Late author John Updike's childhood home is for sale and facing an uncertain future.
The nonprofit John Updike Society wants to buy the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's house with a $200,000 foundation gift to preserve it as a museum and headquarters. But that's contingent upon Shillington borough granting a zoning variance, which takes time, to address potential parking and traffic concerns in the residential neighborhood.
Current owner Tracy Hoffmann, who runs an advertising and marketing firm in the house, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, said he can't wait any longer for a sales agreement. He and seven employees plan to move their business next month to a new location.
"After a period of months, all I have is a gentleman's agreement, but nothing signed," he told the Reading Eagle newspaper for a story Wednesday. Several months ago, the owners unsuccessfully tried to sell the house on eBay with a $249,000 starting bid.
Updike, who won Pulitzers for the novels "Rabbit Is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest," died in 2009 at age 76. He spent the first 13 years of his life in the Shillington house.
James Plath, president of the 230-member John Updike Society, said the group won't sign an agreement without the zoning approvals it needs.
"What we are proposing is a very low-traffic, a very small historic site operation," said Plath, an English professor at Illinois-Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill. "It would be an author's home and open only by appointment or have limited hours of operation."
Plath said he wants to make sure the proposed historic site would not disrupt the residential nature of the area.
"But the society is a nonprofit and not a deep-pocket organization," he said. "That's why any final purchase of the site has to be contingent on getting a variance to be able to use the house in this limited way."
Michael Mountz, borough manager and zoning officer, said he has seen several instances of agreements of sale that were made contingent on approval of variances.
He said the Updike house has a commercial variance originally given for a doctor's office there but another variance would be needed for the historic home site.
"I really haven't heard any public feedback on plans for the house," Mountz said. "Naturally, we would do everything we could to expedite the process."
Shillington Councilman Clifford Galvin said there can be no assurances of a variance until the zoning board, then council, consider the request.