This blog has commented on a number of land use disputes in Philadelphia and its suburbs that involve a proposal to demolish or significantly alter a building with historic significance and replace it with a modern commercial structure. A number of suburban communities have enacted ordinances to preserve historically significant structures, but as demonstrated by a commercial property case arising on the historic Main Line, these ordinances vary greatly in their effect.

The dispute at issue involves a structure that dates from the late 1700s. The field stone building was originally used as a tavern on the nation’s first turnpike. For most of the 20th century, it housed the Old Covered Wagon Inn, a restaurant that became a Main Line landmark in its own right. The building now houses a high-end furniture store.

The preservation dispute began when the owner of the building filed an application with Tredyffrin Township for permission to demolish the building and construct a CVS drug store and drive-through. The township has enacted a historic preservation ordinance, but it gives almost all decision-making power to the land owner. The township has virtually no authority to require preservation of a structure on privately owned real estate. A group of local residents has submitted an on-line petition asking the owner to preserve the building by incorporating it into the design of the pharmacy, but the township has no power to compel such action.

Many municipalities in the Philadelphia area have enacted preservation ordinances that go far beyond the relatively toothless ordinance enacted by Tredyffrin Township. Anyone who becomes involved in a preservation dispute, whether as the property owner, a developer or an opponent of the project, may wish to seek legal advice from an attorney who specializes in real estate law. An experienced lawyer can provide a helpful evaluation of the facts of the case and the effect of both state and local laws on any historic structures that may be involved.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Can Main Line history coexist with a CVS?,” Michaelle Bond, Feb. 16, 2016