Saturday, August 18, 2012

This Old House, Not Long for This Old World

Vegetation is overwhelming this 200-year-old home at 548 Manatawny St.

Pottstown Borough Council is anticipating having to decide whether to allow the demolition of a home that is more than 200 years old and located in the 500 block of Manatawny Street.

"The property has really been let go and citations have been issued, but it's in such a state of disrepair, the only thing that can be done is for it to be torn down," Borough Council President Stephen Toroney said during the Aug. 13 council meeting.

Mercury Photo by John Strickler
This is how the house looked in January of 2009.
His observation came moments after Councilman Joe Kirkland has urged his fellow council members to be cognizant of the need to protect Pottstown's architectural heritage.
Kirkland's comments were likely referring to an earlier vote in which he had voted in the minority hoping to save two masonry gazebos that had become an attractive nuisance in the back of a property in the 600 block of High Street. 

Photo from Evan Brandt video
This is how the house looked on Aug. 16, 2012. The date just below
the chimney reads 1807 or 1809. It's hard to tell from the street.
However, the topic quickly turned to this building, known to many as the "Yohn House."

It's not the first time its demolition has been sought.

In 2009, a developer who wanted to build an assisted-living facility on property adjacent to the Manatawny Village age-restricted housing asked council's permission to demolish it.

According to a story I wrote in The Mercury in 2009, a 2002 estimate for bringing the building back up to code came in at $500,000.

Presumably, the cost would be higher 10 years later.

Photo from Evan Brandt video
Once set as the first phase of Manatawny Village, the site of the old
home represents the only phase of the development that is unbuilt.
"It's just a waiting game for these developers," Toroney said. "They just wait until it's the only option."

Marc Kenline, who lives across the street from the home, bemoaned the loss of another historic home in Pottstown. "That could be as nice as Pottsgrove Manor if they had fixed it up."

"That was supposed to be a community center for Manatawny Village," said Councilman Dan Weand, "but at this point I don't know if its salvageable."

Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. said, like Weand, he recalled those statements being made by the previous developer, "but they never made it into any part of the formal plan approved by council," Garner said.

The front of the Manatawny Street house in 2009.
Garner told council the development, which is not yet complete, has since been sold and the new owners have had it less than eight months.

He also pointed out that the decision will not go to the planning commission, but to borough council.

The same house today.
Garner also warned council against making statements regarding their views on the building because the hearing on the demolition permit "is a quasi-judicial hearing and you have to allow the developer to present information and you are not supposed to be pre-disposed to make a decision. You are supposed to act as a neutral body."

Garner said the hearing for the Manatawny Street house would likely be on the agenda of September's council meeting, which will occur on Sept. 10.

Kirkland followed this warning by stating "we have to protect our historic buildings."

Toroney said he agreed in principal, noting the recent demolition of the former Frederick Brothers Lumber Mill at the corner of Hanover and East streets which had to be torn down because of neglect and also because of a collapsed storm water arch that ran beneath the building.

Mercury Photo by John Strickler
The former Frederick Brothers Lumber Mill is now just a pile of bricks.
That permission was issued in 2011 and the actual demolition occurred several weeks ago.

"It was unsafe and after a while, something needs to happen," he said.

Whether or not the house on Manatawny Street will not be determined until next month.

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