Aug 1, 2013

Historic Hysteria Over The King George Inn

My friend Emma used to refer to Old Allentown as the Hysterical District. She coined that phrase when people went nuts after she and others dared to oppose the Historic District. Emma felt back then that the new proposed ordinance infringed upon the property rights of existing residents. Over forty some years ago, the current owner of the King George  Inn set out to save the building, but he put his own money where his mouth was. Now 83 years old, he closed the restaurant, and wants to sell the building. A developer purchased other parcels by that corner, and wants to demolish all the buildings, and  build a new commercial complex. Fellow blogger Jon Geeting writes, 1,200 people signed a petition to save the King George Inn. South Whitehall zoners should simply refuse to approve the variance for the new buildings until developers agree to keep King George and pay for the renovations. None of those signers put their money where their mouth is, they want to save the building with the owner's retirement fund.  Geeting even suggests that the zoning, which is arbitrary enough, be used as a weapon. I'm a history buff, and an advocate for historical preservation, but not at the expense of someone else's property rights.


Guy Williams said...

God only knows why theres hysteria on this matter when we just need a little common sense.Have been going to the KGI on and off over the years and was fond of the place.Owner was successful in thwarting attempts by the state to reconfigure the intersection outside his landmark.That is one busy intersection.Say what you will about owners rights but his business was not a big profit maker.Reason,layout.You couldn't get more than 20 at bar without feeling like sardines.Plus restraunt suffered despite ambiance because of lack of space for waiter flow and turnover.So no doubt money that was made was used for his expensive up keep.A noble thing but not an accepted practice for any new venture.Sure an addition with a new dining and kitchen space would change its dynamics but not its profitability.Granted since the bypass God only knows the status of the intersection but anyone who speculates on nearby properties for commercial expansion or new development does so at their own risks and should not expect property rights sympathy getting in to the game at this point.The current owner of KGI should be commended for doing a good job over the years but in many ways its time to move on.

Anonymous said...

I don't put much faith in petitions. You can get lots of signatures on almost any thing you ask people to sing as there is no commitment needed. Try asking for a dollar to sign and it is a different story.

Ron Beitler said...

For me it's more about the building then the business. I've eaten there. Food great. Would love to see it continue as is, but it's the historic stock why I care. Don't particularly care what goes in it.

Geeting talks about variance requests. Variances are not a right. "Hardship" has to be proven. Of course, thats a big wide birth.... but not a right to receive them. Nothing is mentioned (or could even happen now as I imagine a plan is grandfathered in) about downzoning or taking away rights.

Taking away property rights I would disagree with unless there is a very good reason.

The best strategy to save historic assets is loosening restrictions on what you can do with them. Make preservation a financial no-brainer by streamlining the entire land development process for a historic building.

As for what can be done here to allow some nice commercial development with some character and also preserve the KGI? Here is the example I use:

Similar in alot of ways to this intersection:
High Volume
Historic building with traditional setback
faced drainage and stormwater issues
ect. ect

Anonymous said...

Many people stopped going there after the owner started putting up large signs in favor of Democrat presidential candidates.

Ironically, the closing comes during another Obama "recovery summer".

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:38p.m. is exactly right. That outward display of anti-Americanism in time of war was a major reason I couldn't bring myself to go there for several years. There seems to be some question as to what will replace the restaurant. I was under the impression it would be yet another Dorney Park-dependant motel. let's hope the rates are high enough to avoid it from having to put a red light over the door.

michael molovinsky said...

@2:38 and 9:10, i doubt that the owner's politics had anything to do with the closure. the fact is that he kept that spot going for over 40 years, that's a long time in a competitive business, with fickle customers.

michael molovinsky said...

anonymous comment submitted via email

The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in NYC are iconic classics of the art deco style popular in the 1920's. Both buildings have been sold multiple times over, and undoubtedly will be flipped several more times even within our expected remaining life times. Assume for the moment that the city/state has not previously slaped some kind of "historic" injunctive designation on them curbing alteration.

As privately owned, if the current or a potential buyer wants to tear them down in order to build a parking lot/condominiums/hotel/office/whatever, should a preservationist minded group be able to restrain the sale? Is there ANY public policy argument that should prevail over the owners' desires?

This is the conundrum that lies at the heart of zoning/condemnation proceedings/park retention verse development fights.

Ron Beitler said...

I don't think political activism ended the KGI. But it doesn't help. As a business owner, I do not understand why someone would engage their business as a billboard.

You are alienating a certain % of potential clients before they walk into the door. Just doesn't make any business sense to do that. Esp in todays ridiculously polarized political climate.

Ron Beitler said...

"Is there ANY public policy argument that should prevail over the owners' desires?"

Yes, zoning. I believe in zoning and we have a long precedent of it upheld by the supreme court dating back to the 20's and Euclid vs. Ambler. We've had nearly a century of zoning in the United States.

"The court, in finding that there was valid government interest in maintaining the character of a neighborhood and in regulating where certain land uses should occur, allowed for the subsequent explosion in zoning ordinances across the country. "

The vast majority of communities have willingly adopted zoning. I also am big on local control. Bottom up gov't. A municipality has the right to adopt and enforce a zoning ordinance. If someone doesn't like it they can move to a place like Houston that doesn't have zoning as it's Houston's right to not have one.

While I do believe in zoning, I prefer form based codes. The emphasis is less on "what you can put where" and more on "how it fits there".

Single use zoning is clunky and regulatory in nature.

And the tradeoff for variance is an incentive not a rights grab. If owner is seeking variances their won't work under the current zoning. If you think their shouldnt be zoning at all... then that's a whole different argument.