For historic preservationists, the destruction of any historic property is difficult but is compounded when it occurs in your own backyard. What makes Tredyffrin Township truly unique is its rich architectural heritage: the old homes and buildings that tell the story of the community’s past, that continue to bring pleasure in the present, and will, if properly cared for, inform and inspire the future.
In 2003, Tredyffrin Township’s Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) undertook what would become an extensive award-winning architectural survey, identifying more than 350 historic resources in the township. As a member of HARB, I was involved in the review and cataloging of the township’s historic buildings for this project.
According to this historic resource survey, the William Pugh Farm (also called Ann Pugh Farm and A. Glass Farm) received a historic survey Class II structure rating. The primary architectural style was listed as Georgian and identified the structural system as stone with shake roof. In the report on the Pugh farmhouse, the surveyor comments include, “recommendation for potential individual listing on the National Register of Historic Places”.
The township’s historic survey description of the property states that the original owner, William C. Pugh, made iron augers in his blacksmith shop at this farm in 1873 and is responsible for the road’s name. A 1980 survey date suggests that the Pugh farmhouse lists a date of 1750 for the first section and 1830 for the later wing. This date associates with the date stone of the springhouse of 1832 and that of the barn showing 1839 (see photos below). According to the historic survey records, “the blacksmith shop was extant in 1980 close to the road, but appears to have been demolished. Pugh’s property was sold by 1883 to A. Glass, who held 20 acres in 1887. The complex is distinctive as a combined farmstead with a farmer blacksmith shop and barn.”
When completed, Tredyffrin Township’s award-winning historic resource survey received statewide attention with the 2007 Preservation Award from Preservation Pennsylvania. At the December 2004 Board of Supervisors meeting, former State Representative Carole Rubley presented the Government Initiative Award on behalf of the Commonwealth to Jim Garrison, who was the Chairman of the Historical Architectural Review Board at that time. In the minutes of that BOS meeting, Rubley stated that the survey “will be a planning tool for preservation practices in the Township. Mrs. Rubley congratulated the HARB for this great honor, and said it made her proud of the Township.” A longtime supporter of historic preservation in Tredyffrin Township, I don’t know that the demolition of the 18th century Ann Pugh Farm would make her proud.
In 2009, the township staff, representatives of the Planning Commission and HARB and members of the community took on the arduous task of updating the Comprehensive Plan & Historic Preservation Plan. At that time, I was a member of HARB and served on the citizens committee that helped create the revised planning tool.
In the description of purpose for the Historic Preservation Plan, the document states, “…the Township recognizes the importance of its existing historic resources and the role they play in contributing to the Township’s character. The Historic Preservation Plan will assist the Township and its residents in appreciating the importance of preserving and protecting historic resources.”
Given the township’s stated support of historic preservation, then I must believe that something went terribly wrong regarding the Ann Pugh Farm, insofar as there were no red flags raised before granting the demolition permit on this property. According to Bill Martin, the township manager, the permit was applied for and reviewed by township staff. In an email he stated, “Unless the home is protected, the code department has no ability to deny or delay these applications.”
The township has the historic resource survey book that documents, by street address, the 350+ historic properties, with descriptions and photographs. When the township staff receives a demolition permit request, it would only take a couple of minutes to check whether the property is included in the historic resource survey. The property was only purchased last month, how is it possible that a demolition permit can go through the township in less than 30 days? It’s too late to make a difference for the 18th century Pugh Road house but going forward, something needs to change.
Unless the process changes regarding notification of demolition applications, there’s nothing to keep this from happening over and over. Although I am no longer a member of the Historic Commission, I continue to serve as the president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and chair of the Annual Historic House Tour. I was disheartened to read on that township website that starting in 2014, the Historic Commission is no longer holding monthly meetings but has instead decreased its meeting schedule to quarterly. And unfortunately, the township no longer has a HARB which may have helped protect this historic property from demolition.
For historic preservation to matter, and for our local history to be meaningful, it needs to be supported.
In 2007, I had the pleasure of co-chairing the township’s Tredyffrin 300 celebration with my friend Judy DiFilippo. The community came together that year to celebrate our three hundred years of history. Our history was important when the township was founded in 1707, it was important when we celebrated the 300th year of its founding in 2007, and … its history and its historic resources should be important to preserve in 2014.
