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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: October 31, 2000
Byline: Chris Lilienthal

Hearings begin for the Black Horse Village development

Hearings before the Springfield Township Zoning Board began this week on the proposed Black Horse Village development that would raze the 280-year-old tavern at Bethlehem Pike and Bysher Avenue and erect three separate retail structures.

Although the board had hoped to complete the hearings this week, time constraints have required a continuation.

The Hampton Real Estate Group is proposing a unified development of two lots at 1432 and 1438 Bethlehem Pike, where the Black Horse Tavern and the LCB liquor store respectively stand. Both properties are owned by the Mendelson Family Children's Trust.

The proposal would raze the tavern and its accessory buildings, relocate the liquor store to a larger building to the rear of the property, put a Roxborough/Manayunk Savings Bank in the liquor store's place and construct a CVS pharmacy in the center of the lot facing Bethlehem Pike.

The Black Horse property is located in two zoning districts, the B1-Business and C-Residential, which would put part of the CVS and all of the liquor store in a residentially-zoned area.

Hampton is seeking relief from the zoning ordinance to permit office and retail space in the C-Residential District and to permit the extension of a less restrictive district to a more restrictive district. Hampton is also seeking relief on matters of minimum parking spaces and parking lot construction.

Over the course of the two nights of hearings, three witnesses, called by Hampton's attorney Neil Stein, testified on matters of architecture and planning, transportation issues and land use. Solicitor Joseph Bagley represented the township at the hearings, while more than 25 residents and community members entered their appearance to question witnesses after counsel and the board.

Questions ranged from traffic impact on the area as a result of the proposed development to efforts made by the developers to preserve the existing Black Horse Tavern, as well as consideration of developing the residentially-zoned area as dwelling units.

Proposal specifics

Hampton Realtors are proposing to construct three stand-alone buildings on the approximately 3.5 acres of 1432 and 1438 Bethlehem Pike.

The proposed CVS pharmacy would be a relocation of the 9,000-square-foot CVS at Chesney Commons shopping center on Bethlehem Pike. The new facility would encompass 12,150 square feet and include two drive-thru windows.

The proposed relocated LCB liquor store would encompass 10,000 square feet, with 6,000 for retail use and 4,000 for storage. The store's current facility is 4,280 square feet.

The proposed Roxborough/Manayunk Savings Bank would be a new branch office encompassing 3,000 square feet, with one drive-thru window.

The total proposed building coverage would encompass about 25,000 square feet, or 15.5 percent of the total property.

The parking lot would include 148 spaces, and there would be a one-way entrance and a one-way exit onto Bethlehem Pike, as well as a two-way entrance/exit onto Bysher Avenue.

The proposal also includes a 65-by-400-foot recreational grass area behind the liquor store available for potential township use. Hampton also offered to construct a 44-space parking lot on adjacent township property for visitors using the proposed recreational area. A proposed 5- to 8-foot bike path would also be constructed on a portion of the property.

Hampton's Vice President for Sales and Marketing Edward L. Stutz testified the developer's goal in laying the retail center out was to provide a buffer for surrounding residences and to create an architecturally unique site.

"We probably would have saved ourselves a tremendous amount of time and resources had we created one generic building at the site," he said.

James T. Macallister, president and principal architect of the Macallister Group, testified the structures would be constructed in a late Colonial/Georgian architectural style, making the buildings architecturally consistent with other buildings in the area.

Stutz said CVS, LCB and Roxborough/Manayunk have signed long-term leases to rent the proposed facilities.

CVS wishes to relocate because of various inadequacies with its current facility in Chesney Commons, including insufficient visibility and frontage, lack of a drive-thru, a lack of adequate parking for handicapped customers and an insufficient selling area, according to Stutz.

LCB, too, is looking to expand.

"The existing LCB store is one of the most profitable in the entire state," Stutz said. "And LCB felt that demand justified increasing primarily the inventory aspect."

When asked if Hampton had considered developing the residentially zoned section of the property for housing, Stutz explained the option was thoroughly considered but deemed unfeasible.

Hampton had concerns about the marketability of housing located behind retail facilities and safety concerns for families who would live there.

Macallister identified access as an issue for residential development on the property.

Although the residentially zoned area could be suitable for two-story townhome development, he said, "it would provide too many points of access, in my opinion, for a viable mixed-use development."

Traffic issues

Transportation planner Crystal Gilchrist of Pennoni Associates conducted a traffic impact study on the section of Bethlehem Pike to be affected by the proposed Black Horse Village development.

She testified at the zoning hearing that her study indicated acceptable conditions where Bethlehem Pike intersects Mill Road, Bysher Avenue and College Avenue, Wissahickon Avenue and Haws Lane.

Traffic counts were conducted at a.m. and p.m. peak hours at the four intersections, as well as a Saturday count at Bysher and College, she said.

The information gathered was analyzed three times, first under existing conditions, the second with projected traffic volume during the build year and the third with projected traffic generated as a result of the new development.

The intersection is then assigned a grade based on an A to F scale.

"All the conditions are A, B or C throughout the pre-development position," Gilchrist said. "Only one turning movement out of the entire corridor changed level of service with the addition of the Black Horse Village development, and that went from a C to a D on southbound Bethlehem Pike at Bysher Avenue. That change in the level of service could be mitigated with a one-second change in the green time, taking one second from the side street and adding it to Bethlehem Pike, and the condition comes back to a level of service C. So it is a very marginal change."

Her analysis was based on the Trip Generation Manual put out by the Institute of Transportation Engineers, which provides estimated traffic counts for specific retail establishments.

Although she did not conduct an event analysis to take into consideration increased traffic for use of the adjacent township property on Bysher Avenue, Gilchrist said she overestimated by not subtracting current trip generation to the existing liquor store and pass-by traffic considerations.

"The trip generation volumes here are very conservative from the very beginning," she said. "If I had adjusted for those other two things, actual trip generation numbers would be almost half of what they are now."

Mark Lunney of Bysher Avenue asked Gilchrist about traffic variation according to the specific nature of the store.

"There will be variations," she said. "Even in stores of the same classification, there's going to be variations from location to location."

Preservation efforts

Both Stutz and Macallister testified consideration was given by Hampton Realtors to the preservation and renovation of the existing Black Horse Tavern, but it was deemed economically unfeasible.

The Black Horse consists of two sections, one constructed in the 1720s and the other constructed in early 1800s, along with two accessory buildings. Over the past 10 years, Macallister said, significant water damage has been sustained to the structure.

"The conclusion [we reached] is that it would be fairly expensive to preserve the shell of the building," he said. "We would have to remove all the timber frame construction of the building and really begin anew with all the framing and carpentry of the building."

Macallister noted there was limited interest from businesses in using the structure "probably due to the size and the limitations imposed by the existing bearing walls in the building."

"We spent an inordinate amount of time looking into the possibility of retention and renovation of the existing Black Horse Tavern," Stutz said. "To that end, it was heavily marketed, or at least in the first six months of our acceptance of the project."

Hampton met with interests ranging from Starbucks to Beneficial Bank to various small salons, but ultimately the cost of renovating the building and its size limited interest among potential users.

As far as the local historical value of the tavern is concerned, Stutz said his knowledge was limited, but he did say he knew the structure was not in the historical register.

As for the future, Hampton Realtors will have to come before the zoning hearing board at a later date, which has not yet been set, to continue the hearings.

The board will make a decision after all witnesses testify and after members of the public, who have entered their appearance at the hearings, have the opportunity to state their position.

As board Chairman Daniel Clifford said at the hearing, it is not a decision the board will make lightly.