by Brendan Sample

The ongoing controversy over Abolition Hall saw another new major development in favor of developer K. Hovnanian Homes. The Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas officially dismissed the Friends of Abolition Hall’s appeal of the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors’ decision to grant Hovnanian a conditional use permit to construct 67 townhouse buildings on the Abolition Hall property.

“The judge’s ruling affirms our position that the Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors properly granted conditional use approval after reviewing our proposed development plans,” said Mike Weisslitz, Hovnanian community manager. “We look forward to continuing with the approval process, and working with the Board of Supervisors and the community at large to move this project forward.”

The two sides initially tried working on a settlement after the first court hearing in September. They were unable to work anything out, however, with negotiations ultimately coming to a “roaring halt” according to Friends convener Sydelle Zove, who claimed that Hovnanian was unwilling to budge in any significant way. About 10 days before the final ruling, the Friends gave notice to Judge Thomas Branca that mediation had been unsuccessful.

Members of the Friends are still considering whether or not to move forward with a further appeal of their case. Regardless of what happens with the conditional use permit, Hovnanian will still need to obtain a land use permit, as that part of the process is still ongoing.

Hovnanian submitted a draft of its plans for the site in April to Township Engineer Krista Heinrich, along with a list of waivers that would allow the developers to bypass certain elements of the township design code. Heinrich then issued a review memo pointing out dozens of instances where the plan failed to meet the code. Hovnanian revised its plans and resubmitted them in early September with more waiver requests, only to receive a similar response. Meetings of the Whitemarsh Planning Commission are still being held in an attempt to further work out these issues.

The planning commission has raised questions about roadway width, parking, the design of structures, and configuration of garage-fronted buildings. Most significant among the issues raised, however, has been the presence of sinkholes on the property and stormwater management. Members of the commission have expressed concerns that the amount of construction Hovnanian wants to do on the property could cause the sinkholes and stormwater to become unstable.

“These are absolutely critical issues,” Zove said. “Very substantial concerns about development of this nature are coming out through the land-use process … Among other aspects, the planning commission is clearly concerned about the presence of sinkholes and the suitability of land for this project. The public shares those concerns – they’ve been asking who would buy a property here for half a million dollars in light of these sinkhole issues.”

The next meeting of the Whitemarsh Planning Commission is set for Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. at 616 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill, PA 19444. Brendan Sample can be reached at brendan@chestnuthilllocal.com or 215-248-8819

...