In the words of early preservationist William Morris, “These old buildings do not belong to us only, they belong to our forefathers and they will belong to our descendants unless we play them false. They are not in any sense our own property to do with as we like with them. We are only trustees for those that come after us.”
Remembering the Ann Pugh Farm, circa 1792 with a few photos — a loss of an 18th century historic treasure
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Has anyone found out why the new owners destroyed the house ? Is it a land grab to put in tract housing ? shame on who ever allowed the destruction permit to go through so quickly.
First, I want you to know that I enjoy your blog. This matter however is hitting very close to home and is bringing a lot of unwanted attention on our neighborhood. I’ve lived on Pugh road for 45 years and live close to the house that was just demolished. I thought the old house was beautiful. At the same time, I have real issues with your post and other coverage of this matter. Whether we like it or not, this is a decision that is beyond anybody’s control. We have a nice community here and above all, we respect the privacy of our neighbors. You may be familiar with the property at the corner of Warner and Pugh. The old home was nice. I can’t say the same thing for what is in its place. Still, people owned that property and decided to do what they did. If I was in a similar position, I’d hope that people would respect my wishes and privacy and above all, leave me alone. I can tell you that people here are very uncomfortable right now with the scrutiny.
I hope you will keep in mind that people and families are involved. And it’s not just the people that own the property. Many of us live on the street. The people that own the property are nice. Sadly, they are being made out to be mean people. They are not.
I appreciate and thank you for your thoughtful comment. The problem I have is not with the new owner of the property — I may not understand why someone would demolish this beautiful home, these people did not break any laws. Without any township ordinances protecting the historic resources, there are no regulation preventing someone from tearing down a historic house in Tredyffrin. It is the homeowner’s prerogative — they bought the house and tore it down. I may not understand their motives but I never said that they were ‘mean’.
I sat on the Historic Architectural Review Board and Historic Commission for many years and as much as we tried, there was strong resistance to apply any level of protection for the township’s historic properties. Other townships, such as Lower Merion and Radnor have strict guidelines governing the protection of their historic resources and procedures are in place for granting demolition permits. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Tredyffrin Twp — there is no protection for the 350+ historic properties. As the president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and the chair of the Annual Historic House Tour plus the owner of a 17th century house, I was shocked and felt an obligation to speak out about the Ann Pugh farm.
For the record, the deed transfer information on properties is public record — however, out of respect for the new owner and their family I never mentioned the owners name and/or address nor the former owners name. I also did not include the real estate agent information. As far as I am concerned, the issue is no longer about the demolition of this 18th century house, it’s about what should we do going forward. As I have stated, there is no protection for historic homes in Tredyffrin Twp, and no process for review before granting of a demolition permit. The only way to bring about change is through the use of examples such as the Ann Pugh house — I would like to see something change going forward.
And thank you for your thoughtful reply as well.
Perhaps I am directing my angst at the wrong blogger. In reading the comments, the vicious comments are from a blog called Chester County Ramblings. The idea that a RE agent should “choke” on a commission is rather repulsive to me. I am glad to hear that you recognize that whether you agree or not, it is in the prerogative of a homeowner to do what they wish within the law. Am I correct in inferring from your comment that perhaps, the township did something wrong here? I’m not sure I see anything wrong here. If it is a matter of speed, I don’t see the issue because there was no legal justification for the township to stop this. Further, there was no injunctive relief available to anybody who wanted to stop the demolition. As for the building of a new structure? That is another question and one that has to go through the normal land development process. I’ve gone through that process a few times in my time in the township.
I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with the Chester County Ramblings Blog. Perhaps you could ask them to have a kinder and more civil tone in this matter. As near as I can tell, they don’t live in our community.
I am not saying that the township staff did anything wrong in approving this demolition permit. There is currently no historic preservation ordinance in Tredyffrin Township — historic properties are not protected from demolition. No demolition permits require the approval of of township supervisors in Tredyffrin Township, whether the buildings are historic or not. It is interesting that in Lower Merion Twp, for instance, all demolition permit applications must come in front of the township commissioners for review/approval/denial and to allow for public comment. Your are correct — currently there is no legal justification for the township staff to have denied the application to demolish the Ann Pugh house.
greetings from Chester County Ramblings. I feel very strongly about destruction of historic assets even if private property rights were exercised. And knowing quite a few realtors, in my humble opinion there is no way that realtors don’t know when a property is in play for development.
