During this past week, the ol' one lear-ned some distressing facts about that historic block in downtown "Historic Morgan-town," which the Rite Aid Corporation plans to demolish and replace with one of its pharmacies.
But first, let's take a brief timeout. If you go to Rite Aid's Web site, you'll see a pithy slogan, "With us, it's personal." The ol' one supposes a $16.8 billion corporation like Rite Aid can say whatever it wants and expect a community to buy into it.
Now, back to the action.
Oh, yes, that block is on the National Reg-ister of Historic Places, as the ol' one pointed out last week. The block is listed as the "Morgantown Historic District." But that's about all it is.
What? Turns out that having a property or a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places does not automatically preserve it from things like demolition.
Huh? That's right, sports fans.
The ol' one decided to get an official ruling and contacted the Nat-ional Park Service under whose jurisdiction the National Reg-ister of Historic Places falls, (err) is placed. Phil Sheridan, spokes-man for the National Park Service's North-east Region, told the ol' one from his office in Philadelphia that the listing is legal as stated from "the federal government's point of view."
"It certainly is an honor," he continued of such a listing, "and it encourages people to maintain and take care of a property, but the law does not infringe on the rights of property owners. Property owners can do what they choose to do."
He added that the register "encourages owners to maintain, fix up, or preserve" a structure but reiterated that "the owners can do what they will."
Uh-oh. All of a sudden it seems that Caernarvon/Berks is falling behind in the game between it and the Rite Aid Corporation over that historic block of buildings. Let the ol' one kindly remind you that if that block is demolished, those buil-dings are gone forever and Morgantown loses a major chunk of its history.
What is equally distressing is that this game is following the same course that the one called "Morgan-town Crossings" followed, step by step. And it's all essentially neat and legal: Start with the Planning Com-mission, meet their requirements, then go before the Township Board of Supervisors for their final approval and blessing.
That's when the local citizenry got its ire up and packed those township meetings to protest what Wal-Mart and its developer were about to do to that 60-some acre tract along Route 23, just the other side of the turnpike bridge on Main Street.
Alas! Too much, but too late. Wal-Mart had acted in good faith and was now waiting for an approval, which they eventually secured after a two-week cooling off period was mandated by the board of supervisors.
Is it really too late for that historic block in downtown Morgan-town?
Well, keep in mind that the ol' one is not an urban planner nor is he an attorney, but he knows what he sees. With that stated, there seems to be something missing in all this.
On one hand, there are residents in the township who want to see that block (and probably others like it) preserved in Morgan-town. On the other hand, there is the Township Board of Supervisors and its Planning Commission that are making sure that the zoning requirements for that block are followed. Interestingly enough, those requirements were made law some time ago by the board of supervisors, not necessarily the present board of supervisors, but a previous Caernarvon/Berks Township Board of Supervisors.
What seems to be missing is some sort of recognition on the part of the supervisors that Morgantown has a historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places, and that buildings like the Morgantown Hotel cannot be replaced once they are torn down.
The ol' one phoned up Tom Hylton, over in Pottstown. Tom, as you may recall, heads the non-profit organization called "Save Our Lands, Save Our Towns." When the ol' one commented in the conversation that the onus of saving that historic block seems to be on the local residents, Tom disagreed. "Only supervisors can create a historic district," he said. "A local ordinance is needed for a historic district."
Tom pointed out that this can be done, if the supervisors are willing to do it.
He said that from what he's seen in similar situations around the nation, the developer or property owner usually wins. That is then followed by the local outcry, "Somebody tore something down, let's not let it happen again!"
Tom recalled that in Pottstown the old bank building at High and Hanover streets was slated for demolition. It's still standing, thanks to the power of a local historic ordinance.
He said that it cost about $4 million to renovate the building, but the developer was able to obtain a 20 percent tax credit that came in around $800,000.
So, here in Morgan-town, it looks like the township board of su-pervisors has some work to do, if those signs one sees coming into town, the ones that read, "Welcome to Historic Morgantown," are to have any impact. Wonder what's next after Rite Aid?
The Planning Com-mission meets this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Caernarvon-/Berks Township Buil-ding on Main Street in Morgantown. Maybe now is the time to start packing the building.
Ol' Morgan rails about life and the coming hard times about four times a month on the porch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.