Adaptive Reuse

Redevelopment plans proposed for Picket Post Swim Club property in Chesterbook – Plans include saving the historic 19th century barn

In the last few weeks, I have received many emails and phone calls about a privately owned historic barn in Chesterbrook. Rumors have swirled about the deteriorating 19th century timber post and beam barn, its possible demolition and a proposed redevelopment plan of townhouses for the Picket Post Swim Club owned property. For those that do not know the property, here’s a photo of the barn which I took last night.

Referred to locally as the Chase Road barn, its historic name is the Green Valley Farm Barn and is listed in the 2003 Tredyffrin Township Historic Resource Survey with a c. 1890 construction date.

Hidden in the middle of the Ridings, one of the 28 Villages in the Chesterbrook community is a group of original Green Valley Farm properties – the Federal manor home, a tenant house and the barn.  In the 1700s the Green Valley Farm of 800 acres adjoined the Chesterbrook Farm owned by Alexander Johnston Cassatt. Cassatt, the 7th President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, bred thoroughbred race horses on his 600 acres.

Fast forward to 1969, and Richard Fox from Jenkintown bought the property (which would become Chesterbrook) for $2.3M.  There was strong opposition from the neighboring residents to the development of this land. A battle that went as far as the Supreme Court ended and in 1976, they began grading and clearing the 865 acres originally known as “Green Valley Farm”.

In 1985, the large manor house was architecturally developed into three separate condominium units, while maintaining its original style. The tenant house to the property is a single-family private residence and the barn became a part of the community swim club and tennis courts (Pickett Post).

Although the manor house and tenant house are enjoyed and successfully maintained by their owners, sadly the historic barn has not fared as well.  During the last decade, Picket Post Swim Club membership and revenues has declined.  In 2016, the swimming pool on the property was closed to save repair and operational expenses. The property’s sole current use is for tennis while the maintenance, taxes and insurance of the entire 4.8 acres is paid by Picket Post Swim Club.  And without attention, the condition of the 130-year old barn has continued to deteriorate.

In 2018, the community is at a crossroads, with opinions divided on the swim club property and its future.

Picket Post Swim Club placed the 4.8 acre site up for sale and my understanding is that several developers looked at the property but for various reasons did not move forward. One of the significant stumbling blocks for development is the property would need to be re-zoned to R-4 (currently the zoning is Rural Conservation RC).

According to several sources, including John McFadden, the president of Picket Post Swim Club, the township is not interested in the property – although some in the community believe that the township wants the tennis courts and will manage them.

But the Picket Post property is more than the tennis courts, there is a closed swimming pool and more importantly, a deteriorating historic barn. And although the large 19th century barn is a Tredyffrin Township Class 1 historic resource (see below), the structure is not protected from demolition. Remember, the township does not have a historic preservation ordinance.

To further explain — In 2003, historic resources were identified and listed in the township’s Historic Resources Survey and classified into three categories – Class I, Class II, and Class III.  Viewed as the most important historic structures (and therefore most worthy of preservation), Class I resources are identified as resources that are listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The survey identifies 47 historic resources, including the Chase Road barn, in the Class I category.

I met with the swim club president John McFadden three years ago about the Chase Road barn and its future. At that time, the barn had already fallen into disrepair, which is more obvious from the inside. Major issues included a weak, sagging wall and roof problems.  The meeting resulted in no clear-cut direction and the barn’s condition has not improved in the intervening years.

As mentioned, a major obstacle for the property is the Rural Conservation  (RC) zoning designation. RC zoning permits one single family home. Since advertising the Picket Post property for sale, one company emerged as willing to taking on the challenges of development. Green Bridge Development LLC has entered into an Agreement of Sale with the swim club and will seek to have the property re-zoned.

As president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, whose mission is to preserve and protect historic and cultural resources in Tredyffrin Township for the benefit of present and future generations, I take the role seriously.  When discussing the proposed Chase Road project with the Green Bridge developers, my first question was “what about the barn”? Knowing that the cost to stabilize the large barn had to be over $500K, any plans for the barn would require a significant financial commitment.

After thorough discussion and review of the plans with the developer, I am pleased to report that the barn will be saved. In addition to townhouses, the proposed redevelopment plans include the adaptive re-use of the barn. A fan of re-purposing historic buildings, this is a way for old buildings, such as the barn, that have outlived their original purposes to have a ‘new future’.  With agreement to retain the integrity and historic features of the barn, I support the developer’s adaptive reuse of the Chase Road barn into 4 condominiums.