Sorry if you don’t like my opinion about the fate of the Ann Pugh house and the final players, but I am allowed to have it. You don’t have to read any blog or newspaper unless you choose to.
As a matter of fact I have received MANY comments on and off blog from your neighbors who are all utterly distraught that this wonderful 18th century house was bulldozed with nary a word prior to it.
And from a public safety standpoint, given the proximity to a school, it is somewhat astounding that Tredyffrin didn’t even let surrounding property owners like the school know that buildings were coming down.
So again, I am truly sorry that you are so terribly stressed out that there is public attention to a demolition like this, but a lot of people, myself included appreciated the beauty of what was the Ann Pugh Farm. And something like this would never go completely under the radar because truthfully it is neighborhood altering to where you call home.
I find your words that expressed hope that the real estate choke on her commission to be offensive. There is nothing humble in your opinion.
I’m not stressed at all as this will pass. What a heavy burden you must carry with being concerned with the private business of others. Perhaps someday, the favor can be returned.
“In my humble opinion ” is a turn of phrase. And you are correct, I am not being humble, I am expressing an opinion (much like yourself).
Also out of curiosity how are people expressing opinions about beautifully restored 18th century houses being torn down in broad day light on public streets violating private business?
I am not going engage with you further. I have one opinion, and you another.
This is a sad situation. I have recently gotten involved here with the Historic Savannah Foundation. They have a lot of programs in the community to encourage preservation, including a “planning and zoning” camp for kids to teach them about the value of maintaining things. “It’s not good because it’s old; it’s old because it’s good.” The Foundation has a Revolving Fund that helps to buy properties to prevent their demolition and then attaches covenants to future owners. It doesn’t make money, but it saves properties. They focus on “blight” nowadays because their goal was to prevent Savannah from becoming just another Southeastern City….but the loss of this house, which WAS maintained, is clearly unfortunate and exposes the flaw in the process. It’s ironic that a place as rich in history as Chester County would generate a comment that there was nothing wrong with tearing down a home that HAD been preserved and maintained. Nothing illegal doesn’t mean nothing wrong. I took a tour just today of a home from the 1820s that has become a major symbol of Preservation — and the foundation has invested $30,000 in archaeological studies to completely understand the history of the house. This home is host to 35,000 tours annually…and the preservation takes place with tax incentives and by opening the doors to tourists etc.
Anyway, adaptive re-use is one option, but it seems that there needs to be a process, a historic district overlay, that at least informs people of the prospect of a “property owner” who has no interest in maintaining the property. Here, the HSF has a right of first refusal on several properties they are associated with redeveloping (they buy properties, save them, and then sell them with covenants to interested owners to preserve and maintain. ) The result is that Savannah has been able to protect its character — and older buildings are not always consigned to demolition or replacement by something more “modern.”
Surely Ms. Richards above doesn’t think it was right for a home that had already been preserved to simply be demolished!? It wasn’t illegal….so what.
BUT I agree that Rambling is off the mark. She has condemned the realtor etc. I thought the listing was well written to try to attract someone who would appreciate the history of the house and the special qualities.
So — check out HSF and the kinds of things they do (here modeled after Charleston)…how ironic that the Cabin at the Conestoga High School, which has little relevance to the township in fact (few if any are aware of it or visit it) required the School District to expend a significant amount of money to preserve it when the high school was renovated….in the same township that has no protection of a 200+ year old PRESERVED home.
Thank you Andrea for your comment. This is a very sad situation — a beautiful, restored 18th century home and a piece of our local history lost. This house did not suffer from neglect and it wasn’t in disrepair. Until the township decides places an importance on historic properties, the loss of our historic properties will occur again and again. Here’s an interesting twist to the Conestoga Cabin story. Prior to 2011, there was a short list of about 20 historic properties in the township that were ‘protected’, including the 1800’s Van Leer Cabin next to Conestoga High School. In 2011, the township’s HARB was replaced by the Historical Commission — when that happened, the short list of protected properties ceased to exist. So now in 2014, there is no protection for the Van Leer Cabin, no requirement in place for its protection and the District would not have to renovate it today.
