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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: September 27, 2001
Byline: Linda Finarelli

Black Horse Inn site development slated for discussion again

The fight over saving the Black Horse Inn may come to a head soon.

Development of the 3-plus-acre tract on Bethlehem Pike on which the 280-year-old inn sits is expected to be on the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners' Oct. 10 meeting agenda. The Springfield Township Historical Society, fearing the township will approve a proposed plan by the developer, The Hampton Real Estate Group of Allentown, to move the inn to the back of the property, is poised to submit an alternative plan at the board's Oct. 8 workshop.

It is not known whether Hampton, which "has tried to work with [the society and neighbors]," according to Dan Helwig, the Realtor who handled the sale of the property, would consider another plan at this time. "Rather than present a plan to the township, they should at least talk to the developer first," he said.

"It is my understanding that the township is very close to an agreement with Hampton Real Estate in which the developer would drop its appeal of the zoning hearing board's decision," if the township approves Hampton's latest plan, said T. Scott Kreilick, chairman of the historical society's Black Horse Inn Committee, Wednesday.

"The historical society is putting together an alternative plan to leave the inn where it is and still develop the property, but less intensively and more conducive to the community," he said. "We hope to have it ready by the [board's] work session."

In May, the Springfield zoners declined to grant special exceptions requested by Hampton in a plan to develop the tract. The developer filed an appeal, which is still pending, in Montgomery County court.

Hampton also submitted a modified version of the plan to the historical society and a group of residents who live near the tract, Kreilick said. Under the revised plan, the proposed CVS and larger liquor store would sit at the front of the property and the Black Horse Inn would be moved to the back, he said.

"We completely rejected it as still too intensive and not addressing traffic and other issues," Kreilick said. "The neighbors also rejected it as too intensive."

The society presented a petition with more than 3,000 signatures to the township commissioners calling for preservation of the Black Horse Inn in May, Kreilick said, noting 3,500 signatures have now been gathered.

Township Manager Donald Berger said the Black Horse Inn would be a topic of discussion at the Oct. 10 meeting, but denied the township and Hampton were finalizing an agreement.

He acknowledged that any arrangement between the township and the developer would have to include Hampton's dropping its appeal of the zoning board's decision.

"For the board of commissioners, plan A is to leave the inn where it is, fix it up and modify the development around it," Berger said. "The plan of last resort would include relocation.

"The current owner is not going to leave it where it is," Berger said. Hampton, which has held off under a "gentlemen's agreement" with the township to reapply for a demolition permit while discussions are ongoing, plans to demolish the inn, but it is willing to relocate it, he said.

Berger said he believes Hampton is getting cost estimates for moving the inn. He said he did not know whether a structural engineering study had been done.

If it were moved, "it would be deeded to the township, and the township would be responsible for having it renovated," which the township is willing to do, Berger said.

The society questions whether the township would be able to raise the funds necessary for restoration, Kreilick said. Moving the inn would make it more difficult to raise funds, "because it would be out of context and we couldn't place it on the National Register," he said.

A nomination to place the inn on the National Register of Historic Places was approved by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission in 1989, but it cannot be submitted without an owner's signature, he said.

According to both Kreilick and Berger, if Hampton presents a plan to the board that meets township ordinances, even if it calls for demolition of the inn, there is very little the commissioners could do.

"We're trying to provide an alternative," Kreilick said. "No one else has offered one."

"This has been kicked around for almost two years," Helwig said. "The developer tried various plans, including saving the inn — they had a bank lined up to use it."

All of the plans were deemed too intensive, and rejected, he said.

"The carrying charges alone [for the developer] are astronomical," Helwig said. "If something is not done soon, it will be knocked down."

Hampton is willing to sell the property, Helwig said, at a price he declined to say, and might consider selling just the inn.

Berger indicated the only way to keep the inn where it is might be to find another buyer, which he said he believed the society had tried to do.

With plans still up in the air, the historical society is seeking pledges rather than actual donations to preserve the inn at this time, Kreilick said. Anyone willing to make a pledge should call 215-233-4600.