Developer appeals decision to block Mifflin House demolition
Update: The chairman of the Hellam Township Board of Supervisors said Kinsley Equities has appealed last month's decision by a township zoning official to deny a demolition permit for the Mifflin House, a historic structure with ties to the Underground Railroad.
Chairman Galen Weibley said in an email that the issue now will go before the zoning hearing board, probably sometime in June, and the township intends to defend the earlier decision.
More information will be released once a hearing date has been set, according to Weibley.
Reported earlier: A real estate firm looking to develop the Mifflin House property in Hellam Township stumbled at the first planning hurdle after a township zoning official last week denied the company’s request to demolish structures at the site.
Zoning officer Rachel Vega denied Kinsley Equities II’s application for a permit to raze several buildings on the 9.9-acre property after looking through land subdivision plans from 1998 that indicate the buildings should remain intact.
On the 18-year-old plans for the property owned by the Blessing family, the words “existing farm complex to remain” appear over the Wright's Crossing property, which includes the Mifflin House and several barns and sheds, located on Cool Springs Road in Hellam Township.
The property subdivision plan was approved by township officials and submitted to the York County Recorder of Deeds in November 1998, making the plan a legally binding document, Vega said.
Vega sent a letter to Kinsley Equities II on Thursday denying the company’s application to demolish structures on the property.
The company had planned to knock down a “handful” of buildings on the property, including a historic home with ties to the Underground Railroad, but keep a barn and several sheds, Vega said.
If the 1998 subdivision plan did not include the phrase to keep the farm complex, Vega said she would have to sign off on a demolition permit for Kinsley Equities.
There are no zoning regulations protecting historic buildings in Hellam Township, Vega said.
Redevelopment plans: Kinsley Equities has not submitted any land development plans, but preservationists expect the company to build more warehouses on the land.
Ace Distributing recently moved its headquarters from York City to 100 Mifflin Drive, just behind the Mifflin House, while the Earle M. Jorgensen Co., North American Stainless and Pennsylvania Truck Centers Inc. also operate from warehouses within a quarter-mile of the Mifflin House.
The Wright's Crossing property once was entirely farmland, but the area was rezoned as commercial/industrial to allow for "intensive commercial uses," Vega said.
The multi-lot property has since been subdivided to make an industrial-park type area, Vega said.
The Wright's Crossing property consists of several lots that are mostly used for warehouses and other industrial uses, Vega said, but the Mifflin House, Lot 11, is occupied by a member of the Blessing family.
Vega said Kinsley Equities now has several options for moving forward with redeveloping the land. The company can appeal Vega’s demolition permit denial to the Hellam Township Zoning Hearing Board or submit a new subdivision plan to replace the 1998 plan.
Kinsley Equities has 30 days to appeal Vega’s ruling. If the company appeals before April 24, the issue could be on the agenda for the zoning hearing board’s May 23 meeting, Vega said.
‘At risk’: The Mifflin House is one of 11 historic properties in the state, and one of three in York County, that are at risk of being demolished, according to Preservation Pennsylvania's "At Risk List" for 2017.
The Yorktowne Hotel in York City and the Hoke House in Spring Grove also appear on the list.
To compile its annual list, Preservation Pennsylvania relies on nominations. York County historians contacted the organization about the Mifflin House, and it “became very clear” that the house was historically important, said Mindy Crawford, executive director of Preservation Pennsylvania.
"Unfortunately, before it was noted that it was to be demolished, I don't think people knew too much about it," Crawford said.
Even without its historic links to the Civil War and Underground Railroad, the property is still worth saving, as it includes a “wonderful historic farm with a beautiful stone house” and barn, Crawford said.
Buying time: Though the demolition permit denial might only delay redevelopment at the Wright’s Crossing property, it buys more time for preservationists to find an alternative to demolition, Crawford said.
Since historic designations do not protect buildings from demolition and there are no local ordinances in place to protect it, Crawford said, those who want to save the Mifflin House must convince Kinsley Equities to sell the property to a more preservation-minded buyer.
“I don’t believe this denial is going to stop the project. It will just slow it down,” Crawford said. “The reality is, to change the outcome, you have to do something to change ownership.”
According to Crawford, a compromise plan could be reached between Kinsley Equities and preservationists to redevelop some of the property’s land while preserving the Mifflin House.
However, a compromise like that would provide another challenge — finding a buyer who wants to live among industrial warehouses.
Depending on how Kinsley Equities responds to the demolition permit denial, the zoning and redevelopment approval process could be drawn out anywhere from several weeks to several months.
Kinsley did not return messages seeking comment.