I’m glad that you are involved with historic preservation in Savannah — a town that understands, appreciates and protects is history and its buildings!
So, even the listed 20 historic properties are no longer protected? I recall the change from the HARB, but was there also an ordinance change at the same time? If so, was there a duly advertised and recorded hearing? Could you give us a quick elaboration of the history of the laws and the process, Pattye, to inform the discussion going forward?
The protection of the former list of historic properties ‘traveled’ with HARB. Without HARB, the list no longer exists. Even if a historic house in Tredyffrin Twp is on the National Historic Register, it is not protected. The National Historic Register designation “does not restrict a property owner’s private property rights. Owners of National Register properties can remodel, renovate, sell, or even demolish their property with no restriction.” The National Register leaves it up to local jurisdictions to enact historic ordinances to protect properties. So, as it now stands, there is nothing to stop the Old Eagle School, the Garman Mill on N. Valley, Baptist Church in the Great Valley, General Howe’s Headquarters, Duportail House, Van Leer Cabin from demolition. The current township process does not even allow for public discussion or board of supervisors approval for demolition. Now I would like to think that if it were a nonprofit-owned structure such as a historic church or the cabin at Conestoga, enough people would weigh in to keep it from happening. But legally there are no ordinances to protect any of the properties from demolition.
The interesting thing about Savannah is that preservation did not exist until the 50s when the Davenport Home that I visited today was set for demolition to provide space for a parking lot near a funeral home. 7 women decided that was just wrong, and raised money to buy it. That marked the birth of the Savannah Historical Foundation. Mostly volunteer, they exist in a renovated and relocated building, have a professional CEO and manage this “Revolving Fund” which buys, secures and then sells properties with historic relevance. “Our mission is to preserve and protect Savannah’s heritage through advocacy, education, and community involvement.” One of the differences here vs. the Northeast is seems to be a fewer number of litigators per capita….private school kids are not publicly bused (though presumably tax dollars could be forced into that application as they have been all over the Northeast), the preservation group pays property taxes on properties they purchase and rehab (ultimately if it becomes a non-profit building, that changes).
What is wrong with this situation, it seems, is that this house WAS preserved. The speakers at HSF say that Savannah people don’t plan a lot — they just DO IT. When these women started preservation in 1955, they determined that fee simple ownership gave them the biggest power in controlling a property. But it is a Revolving Fund — in total only about $1M in resources has been used to save 350+ homes in the downtown Savannah area.
There is a major program / convention here this spring. Come on Down! It’s going to get to 35 degrees tonight here, but no snow in our forecast.
Yes, the fact that this wonderful 250-yr. old was completely restored is the problem. of the 350+ historic resources in the township that were surveyed in 2003, I cannot think of any that are in such a neglected state that they would warrant ‘demolition by neglect’. It’s possible they exist but none come to mind immediately, certainly not any in the 100 year or older category. So — the real problem in Tredyffrin Township, is how to protect the restored historic homes. It’s much easier to make the case for the demolition of a historic property if it’s a public safety threat. And even I (lover of all things historic) would be hard-pressed to defend the merits of a historic building whose existence was a safety issue for neighbors, children, etc. But how do you convince people there is value in our community’s history and the importance of preserving our past for future generations. I do understand property rights and that people should be able to do what they want with their property. But the people who purchased the beautifully restored historic Ann Pugh house for $1.4 million and then probably paid another $500K to tear it down. In the end, paying probably $2 Million for a 2.2 acre lot. That seems alot of money for a lot — there had to have been a couple of acres available in the township for alot less money. As much as I try to understand it, I still don’t get it. And keep coming back to ‘why’ did this happen.
It’s no longer about the Ann Pugh house — the community and our elected officials need to care enough to make some changes about how we view historic properties in Tredyffrin.
The fact that it was restored is the problem? Are you saying that if it was in bad shape, it wasn’t worth saving? As for the costs, isn’t that a matter for those who spent the money? If somebody is willing to pay, all up, 2 Million for a 2.2 acre lot, isn’t that there business? I guess that is the trouble I’m having here. This is private property and a private matter. The news outlets didn’t pick it up. Nobody stepped up to buy the property. Is it really any of our business to ask why? We don’t know the new owner’s motivations and it is none of our business.
