New Garden rules on historic home debate
● By Richard Gaw
The historic Middleton home on Newark Road in Landenberg absorbed yet another layer of tug-and-pull legislation to its delicate and uncertain future last week.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 19, township solicitor Vince Pompo ruled that the contents of a proposed amendment -- written by the township’s Historic Commission that would impose stricter enforcement of rules regarding the preservation of historic homes in the township -- would not be applied to an agreement between Wilkinson Homes and the township regarding the home, which sits on the periphery of Middleton Crossing, an L-shaped, seven-lot subdivision of homes currently being developed by Wilkinson Homes, with prices that range from $539,900 to $649,900.
The agreement between the township and the builder, which was reached by Township Manager Tony Scheivert, Pompo and Bill Romanelli of Wilkinson Homes -- proposes that the builder will agree to preserve the home for a period of 18 months, beginning from the original date of sale, while making an effort to sell the home – all under the guidelines of the existing rules and regulations on preservation of the township’s historic structures.
If the home is not sold during that time period, the agreement states that the builder would then be allowed to pursue a demolition permit from the township, in order to tear the home down.
Pompo said that the builder will be held to the contents of the original amendment, but that once the board approves the amended guidelines about preservation of historic structures, they would be applied to all future homes and structures in the township.
In response to questions about the proposed amendments and their possible application to the Middleton property that were raised at the board’s Jan. 22 meeting, Pompo said that he was “a bit equivocal” in his response to the questions, and gave some additional thought since then.
“My understanding of the facts is that during the approval process for the plan for the Middleton subdivision, it was raised that there were historic structures on the property, and that the applicant at that time had applied for and received a demolition permit for these historic structures,” Pompo said. “Then, during the review period for the subdivision plan itself, there was an agreement reached between the developer and the township that was embodied later in a condition of approval, in which the developer would agree to market the property for a stated period of 18 months.
“That condition was not only agreed to, but it was also included on the signed plans and that those plans are ready to be signed by the board and recorded,” Pompo added. “At the present time, there is no new historic resource ordinance that has been put into any motion by the board with any action, except for my review, that includes some continued conversations relative to finalizing that ordinance. It’s my view that that ordinance will not affect the condition as has been established by the board in that decision. It would not in any way impede the implementation of that condition, based on those facts.
“We would anticipate that the condition would be complied with, and that the property would be marketed for the 18-month period, and at the end of that period, if it’s not able to be sold, that the effectiveness of the demolition permit would continue. The revised ordinance regarding historic structures in the township, once approved, would apply to all future historic properties in the township.”
The origins of what led to the dovetailing of the proposed amendments to the way the township should approach the preservation of historic structures and the 18-month agreement the township made with Wilkinson Homes dates back to Dec. 18, 2017, when the Historical Commission proposed to the Board of Supervisors that the Middleton Homestead be deeded off and sold as a separate two-acre parcel, in order to attract a buyer who could invest the time and money to maintain the historic home. In response to the commission's appeal, Romanelli told the board that the builder would be willing to find potential solutions for saving the home.
Soon after, Romanelli met with Scheivert and Pompo to discuss the Middleton home. They reached a cooperative agreement that stated that once the property goes on the market, there will be an 18-month window of time for it to be sold to an interested buyer, “as is,” meaning that there will be no renovations to the existing home. If there is no buyer in that period, Wilkinson would pursue a demolition permit from the township for the home.
The Middleton home has not yet been put on the market by Wilkinson Homes, which owns the property.
In September of last year, the Historic Commission submitted a modified version of its ordinances to the township's board of supervisors that called for stricter enforcement of rules regarding the preservation of historic homes in the township – all with the intention of saving pieces of the area's history from being demolished by a developer's wrecking ball.
While the Historic Commission awaits the board’s ruling, Scheivert said that the township will soon schedule a meeting this week to discuss the parameters for the proposed amendments that will include Scheivert, Pompo and Dr. Margaret “Peg” Jones and Lynn Sinclair of the Historic Commission. The meeting will be followed by advertising the adoption, and a review by the Chester County Planning Commission and the New Garden Township Planning Commission. The matter will conclude with a ruling by the board of supervisors.
In other township business, the supervisors passed Ordinance No. 236, which establishes and duties of the Historic Commission. The ordinance rewrites a past version of the township code of ordinances to establish the commission, and outlines the responsibilities of its members, establishes the membership and appointment of no more than nine members to the commission, as well as details rules regarding vacancies and removing members.
Under the revised ordinance, the commission may request funding from the township’s board of supervisors, in order to assist them in their activities. All requests for expenditures by the commission needs to go through the board.
The board also passed Res. No. 808, which endorses the Chester County Planning Commission’s
Landscapes3 plan, the county’s long-range comprehensive plan that was officially adopted by the County Commissioners on Nov. 29, 2018. The county is currently requesting county municipalities to adopt a resolution that endorses the planning concepts of the plan. This is not an adoption of the plan by the township, but a policy statement that the township endorses the plan.
The board also passed Res. No. 809, which gives township approval to PennDOT to apply for funding to make upgrades to the Thompson Road railroad crossing.
Supervisor Randy Geouque was honored with a plaque that thanked him for his service as the board’s chairman during 2018.To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.