K Hovnanian’s plan for the Abolition Hall property.

by Brendan Sample

After several months of hearing ongoing arguments, the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors has begun deliberations on whether to grant a conditional use permit to K. Hovnanian Homes for the purpose of building a set of townhouses on the property surrounding Abolition Hall. With Hovnanian and the Friends of Abolition Hall (FAH) both providing closing statements at the final public meeting on the issue, the board has 45 days from September 13 to render a verdict.

Representing Hovnanian, Julie Von Spreckelsen continued to emphasize that the townhouse plan has met the requirements necessary to be granted conditional use. She argued that zoning concerns regarding such potential issues as stormwater management and wetlands preservation will fall under the further requirements that the developer will have to meet after conditional use.

Von Spreckelsen said that because the they are the objectors to Hovnanian’s application, the FAH must show “high degree of probability” that the conditional use would be detrimental to the community in order for it to be denied. Citing a lack of hard facts presented and testimonies that Hovnanian saw as irrelevant to the current case, she argued that FAH had ultimately failed to do so.

“The municipal body has already determined that the applicant has been compliant with zoning,” Von Spreckelsen said. “We recognize the historical significance of the properties, but the houses will not be completely surrounded by the townhouses … There will be about an acre of land left around them.”

On the Friends’ side, Michael Fiorentino argued the opposite, claiming that Hovnanian has had “blatant disregard” for the historical properties in question. Given the testimonies from both his witnesses and concerned members of the public, Fiorentino felt that the developer would need to surrender at least two extra acres of land to properly reduce the negative impacts the townhouses would have on this land.

“The predicted loss of community resources ultimately represents a greater than normal threat that is typically associated with a townhouse development like this,” Fiorentino said. “Abolition Hall deserves better.”

In addition, Fiorentino also argued that the board is not in a position to make a proper ruling, as it had blocked FAH from submitting specific pieces of evidence that he felt were key to the group’s argument. Seeing shortcomings on the sides of both Hovnanian and the board, he felt that there was no way in which the developer could properly be granted the conditional use permit.

Public comments were permitted after the board’s meeting had ended, though the board let those in attendance know that comments on the case had been closed. Public comments had been taken at last month’s meeting and the township had also accepted emailed comments until 3 p.m. that afternoon.

Brendan Sample can be reached at brendan@chestnuthilllocal.com