Developer K. Hovnanian no longer has the historic Corson/Hovenden homestead in Plymouth Meeting (Montgomery County) under agreement of sale and has ended that agreement. The site includes Abolition Hall, built by George Corson to encourage conversation and understanding about anti-slavery efforts. The Corsons hosted Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott and others in their efforts to gain support for the cause.

Learn more about the history of Abolition Hall and the homestead, located in Pennsylvania’s very first National Register District.¬† View the video at the end of this post.

Sydelle Zove, convener of Friends of Abolition Hall, reports:

Thursday night, at a public meeting of the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors (via Zoom), Chair Laura Boyle-Nester turned to Township Manager Richard Mellor, and asked that he make an announcement about Abolition Hall. Mr. Mellor conveyed the following information:

  • The Township has been advised that developer K. Hovnanian no longer has the historic homestead under agreement of sale–that it has ended that agreement.
  • The developer has officially withdrawn from consideration its Preliminary Plans for the 67 townhouses.
  • At the request of the Board of Supervisors, the Township Solicitor contacted the attorney for the heirs in an attempt to discuss the opening of negotiations for a possible Township purchase.
  • The attorney for the heirs indicated that they were already talking with several developers and that the heirs had no interest in negotiating with the Township.
  • That same attorney left open the possibility of discussing the possible sale to the Township of the historic structures [but by implication, not the adjoining eight acres of fields].

That is the full extent of the announcement. At least one developer has contacted the Township to discuss the parcel, but we have no further information.

K. Hovnanian entered into the agreement of sale with the three heirs back in May of 2015. After prevailing on a zoning issue, the firm sought and received conditional use approval for townhouses from the former Board of Supervisors. The Friends of Abolition Hall challenged the zoning approval, but lost. The Friends later appealed the conditional use approval–first to the Court of Common Pleas, and then to Commonwealth Court. We withdrew the latter appeal when threatened with costly litigation.

In the meantime, the developer submitted preliminary plans to the Township. The Friends then shifted strategy away from the courts, and instead focused efforts on highlighting the many flaws in the preliminary plans–dozens of instances in which the plans failed to meet the requirements of the Township’s subdivision, land development, tree protection, and storm water management Code provisions. Last fall, over the course of three public meetings, the Whitemarsh Planning Commission heard final presentations from the developer’s team of experts,¬†listened to comments from the Friends and others who had filled the room, and voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny approval of those plans. In response, K. Hovnanian advised the Township that it would be revising the plans, but that never happened. Now we learn that the firm terminated its agreement of sale with the heirs and withdrew its application for plan approval.

This fight is not over! We continue to believe that a better plan is within reach, and we hope that any developer considering a deal with the heirs will appreciate the extraordinary history of this homestead. This is indeed hallowed land, and the historic structures are equally significant. We stand ready to collaborate, to work together to create a project that respects the legacy of this property, the value of its tree canopy, the role of its wetlands in sustaining the local ecology, and the precarious nature of the limestone soils that have yielded to dissolution and sinkhole formation.

We will remain vigilant, and will continue to monitor submissions to the Township Planning Department.