The subdivision of a lot in Moorestown that may save a historical house at Chester and East Central avenues has been approved by the Township Planning Board.
Board members on Thursday night voted unanimously to permit the subdivision of the 1.38-acre property. Owner Levins Group, LLC plans to build a house on the new lot with a driveway on East Central Avenue.
But, as some said at the meeting, the "elephant in the room" was what is going to happen to the now-closed Lankenau funeral home that fronts on Chester Avenue on the other new lot.
That elephant could not be confronted because Levins Group proposed to only subdivide the lot, although plans submitted with the proposal noted the building housing the former funeral home will be retained.
Neighbors and historical preservationists in town are worried about the 4,887-square-foot former residence, built in 1889 for Philadelphia merchant John H. Perkins.
"There is no intention to tear it down," lawyer George Matteo of Connell Foley in Cherry Hill recently told 70and73.com. Matteo represented owner Pennsylvania-based Levins Group before the Planning Board.
Matteo's declaration was different from early last year, when the owner appeared before the Township Appearance Committee and disclosed a plan to demolish the Perkins House and build multiple homes on the site.
The Appearance Committee put a hold on a demolition permit, but that postponement expired in September. The property owner has not sought a permit, according to Township officials.
"What is the plan with the funeral home?" asked Matthew Stelling, who lives on the 300 block of Chester Avenue across the street from the Perkins House. "My question is more how do we approve one thing without knowing what the intention is with the funeral home."
Board solicitor Matthew B. Wieliczko, of the Zeller & Wieliczko LLP law firm in Cherry Hill, several times underscored that the application before the board was only for a subdivision. The former funeral home or plans for the building were not part of the decision.
The Perkins House is not on any register of historic places and the Levins Group apparently could tear it down at will after securing a permit, which is a Township administrative function.
READ MORE: How concerns over a house are pushing Moorestown toward a historic preservation law.
The lack of control over historic structures and the appearance of historical Main Street and neighborhoods in town has Township Council worried — so much so that it recently started the process to apply for a grant to research a historic preservation strategy that could give it enforcement power over what is done to structures it deems historical.
"I very strongly believe that we need historic preservation in this town in a regulatory way," Council Member Sue Mammarella said at the January 23 meeting.
A gazebo on the property — no one knew when it was built — is in disrepair and will be removed to make way for the new property line, the owner's representatives said. After questioning, they said they would be open to someone contacting them about removing the gazebo.
Board planner Michelle Taylor, president of Taylor Design Group Inc. of Mount Laurel, went over her review of the plans and noted of the Perkins House: "This is probably the best solution, as long as that structure, hopefully, will be sold."