Date: September 6, 2002
Byline: Joe Barron
Board hopes inn will remainRefusing to recognize a deal with a developer as a fait accompli, the Springfield Township Planning Commission voted Sept. 3 to urge the board of commissioners to try once again to keep the Black Horse Inn in place.
The commission agreed to draft a letter recommending renegotiating the agreement between the township and the Hampton Real Estate Group, which wants to build a CVS Pharmacy at the Black Horse site on behalf of the Mendelson Family Trust, the owner of the property.
The decision came at the end of a three-and-a-half hour meeting punctuated by bursts of anger from both planning commission members and the public.
"What you do here is going to set a precedent for every damn bit of development of Bethlehem Pike," said Norman Auerbach of Rorer Road, Erdenheim.
Planning Commissioner Bob Gutowski summed up the objections to the plan. Moving the Black Horse, he said, would be a loss of a community asset, and the new business would create traffic congestion at Bethlehem Pike and Bysher Avenue.
The developer's requests for fewer trees and narrower buffers than required by township ordinances also indicated the property would be overdeveloped, according to Gutowski.
"This is not an efficient plan for the community," he said. "It's a dysfunctional plan for the community."
T. Scott Kreilick of the Springfield Historical Society, which opposes relocation of the inn, called the planning commission's decision a minor victory. He did not expect the commissioners to change their minds about the agreement, he said.
Township Commissioner Robert Gillies, liaison between the board and planning commission, said he had predicted the planning commission would reject the plan, though he would not venture to predict how the board of commissioners would act when they consider the planning commission's letter next week.
Under the agreement, the developer agreed to pay for the relocation of the Black Horse to the rear of the lot on which it stands. In return, the township agreed to grant the developer the zoning variances it would need to build the pharmacy along with a liquor store and offices.
The township zoning commission denied the Mendelson family's requests for variances in May 2001. The family appealed the decision to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas but withdrew the appeal when it signed the agreement with the township in October 2001.
The township board of commissioners could override the planners' recommendation and approve the plans. If they accept the recommendation, the developer and owner could refuse to reopen negotiations and return to court.
The owner could also cut the process short and apply for a permit to tear the Black Horse down. Township Solicitor James Garrity has said the township would have no legal means to block such an application.
No representative of the family, developer, or architects appeared at the meeting Tuesday evening.
When the planning commission took its first look at the plans in February, Chairman John Schaeffer asked the public to accept the stipulation agreement as a given and said the planning commission's only duty was to ensure the plans conformed to the agreement.
In its action Tuesday, the planning commission with Schaeffer concurring ignored that advice.
"I just want to get this thing off our desks and out to the next level," Schaeffer said.