by Barry McCarron, Division President at K. Hovnanian Homes
When developing a community of lasting homes and neighborhoods, there are several questions developers must address with the existing community and culture they are planning to supplement. The most important question to answer is: how can the developer assimilate into the ethos of the community and what are the foundational elements that create the fabric of their shared commonality?
Philadelphia and its suburbs feature history from every era of the American story. Learning and maintaining a conscious and mindful position encompassing all the facets of the cultures throughout the illustrious region is a key element to successful integration of development into a new community. When a municipality has been shaped by historic events and structures, preserving that history – and with it, the fabric of the community – is crucial.
Often, those goals can vary among interested parties. But, community growth and historic preservation can coexist, with responsible development.
Abolition Hall, built in 1856 by Quaker activists, was a central point for progressive civic engagement and rallying around the foundational abolishment of the institution of slavery in the United States. Abolition Hall has been and will continue to be a preserved historic site where residents from all over the region and historians everywhere can take pride in. We understand and cherish the rich history of Plymouth Meeting and Whitemarsh and this significant symbol of local Philadelphians leading the critical progressive cause of ending the institution of slavery throughout America through civic engagement and organization.
In 2015, we proposed a townhome development in Whitemarsh Township, on what is now the Corson Estate. Woven between the historic structures of Abolition Hall and Hovenden House, this land is marked for high-volume residential development in the Whitemarsh Township Comprehensive Plan. It’s also important to the community for its historic value.
At every stage of the development process, we have met with and listened to neighbors and community leaders. Those conversations – and the invaluable insights of preservationists and local officials – have helped shape our plans.
In May, we issued a “Commitment to Montco’s Preservation,” which outlined our plan to maintain the surrounding land’s historical value and maximize open space. Our initial plans were adjusted to add distance between the townhomes and the historic structures, to incorporate a walking trail that will be a part of Montgomery County’s “Cross County Trail” system, and to include open space that could function as a welcome park adjacent to the historic neighboring Abolition Hall. This open space will be owned by members of the Whitemarsh community, as part of The Villages at Whitemarsh Homeowners Association. Our current plans use just 70 percent of the allowed density on the site and will have a minimal impact on traffic at the intersection.
Perhaps most importantly to some local residents, we are committed to supporting efforts to ensure these sites remain on the National Register of Historic Places. We understand the needs by many community members to fully preserve the property as part of the development.
In addition, our proposed plan includes subdividing the land around these sites, and to sell the properties to a buyer who values this historic setting. Township ordinances ensure that Abolition Hall and the other historic buildings on the Corson Estate will continue to be preserved, and we have taken great care to ensure that the views and land around these sites is maintained in the proposed plans.
Striking a balance between preservation and growth is essential to building a vibrant community and a vital historic district. In Whitemarsh Township, we look forward to being part of that critical balance and providing a place for families to grow and call home.