Pattye, what you advocate is a radical change that disturbs private property rights. Just because something is old, it doesn’t make it historic.
I am going to hope that your opinion is in the minority. Look around at every other township — Radnor, Lower Merion, West Chester, Chadds Ford, etc. etc. — somehow they have managed to protect historic properties and not take away private property rights. Take a look at Lower Merion’s historic preservation ordinance – look at their demolish permit process. It takes review and approval form their commissioners and public comment for any demolition permit, with an additional waiting period if the property is historic. Protecting historic properties is not a radical idea.
What was so historic about this particular property? Was it a rare and unique example of a particular architectural style? With all the renovations, how much of the original structure remained? Was it an old property? Yes. Did it have a nice appearance? Yes. Does that make it historic? No.
Your mention of Lower Merion is noted. They have a HARB, yes? They have historic districts, yes? It also doesn’t force the designation on any property. It’s also a concept that is more relevant to commercial districts.
More on Lower Merion. That’s where La Ronda was, yes? The HARB recommended that a demolition permit be denied, yes? The Board of Commissioners approved the demolition. After a delay, La Ronda was demolished in October, 2009.
You make it seem that just because there is a HARB, an historical commission, etc., there will be absolute protections. In fact, there are never absolutes. I’ll concede that La Ronda actually had some historic value. At the same time, the land on which it sat was over 200 acres. Through time, with development, that shank to just over 3 acres. That alone was enough to doom the property.
What you really seek is the ability for government to reach in and ban demolitions of properties you or a few others decree as historic. You didn’t say exactly that but that is what I infer in your comments.
Question Pattye. You own a historic property. Let’s say that somebody wanted to offer you a substantial premium for your property. You ask them what their plans are. They tell you they plan to substantially alter the building and don’t foreclose the idea of demolishing the entire building. You’re not going to sell for a substantial premium? It’s all hypothetical now and it is easy to stand on principle and say no now.
Yes, I have a 300-yr. old house, one of the oldest in the state, dating to 1690. One of the reasons that I advocated for a list of historic resources in the township was that my husband and I wanted the ability to protect our house from demolition by some future owner. As I previously said, the township had a list of approx. 20 properties that were protected until HARB was replaced by the Historic Commission in 2011. We had hoped to add to the list of protected properties — and yes, as a HARB member, I would have been the first one to sign up. Would I have sold my historic house for $1.4 million if I knew it would be demolished. No, and I know several other historic homeowners that would agree with me. Do I expect you to understand or believe me when I say that protecting historic properties is more important than money? No.
I didn’t just start caring about history or historic preservation, I’ve spent my entire adult life caring about this issue. As president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust for 10 years (whose mission is to preserve our local history and historic resources), chair of the Annual Historic House Tour for 9 years, co-chair of Tredyffrin 300 (which celebrated our 300th birthday) and the owner of a 17th century house, I am committed to the preservation of our historic resources.
Bottom line — I am not interested in arguing the merits of historic preservation with you. Some people get it and some people don’t. As someone used to say to me, “you’re entitled to your opinion, but not your own facts” — in this case, I think I know the facts on historic preservation in Tredyffrin Twp.
I think what you have illustrated is that whatever is done, it’s a personal decision made by individuals and just as you want your decisions and opinions on the matter to be respected, so too should other decisions and opinions, even if they differ from yours.
I don’t dispute your facts on historic preservation in Tredyffrin Township. I do dispute your representation of historic preservation in Lower Merion. I cited the La Ronda case, which you ignored. The point was that in spite of what a government may have in place, ultimately, it is an individual decision to make. The homeowners on Pugh Road made a decision on a property that in your opinion was historic. Other people disagreed or didn’t value it as much. Those are facts. Another fact is that what is or isn’t “Historical” is mostly opinion. It’s kind of like Art. There are examples which are beyond debate. Then, there are infinite shades of gray.
I applaud you for your principled position.
