Inside Your Town

South Whitehall Twp. commissioners amend ordinance that protects King George Inn

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - Named after the last British monarch to personally lead troops into battle, the King George Inn won the war for its life Wednesday night.

The South Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners amended the zoning ordinance that recognizes and protects the historical building constructed in 1756 and also provides the developer who purchased the property with enough incentives to more easily develop the parcel of land around it.

"I would have to consider this a success story," noted Joseph Zator, township solicitor, of the compromised agreement.

Most readers are cognizant of the storyline.

A year ago it appeared the former dining establishment - which during its time was a place to be seen in the Lehigh Valley - had seen its better days.

Two years ago, previous owner Cliff McDermott sold the property to developer Atul Patel who had sought to raze the property as part of an ambitious commercial redevelopment proposal of the adjoining land.

Not so fast, cried some township residents, who implored commissioners to do what they could to keep the historic structure from its impending date with a wrecking ball.

Their cause made an impression on commissioners, who marshaled the resources of the township's staff to reach an accord with Patel.

On Wednesday night, all the talks, discussion and negotiations reached a conclusion, in the passage of the ordinance.

The details of the ordinance designate the King George Inn as a "historic structure," a term afforded to a property when it is "listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designated as a historic structure by the board of commissioners or both."

The property owner consents not to raze any historic property - in this case the King George Inn - and provides it with "permanent protection."

"The protections granted by this ordinance are primarily guaranteed by an agreement between the property owner and the township," Gerald Harbison, the township's assistant director of community development, explained to commissioners during a review and analysis of the document."

The terms of the agreement are not spelled out, so as to allow maximum latitude between the township and property owners to deal with the unique character and circumstances of each structure."

In return, the township offers what Harbison termed "incentives" to the property owners to adapt the historic structure reuse regardless of zoning restrictions and flexibility in reconstruction such as but not limited to building height, and setback requirements for parking.

In other business Wednesday night, commissioners heard for the second time in as many meetings from township resident Michael Molovinsky, who offered a slide show presentation and speech about his desire to save Wehr's Dam, located in Covered Bridge Park.

The dam could be in a battle for its life from the Wildlands Conservancy, who expressed its interest in tearing it down in a presentation before commissioners June 4th.

Molovinsky argued for the dam's historic value and inherent beauty, noting it was considered scenic by photographers and families alike for its picturesque tranquility.

That beauty and tranquility would be nothing but a distant memory if Wildlands had its way, Molovinsky asserted.

He urged commissioners not be to fooled by the conservancy's ecological phrase "riparian buffer," which he alleged was just a linguistic slight of hand for a bunch of "weeds" the environmentalist group would plant.

While commissioners have not approved the dam's demise, they did authorize Wildlands to proceed with a study about its removal at the June 4th meeting.

In Molovinsky's mind, the study's findings are really not in doubt.

"It's no secret what they'll come up with," he told commissioners.

Molovinsky said he is not alone in the fight to save the dam, noting that he had obtained more than 100 signatures to an online petition that favored his point of view on the matter.

He wasn't alone on Wednesday night during the commissioners' meeting either, as two individuals told commissioners how much they appreciated the damn.

In other business, commissioners appointed Kevin Smith and Justino Arroyo to the positions of patrol officers with the township's police department.

Commissioner David Bond was absent from Wednesday night's meeting.

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