by Brendan Sample

After close to a year after the initial filing, the Friends of Abolition Hall went before the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas to appeal Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors’ decision to allow K. Hovnanian Homes to construct a series of townhouses on the property housing Abolition Hall and other historic buildings.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Thomas Branca ruled that he would need more time to go over the evidence before making an official ruling.

FAH argued that the board did not follow the proper procedure for granting a conditional use permit, as it blocked several of their witnesses and pieces of evidence from being admitted into the official record. The board argued at the time, and presently, that the blocked testimonies would only be relevant for the land use stage of the approval process, which comes after conditional use.

Michael Fiorentino and Julie Von Spreckelsen were on hand to represent FAH and Hovnanian, respectively, as they had throughout the conditional use process. Fiorentino opened the proceedings by reiterating the Friends’ arguments that the townhouse development would ultimately result in long-term harm to both the public safety and welfare of Whitemarsh residents.

He claimed he was prevented from making that point by the Whitemarsh supervisors Fiorentiono said FAH attempted to call a witness that was an expert on wetlands and submit evidence regarding how tree coverage on the property would be affected, but the board argued the testimony was irrelevant to the conditional use process.

On the opposite side, Von Spreckelsen emphasized how Hovnanian recognized the historic importance of the existing structures, which are currently being used as private residences. She also reminded all parties that conditional use is not concerned with aspects of development regarding design, effects on the land, traffic, etc. She said Hovnanian had adequately proven that the use of the proposed development would be valid, and that that the blocked testimonies would only be relevant during the land use stage.

“We believe that the Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors properly granted conditional use approval after reviewing our proposed development plans, and the pending appeal lacks legal merit,” said Michael Weisslitz, community manager at Hovnanian. “We look forward to continuing with the approval process, and working with the Board of Supervisors and the community at large.”

Brendan Sample can be reached at brendan@chestnuthilllocal.com or 215-248-8819.

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