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Planning commission opposes Leib House demolition
Their words were compelling.
When the Lancaster County Planning Commission reviewed the potential plans by the expansion of Traditions of America development to demolish a 207-year-old historic farmhouse, it was unanimous.
“The LCPC categorically opposes the unnecessary demolition of the irreplaceable Leib House. Every effort should be made to preserve the historic Leib House located within the open space area of the Traditions of America community,” agreed the nine-member advisory board in their March 14 memorandum.
The recommendation by the Lancaster County Planning Commission was a victory for those who cherish the tradition of the historic brick house that sits at the edge of the current 55+ Traditions of America development.
There are still other hurdles in efforts to preserve the farmhouse that dates back to 1810 and was built by Michael Groszman, a first generation Warwick Township settler and a veteran of the Revolutionary War. According to research done by Lancaster County preservationist Randolph Harris, the house was built by Groszman for his daughter, Mary, and her husband John Leib.
The next step in the process will be a review of the plans by the Warwick Township Planning Commission, which typically takes under advisement the recommendations of the Lancaster County Planning Commission. They do, however, act on behalf of Warwick Township, rather than the entire county.
According to Warwick Township Manager Daniel Zimmerman, that review is likely to take place in April. In April or May, the issue is expected to go before the Warwick Township Supervisors, who have the authority to approve or disapprove the plans for expansion. They may attach certain conditions, which could involve restricting the developer from tearing down the Leib house.
According to Scott Standish, director of county wide planning for the Lancaster County Planning Commission, the strong recommendation opposing the demolition is unusual.
“It’s obvious that the staff felt very strongly about this issue. They do not want to see this beautiful house torn down,” said Standish.
He added that Warwick Township does an exceptional job at preserving natural resources and agricultural lands. Preserving history is another vital component to saving the character of the township and Lancaster County.
“Municipalities are starting to realize that having an ordinance to preserve historic structures gives them an effective tool when demolition is being considered,” said Standish, adding that the county provides guidance is setting up these types of ordinances.
The Lancaster County Planning Commission had several suggestions on how to make preserving the Leib house compatible with the Traditions of America expansion plans.
According to their recommendation, “Such an important historic resource (one with regional and possibly national significance) should not be demolished for open greenspace. Stormwater management facilities could be moved adjacent to the house without requiring the removal of this resource. The plans as shown could easily incorporate a driveway back to the house and a flag lot could be created around the dwelling unit and sold as a separate lot. The home could be picked up and relocated onto a lot within the adjacent subdivision to the west. In a community that is called ‘Traditions of America’ as a tribute to our nation’s history, it would be unfortunate to lose this important part of that history. “
Cory Van Brookhoven of the Lititz Historical Foundation was gratified to hear about the LCPC’s resolute stand. He had attended an earlier meeting of Warwick Township Supervisors when the proposed demolition was discussed.
“The LCPC voted to do something they very rarely, if ever, do,” said Van Brookhoven.
The nine-member advisory board is appointed by the board of county commissioners. The commission advises municipalities, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and community stakeholders on smart growth and innovative planning and place-making in Lancaster County.
“The commission is the only agency that looks at the county as a whole and addresses issues that transcend individual municipal, political and other boundaries,” said Van Brookhoven.
Back in September 2016, Traditions of American was granted conditional use approval by the Warwick Township supervisors for Phase 5 of the 55+ development. The newest phase would have moderate density housing with 88 units on the 24-acre tract just up the hill from the existing 60-acre Traditions of America development.
The approval came with 49 conditions that Traditions of America is required to meet.
One of them is that Traditions of America will make a commitment to continue to evaluate the feasibility of selling the house or finding a new use for it on the property.
At that time, Nathan Jameson of Traditions of America reported that since the house is located within the age-restricted community, it might be difficult to find a buyer willing to live by the Traditions of America regulations of no household members under 19.
Standish challenges that.
“There is no reason why the house has to be under the 55+ regulations,” he said.
Jameson maintained that the property has been evaluated and it would be too costly to renovate. Standish has seen the house and is impressed with its condition.
“I have seen historic buildings in terrible condition that were renovated into outstanding properties,” said Standish. “This is not in bad condition. It could have uses such as a B&B, a clubhouse or residence.”
Back in September, Jameson had even offered to give the house away to anyone who would move it. At that time, supervisor C. David Kramer asked Jameson to take “every possible step to save that home.”
A check with Wolfe House and Building Movers in Bernville, provided a very rough estimate for moving the house at around $150,000. According to Charlie Hart of Wolfe, brick structures are more challenging, and costs are contingent on the size of the building, how far it is being moved and any obstacles along the way. A hydraulic jack system is used to lift the structure. Wolfe has moved hundreds of buildings in places that include Washington, D.C.; Osage, Iowa; Atlantic City, N.J.; and Raleigh, N.C. They even moved a lighthouse in Bristol, R.I.
So far, no one has stepped up with an offer to move the house.
Attempts to reach a representative for Traditions of America were unsuccessful.
With the strong opinion of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, the future of the Leib House looks a little more promising. Now its fate will rest with the Warwick Township Planning Commission, and, finally, with Warwick Township Supervisors.
Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at email@example.com.
About Laura Knowles
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