What is historic? Is it the 18th century Ann Pugh house that was demolished or the one-room Diamond Rock octagonal school house (circa 1818) on Yellow Springs Road? How about the Great Valley Mill (circa 1859) on N. Valley Road , the Duportail House dating from 1745 and its Federal Barn, are they historic? How about 250-yr. old General Howe’s Headquarters near Teagarden Park or the early 1711 Baptist Church in the Great Valley, the only church in Tredyffrin to allow the burial of African-American soldiers during the Revolution War are these properties historic? This is not a gray area, all of these properties, and many more in Tredyffrin Township, are historic.
Tredyffrin Township has no historic ordinance – Lower Merion has a historic ordinance, here’s the link:
Tredyffrin Township has no list of protected properties – Lower Merion has a list of protected properties.
Tredyffrin Township does not have a HARB – Lower Merion has a HARB.
Here’s what HARB does in Lower Merion Township:
Tredyffrin Township has no provisions for the demolition of historic properties – Lower Merion has special regulations surrounding the demolition applications of its historic properties:
All properties in the Historic Resource Inventory List in Lower Merion require Board of Commissioners approval for demolition. Here’s the link to Historic Resource Inventory List. http://www.lowermerion.org/forms/hrdbsrch.html
The demolition permit process in Tredyffrin Township does not require any review from Board of Supervisors, whether the property is historic or not. However, Tredyffrin Township does have an award-winning Historic Resource Survey of 350+ properties.
I never said that a HARB or Historic Commission offers absolute protection. Even with a community’s desire to protect historic properties like like La Ronda in Lower Merion, the property can get demolished. You correctly stated that Lower Merion commissioners approved the demolition – however, their approval included a 90-day delay to see if the historical society could raise the necessary funds to save it. Sadly, that did not happen. At least the commissioners offered a waiting period to see if there was an alternative rather than demolish.
what are the qualifications to deem a property “historic”? you didn’t answer that question and for those of us knew to this discussion perhaps you can inform us. Thanks
I thought with Murph on the board, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. Has anybody reached out to Murph to get his take?
I lived in this house for several months, fall/winter/spring of 1980-1981. My housemate and I worked on the property as our rent. It’s sad that it is gone, but I am glad to have lived there for a short period. I stopped by this past weekend and mourned as I looked at the stump that is still left of that big old fireplace and chimney. That’s all, along with a rubble filled basement and dumpster Thanks all
Thank you for your comment John. Glad that you had the old house experience and enjoyed your time at the Ann Pugh Farm.
Which Township official(s) were part of the process and which actually signed the Ann Pugh house demolition permit? What is the permitting process? The Building Department personnel are: Matt Baumann, Zoning Officer, Michael Pilotti, Senior Building Inspector, Denis Hiller, Building Inspector, and Laurie Meyle, Permits. Did none of them question this? When the Lewis Walker house was demolished by neglect in 1981, a judge had to approve the demolition. But, that was in the days before the Township repealed its historic preservation ordinance in 2011, just shortly before the Trout Creek Overlay ordinance was passed against overwhelming community opposition, allowing high density housing on the historic Richter tract, which some in our community supported, saying concern for history is a negative view. Where was the Board of Supervisors? And where was our Historical Commission? It was reduced from an Historical Architectural Review Board to a commission with no power at all. One would hope that the community matters, but it appears the loss of the Ann Pugh house is in keeping with present Tredyffrin Township government policy.
Matt Bauman: email@example.com
Michael Pilotti: firstname.lastname@example.org
Denis Hiller: email@example.com
Laurie Meyle: firstname.lastname@example.org
R. & J. Kunin
It puzzles me why a demolition crew would tear down such a place, wouldn’t they question their orders?
Yes, very sad that we lost this beautiful historic home — in its place a 21st century McMansion. I still find it difficult to drive down Pugh Road. :(
I grew up in a circa 1792 home in west Chester (on paoli pike). It had parts added in the 19th century and early 20th century. It had a secret room in the basement used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. I remember going to Chester county historical society with my mom as a kid and researching our home. I was so lucky to grow up in a house like that. People who question why these houses are special and deserve protection just don’t get it, when you live in one of these old homes you understand you’re not an owner. You’re a caretaker. There is so much great land in Chester county. There is no reason for people to buy 200 year old homes and knock them down. If you like new homes then buy a new home and leave these old homes for the rest of us and future generations. We obsess over recycling water bottles in this country then turn around and tear down perfectly good homes. What a waste!!! Shame on those owners.