We’d like to shed some light on the status of what is being commonly referred to as the Hoke house property in Spring Grove.
Throughout its life, the former Hoke House has been modified many times. It’s been a home, a library, a tavern, a doctor’s office, apartments, and most recently it was a carpet and tile showroom. It had been part of the original Hoke Farm, but the house and farm were sold by the Hoke family to developers in 1966. When the Hokes sold the property for development, they could have placed a deed or historic restrictions on the property that would have reduced the property value, however they did not.
The farm and house were both rezoned for commercial use by the developers in the 1960s. Not long after the sale, a shopping center and our convenience store were built on the farm. Rutter’s purchased the house property which is adjacent to our existing Spring Grove store in 2008. The land purchase made sense for us since the house property was already zoned commercial and it had a large open tract of land that made a future expansion of our store possible.
The house is visually old from the outside. On the inside, the house’s many tenants removed or modified most of the original interior. We recently had the house surveyed, and the only original elements inside that remain are attic beams and some attic floor planks. The rest of the interior had all been altered and modernized through the years.
Not long after we acquired the property, vandals began breaking into the house through the windows. These vandals lit several fires. The interior was damaged by the fires, and vandals removed staircases, knocked holes in the walls and sprayed the walls with graffiti. Although boards on the windows do not look nice, the regular intrusions into the house to vandalize it were the reason why we were forced to install boards on all of the windows.
In September 2013, we did our annual review of all our properties and had no development plans for the house or the land. On October 20, 2013, we received a letter from Spring Grove Borough requiring us to either repair the house to meet all the current Borough codes, to raze it within 90 days or after 90 days to begin paying a $1,000 per day fine. The Borough code also requires an 80-day review period for the demolition of any building erected before 1940. In order to meet the 90 day deadline and avoid the $1,000 per day fine that would be imposed, we applied for a demolition permit while we sorted out our options.
Since receiving the notice, we obtained a professional estimate of the cost to bring the building up to the standard required by the Borough. In addition to the sorry state of the interior, damaged by vandals, the exterior of the house has cracked walls and numerous structural faults. These issues were identified by the Borough inspection and the estimate we received from Kinsley Construction to make it meet the Borough code requirements inside and out was $690,000. It would cost $230,000 to fix just the exterior, and it would still leave the house unusable and in non-compliance with the Borough code.
Throughout the 5 years we have owned the house, we have publicly stated that we have had no current need or plan to use the house. We have also offered to allow a willing investor to either move the house or remodel and rent it from us. The property is zoned for commercial use which prohibits using the house as a residence or apartments. To date, we have received a few inquiries from potential developers who want to convert it to an office building. As the developers became aware of the extensive investment and modifications required, none have decided to pursue the project. We have also received letters suggesting many other uses for the house, like making it a Borough visitor’s center, an upscale restaurant, a tearoom or a museum. However, all of these ideas require money to restore the property and a business plan for the ongoing support of the investment. Once again, we reiterate that no one has come forward with a plan and proven funding-only suggestions to date.
As York-area historian, John Zimmerman, stated in his recent interview with the York Sunday News, the endowment needed to maintain a property like the Hoke house could be $12 to $15 million dollars. He goes on to say that in order to raise that kind of money, the building has to have a purpose, and we agree with Mr. Zimmerman.
Through the years, Rutter’s has donated to local historical education and preservation efforts, like the York County Heritage Trust and the Agricultural & Industrial Museum. We have also maintained our own family farm through 10 generations that dates back to 1747. The family farm includes both a barn and house from the 1800’s. We certainly do appreciate history and the preservation of it as our family properties and donations have well demonstrated. However, in a world of limited money, preservation also has to be weighed against the costs and the alternative use of the money, which in our case are children’s charities.
In the last 10 years, Rutter’s has donated more than $3.6 million to hundreds of charities across the 6 Pennsylvania counties that we serve. The vast majority of this support has gone to organizations that provide services and assistance to make a difference in a child’s life. Each year we receive many more requests for charitable support than we are able to accommodate. Please visit our charities page to see a list of the many charities receiving Rutter’s donations.
At this time, Rutter’s has no legitimate business use for the old house. Without a use, and because the interior was not historically preserved, we do not believe that investing over $690,000 to remodel the house for use as a commercial property would be a wise use of our charitable monies. We were quite content to allow the house to sit until an adequate community solution might be found; however, we are now under a Borough mandated deadline to repair or demolish the house by mid-January with no really good choices.
All we ask is that reasonable people please understand that every business has limited funds, and our choice is to continue to support local children’s charities such as Make A Wish, the YMCA, Leg Up Farm, Crispus Attucks, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Junior Achievement, York County Libraries and many others. We simply cannot justify telling these, and many other, charities that they will not be supported by Rutter’s the next 2 to 3 years because the Rutter’s charity money went to remodel the former Hoke house. In addition, we know that there are organizations that are focused on historic preservation. Perhaps this house will fit one of their goals and objectives for using their funds and we will be glad to work with them. If there is someone out there willing to invest their money in the Hoke house, please contact us immediately.