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Razing older houses also raises questions

Philadelphia and its suburbs include many houses and other buildings that were built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many Philadelphians are proud of this heritage and want to preserve these historic buildings. Other residents of the city are less enamored of the past and see little or no harm in replacing older building with modern structures. An example of this conflict is causing problems for the zoning board of Narberth township.

Narberth residents on Dudley Avenue awoke one morning to find backhoes on a neighboring lot, preparing to demolish the house that stood there and to begin construction of a modern dwelling. When neighbors questioned the chairman of the Building and Zoning Committee, they discovered that the developer was acting entirely within its rights, including, to the residents' dismay, proceeding with demolition without any public notice or hearing.

The chairman explained that because the new use, a residence, was identical to the existing use, also a house, no rezoning permits or hearings were required. The demolition application was submitted to and approved by the township's zoning officer, all in accord with zoning laws. Nevertheless, the citizen outcry has reached such levels that the borough mayor will hold a town meeting to discuss tear-downs, new housing construction, conversion of churches and older civic buildings and various issues having to do with a new zoning and building code.

The developer in this case has reportedly undertaken other tear-down projects in Narbeth and neighboring Lower Marion Township. As housing prices rise, developers will find increasing profit in purchasing and razing older structures, some of which may have unique historic significance. Such disputes are likely to become more common and more intense. The advice of an experienced real estate attorney may assist a person who wishes to replace an older dwelling with a modern residence or a person who is intent on opposing such actions. In either case, an overview of the legal rules applicable to the dispute can help persons understand their options and the likelihood of prevailing.

Source: Main Line Times, "Narberth: Hastily organized meeting on razed house raises questions," Cheryl Allison, Nov. 20, 2015

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