Green Bridge Development has hired local architect Rene Hoffman of R.A. Hoffman Architects in Paoli to design the project. Below is the rendering for the proposed adaptive re-use of the Chase Road barn —

If you attended the Trust’s 12th Annual Historic House Tour in 2016, one of the featured stops was the Westthorpe Farm Barn, c.1915 in Berwyn. In 2015, Bob Coppock of Coppock Properties and R. A. Hoffman Architects (the same firm hired for the Chase Barn conversion)meticulously crafted two luxury homes, retaining original architectural and historic elements — adaptive reuse of a historic barn at its best!  (See below)

There are some community members who want the Picket Post Swim Club property to remain ‘as is’.  Unfortunately, that is not a realistic option – the swim club cannot afford to keep the property and needs money for its other Chesterbrook swimming facility at Bradford Road. Additionally, the barn continues to deteriorate and in my opinion, is standing on borrowed time. Without financial intervention, the barn will probably need to be taken down at some point in the near future. When that happens, the community loses another historic resource.

There are those who want the Picket Post property to become a community park – again, not certain this is realistic. The purchase price on the property is $1.5M, where will the money come from to purchase and then maintain the property?  Taxpayers?  Grants?  Individual contributions?

Lots of opinions about the Picket Post Swim Club property and its future. The clock is ticking for this property and in my opinion, to ‘do nothing’ is not an option.

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Developers propose demolition of 18th century Covered Wagon Inn in Strafford

Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission has a full agenda for their first meeting of 2016 tonight (7 PM, Tredyffrin Township building). The list of Items include a preliminary/final development application for the redevelopment and expansion of the long vacant Paoli Diner (Dany’s Diner, Pizzeria Uno) property as a Nemours medical office.

Developers will present a subdivision application to consolidate four lots on East Conestoga Road in Wayne to create one new parcel. The proposed land development plan on the property is the construction of Brightview Senior Living, a five-story building with 156 beds.  The four properties (293, 301, 309 and 319) are located behind Toppers Spa, across from Nudy’s Restaurant.  That section of East Conestoga Ave. angling off of Lancaster Ave. is narrow, congested and difficult to maneuver – this proposed plan is going to need road improvement/driver visibility requirements.

The last item in front of the Planning Commissioners tonight has personal interest – a land development application to demolish a building a construct a CVS Pharmacy and drive-thru.   Summit Realty Advisors will present a plan for the 1-1/2 acre property located at 625/629 East Lancaster Ave. in Wayne.  This property is located on the corner of Old Eagle School Road and Lancaster Ave – the Paddock Restaurant (previously John Harvards Brew House) property.

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I have no issue with the redevelopment of this property, including the demolition of the ‘new addition’ located at 629 Lancaster, which housed the Paddock Restaurant. But … I have a real problem with demolition of 625 East Lancaster Ave, the historic building that currently houses Thos. Moser Furniture. According to Tredyffrin Township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey, the building was built about 1780 as a private resident. John Palmer owned a farm which included this structure in 1873, indicated on the 1881 atlas map.  The structure was enlarged during the 20th century and was known as the Covered Wagon Inn.  Well-known on the Main Line for fine dining and dancing, in its heyday the Covered Wagon Inn featured big name bands and performing artists such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington and their orchestras.

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Last fall, I had a discussion with a township planning commissioner about this property and the possible redevelopment project.  At the time, I stated that I could support the redevelopment (At that point, I did not know the specifics of a CVS drive-through plan) of the property with if the historic building was saved and incorporated into the project.

I stopped by Thos. Moser, showroom for the handmade American furniture company and current tenant of the historic building. The building is beautifully restored and maintained, making it the perfect backdrop for Thos. Moser furniture!

The landlord has told the staff that the property is in the process of redevelopment and that they should look to relocate. Their lease is up in September. The interesting part of the conversation was that the Thos. Moser staff told that because the building was ‘historic, it was protected’. Unfortunately, in Tredyffrin Township, we know that our historic buildings are not protected.  Although I explained that a demolition application for the building was in front of the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commissioners tonight, it was clear that that they didn’t think it possible!

AmblerBoilerHouse (1)

                         Adaptive Reuse of 19th c. Ambler Boiler House

In a review of the Summit Realty Advisors website, there are many, many CVS Pharmacy development projects, including a similar current project in Media. However, in the midst of their drug store building portfolio, I discovered a very special project by John Zaharchuk, owner/developer with Summit Realty Advisors.  Zaharchuk oversaw the redevelopment of Ambler Boiler House, the 19th century power plant of an abandoned asbestos factory. Working with historic architectural firm, Heckendorn-Shiles (a former historic house tour sponsor) of Wayne, the project redesigned the circa 1897 brick building, preserving its architectural integrity and recycled it into a clean-and-green office development.

Mr. Zarachuk, your adaptive reuse of a landmark industrial building as a unique and distinctive office space was a stunning achievement for historic redevelopment in the Ambler community!  As you did with Ambler Boiler House, could you use your vision to save the 250 year-old Covered Wagon Inn in Strafford.  Please say no to its demolition.

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