A battle has been brewing in one Lehigh County township as a developer grapples with the need to balance historic preservation with the potential of prime commercial real estate, all on one site.
But a piece of the past may find a home amid modern day commercial space as Atul Patel, developer of the historic King George Inn, said he plans to keep the existing stone structure and build a bank, drug store and hotel or restaurant on the land surrounding it. His plan is to have three commercial users on the six-acre site.
Along a busy stretch of Hamilton and Cedar Crest boulevards in South Whitehall Township, the King George Inn has been the target of a conflict between preservationists who want to save a historic building dating to 1756 and the developer who initially wanted to demolish it.
"I don't want to destroy the building; I understand it's a very old structure, so why don't we save it?" said Patel, who has an agreement to buy the inn and already owns the surrounding land. "There's no commercial value; there's a historic value to the building."
He does not have a demolition permit for the King George, still under the ownership of Cliff McDermott, Patel said.
Patel said he wants to work with McDermott and possibly the local historic society to improve the exterior of the structure. He would like to install benches to encourage visitors to stop by the site and add exterior lighting since the building is dark at night. He also would like to remove the wood on the outside of the building.
It's unclear if the building would be open for public tours.
"The problem is that it's in a flood zone [and] water gets in the basement," Patel said.
To fix the flooding problem, it could cost $780,000 to $1 million, he said. Newton Engineering of Lower Macungie is working on the flooding issue and developing a plan to remove the water.
Nearby properties are one source of the runoff, Patel said.
Jon Hammer, township manager, said the township is trying to find a solution for the stormwater issue.
"No one really wants to see the building go, but part of the issue is, it's in one of the worst stormwater areas of the township," Hammer said.
Creating a detention pond on the vacant Burger King parcel is one possible solution, Hammer said.
Patel said he had to change his plan for the development, and new drawings will be completed within a week. He will present a revised plan to the township.
Hammer said the plan for the King George Inn has been continued for a couple of township zoning hearing board meetings. The plan would also have to go before the planning board and township board of commissioners for approval.
"What we are looking for is the highest potential use for that property," Hammer said. "Development that's needed, development that's wanted."