June 16, 2019


Abolition Hall - Update

Abolition Hall – Update


by Brian Coll











       It feels like years ago when we started talking about the possible development of the area at Butler pikes and Germantown Pike and it seems like it is getting closer to its end. I will save my commentary and opinion for a separate piece, but today I wanted to share with you the following from Friends of Abolition Hall. This follows the vote taken recently by the Board of Supervisors in Whitemarsh. The vote was 4-0 in favor of the development  with one person recusing themselves.


The following is from Sydelle Zove, Friends of Abolition Hall:



BOS Resolution
Late on Wednesday, the Township posted a Draft Resolution to its website that made clear the Supervisors’ intention to approve K. Hovnanian’s application. The Resolution included 22 conditions, which at first glance, seemed encouraging. Upon closer reading, however, it was evident that roughly half of the conditions simply noted that the project must comply with specific Code provisions. Nothing new there. Here’s a link to the resolution: http://www.whitemarshtwp.org/DocumentCenter/View/1858/2018-20-CU-06-17-Hovnanian-4006-4046-Butler-Pike-3

Our Response
We prepared comments on the more substantive provisions, doing our best to offer revised language that would strengthen and clarify their intent. During the public comment period, I spoke to 10 of the conditions, urging their modification. Our lawyer addressed another two or three. We sincerely believed that our comments would inform the Supervisors and trigger some changes. Members of the public also addressed the conditions, raising concerns and offering modified language. Sadly, no amendments were accepted, not even when we pointed out a factual error in the preamble. When the Township’s Solicitor picked up a pen, some of us thought he was about to jot down a point. Instead, he used it to scratch his ear. Because of time constraints, I was not able to read verbatim from my notes, but I did cover the major concerns. I am attaching my comments on the 10 conditions. There was a standing-room-only crowd at this meeting, with lots of new faces.

The Vote
At 9:32 p.m., after nearly an hour of public comments, the BOS voted 4-0 to approve the Hovnanian application. Each Supervisor offered comments intended to explain his or her decision. In every instance, they said the testimony presented by the Hovnanian team convinced them that the plan meets the requirement of the Code. We, of course, disagree, on this point and others. During the seven months of hearings, the Supervisors were guided by Solicitor Sean Kilkenny. Some of you might recognize that name; Mr. Kilkenny is the elected Sheriff of Montgomery County. He also is the appointed Solicitor for a number of municipalities, including Whitemarsh.

Next Steps
The law provides for a 30-day appeal period, and we will be considering our options. The appeal, if filed, would be heard by the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in Norristown.

In the meantime, the developer is likely to be assembling Preliminary Plans, which will begin the municipal, county, and possibly state agency review. Once these staff reviews are completed, the plans move to the Whitemarsh Planning Commission, a local appointed board consisting of Whitemarsh residents. The Planning Commission will meet in public session to review and discuss the plans, and take public comment. I believe the plans are subject to a vote by the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission also can request or recommend modifications. From there it moves to the Board of Supervisors, but keep in mind, this is Preliminary Plan review–there is a Final Plan review, and since this project is located in the Local Historic District, it also will require review by the Historical Architectural Review Board, but that is way down the pike (unfortunately).

General Comment
Clearly, the outcome of these seven months of hearings is disappointing. The public is vehemently against this project–for a variety of reasons. For some it is the increase in traffic congestion. For others it is the loss of open space. Of course, most people are deeply appalled by the planned degradation of a nationally significant homestead. Then there’s the issue of the wetlands, the exacerbation of sinkholes (there are three large ones nearby and several on the property), and the concern about the fate of the historic structures. Take your pick–it ain’t pretty no matter how you slice or dice it.

Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed Inga Saffron’s story about the homestead, the proposed development, and our opposition to the current plan. Here’s a link to the digital version: http://www2.philly.com/philly/columnists/inga_saffron/pennsylvania-anti-slavery-history-whitemarsh-plymouth-meeting-abolition-hall-hovnanian-20181025.html After reading it, you might consider sending a letter to the Inquirer, or even it you do not read it, you can write about the BOS vote. Keep your letter to 150 words, and email it to Inquirer.letters@Phillynews.com

Thank you, so very much, for your continuing interest and support. We are in this for the long haul, and hope you are, too.

Sydelle Zove, Convener
Friends of Abolition Hall

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