan submitted by Moreland to the township's board of commissioners Aug. 5 entailed moving the Black Horse across Bethlehem Pike. A second plan, which the township commissioners intend to discuss Sept. 8, would leave the Black Horse on the site it has occupied since 1744, but it also calls for a larger Walgreens and liquor store.

The protesters rejected both plans and said they would not compromise on the matter of green space.

"This development would rape the land," Epps said. "They would violate all this green property by blacktopping it."

At the afternoon protest Aug. 21, Epps stood half a block away from Black Horse because, she said, she wanted to draw motorists' attention as much to the undeveloped field as to the historic structure.

The rest of the demonstrators spread out from the Black Horse north to Bysher Avenue, holding homemade signs.

Toby Shawe, a dermatologist with an office at Flourtown Commons, regarded the pharmacy and state store as a particularly distasteful combination.

"I do not believe we need more booze and more drugs on this pike," she said.

Carol Heller, a resident of Atwood Road, planted herself in front of the old tavern, holding up a sign taped to a plastic toy sword.

"It's my hope that the township commissioners will agree to buy the property," Heller said. "This should not be private property. This should be public property."

Asked about the potential cost to the taxpayer of such a purchase, Heller replied, "I'd be happy to be slapped with a tax for this."

Others might not be. One passerby, a jogger, reminded the group of the township and school district's new 1 percent earned income tax as he ran past them.

But overall, the public reaction was favorable. Motorists honked their horns and held up their fists in support. Pedestrians also stopped to offer encouragement and some even decided to join in.

Andrea Desderio of Wissahickon Avenue, who noticed the demonstrators during the morning rush hour, returned in the afternoon to hold up a sign.

"I remember when there were cows in this pasture — and horses," she said.

Midway through the one-hour demonstration, Marie Otwell came by with three daughters, one of whom saw the protesters as she was driving up the pike and notified the rest of the family.

Otwell's husband, Edward, who lost both legs to diabetes and died Aug. 12, was a well-known advocate for the preservation of the Black Horse.

"My dad would be proud of you," Otwell's daughter, Peggy, said to Heller, "and if he had had his legs and if he had lived, he would have been here today."

The picketers said they would continue to appear in front of the Black Horse every weekday during morning and evening rush hours and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until noon.

Attendance at the first week's demonstrations varied from two during the morning rush hour Aug. 21 to 15 Aug. 23.

"It was wonderful," Ellen Manning, a spokeswoman for the group, said Monday. "It was like a party. It was very encouraging."