As MoreThanTheCurve.com reported late last night, the Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to approve the proposal to build 67 townhomes on the Abolition Hall property at the corner of Germantown and Butler Pikes in Plymouth Meeting.
Prior to the vote, all four of the voting supervisors spoke on why they made their decision to support the application. The big reason was that they had to follow the law and townhomes are allowed as a conditional use in the Village Commercial (2) district.
What they didn’t share is that they are within their right to amend the zoning ordinances. The Village Commercial District was created in 2008. It was previously amended in 2010 and 2011.
We aren’t saying they should have attempted to change the zoning uses after the application was submitted. That would be wrong. But no elected officials had the foresight to consider how the allowed uses could impact the historic district. Claiming you are only following the law, when you are in a position to alter the law or create a better law, isn’t a really good argument.
If an elected official had pushed to remove townhomes as a conditional use, the proposal likely wouldn’t be moving forward. The developer would have needed to get the Board of Supervisors to amend the zoning to allow them to build the townhomes (this is the process the developer underwent to get the Wawa approved in Conshohocken) or gone to Whitemarsh’s Zoning Hearing Board to seek zoning relief and would have needed to prove a hardship. Those wouldn’t have been as easy.
And note, those who were in opposition, you are responsible as well for the zoning never being amended. Anyone could have submitted an ordinance at any time to amend the zoning. The Board of Supervisors doesn’t have to consider it, but they might have or it could have spurred one of them to act. The public didn’t take notice of what was permitted around the historic structures until it was too late.
Regarding the Whitemarsh Township’s Offer to Buy the Property
Whitemarsh Township’s offer to buy the property was declined. Note that the township’s offer to buy the property was by law only able to match the appraisal. It couldn’t make a another offer once rejected.
After this, was there a discussion with the property owner to allow the Whitemarsh Foundation, or another similar organization, the opportunity to raise the money needed to buy the property? If not, why not?
The developer plans to sell the historic buildings. Who is going to raise that money and what is the plan to utilize the property? That planning needs to start today.
Will the Friends of Abolition Hall file a lawsuit? Is that a waste of energy and should they instead focus on raising the money to buy the historic properties?
What other historic properties could be impacted by development? What is the current zoning for those properties? Does it need amending?
More to come.