Redevelopment, business recruitment, and providing services are all tops on local agendas in the coming year.
By Matt Skoufalos
With the turn of the calendar comes the fresh start of a new year, and the opportunity to set an agenda for the next 12 months.
As many of our readers consider their own intentions for the coming year, NJ Pen spoke with local leaders in seven Camden County towns about their “New Year’s resolutions”—that is, the priorities for their municipalities in 2015.
Here’s what to expect in the days and weeks ahead.
The “number one goal” in Audubon for 2015 is “to address property maintenance issues,” said Mayor John J. Ward.
The borough has approximately 40 to 50 vacant properties that are eyesores, the mayor said, and although such homes are usually current on their taxes, the upkeep of their grounds remains a persistent concern.
“We cite them pretty hard and bring them to court,” Ward said. “We don’t want vacant properties, we want families in them.”
To boot, Audubon has enacted ordinances that penalize property owners violating maintenance statutes anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 per day.
The borough has also created a part-time position in its code enforcement office specifically responsible for tracking property maintenance issues.
“Another thing that goes along with vacant properties are vacant businesses,” Ward said, “and we have our share.”
On that front, the mayor said the four abandoned buildings in the vicinity of Nicholson Road and the White Horse Pike are a priority for his administration.
“We recognize that that area looks abandoned and we’d rather it not,” he said. “Now the economy’s starting to rebound a little bit, we’re really hot on that.”
Also on the horizon in 2015 is the groundwork for a multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail that would connect the Audubon business district with those of neighboring Haddon Heights and Oaklyn. The borough was recently approved for a DVRPC grant to study the feasibility of constructing such a byway along the railroad tracks in all three towns.
“A lot of logistics have to be worked out,” Ward said, including receiving permission from Conrail for the project, but he envisions a lighted path with benches, bag dispensers for dog walkers, and bicycle racks for the shopping districts.
“Ultimately we would love to have this start and then tie it into the county system,” he said.
Ward expects the funds to begin the study will be released this year.
Municipal redevelopment in Cherry Hill is expected to focus on community gateways in 2015, even if only preliminarily, said Bridget Palmer, Director of Communications for Mayor Charles Cahn.
“I don’t think that there’s any doubt when you look at what’s there–the seedy motels, the vacant warehouse space on Hampton Road–they’re not doing anything right now,” Palmer said; “they’re not productive.
“These are the entrances to our town,” she said. “Hundreds of thousands of people come into town, and we want the entrances reflect the character of our community. Right now, they do not.”
After tracking a record number of home sales in 2013, Palmer said, the township has enjoyed a number of successful economic developments in 2014, landing new tenants at the Garden State Pavilion and Whole Foods shopping centers, and garnering planning awards for the LourdesCare medical complex.
“The growth that we’ve seen in the last two and a half years has really been remarkable, and this is just an extension of that,” she said. “We’ve made so much progress in other areas of town that we look at [the entrances] like our front porch.”
Palmer said that there are no specific plans for the gateway properties (“restaurants, retail, office space, residential; some kind of mixed-use we think would fit well there,” she said) except to clean up “a crime element…especially at the motel sites.
“Our police department schedules regular patrols in the area,” she said. “It is a drain on resources…and it really doesn’t fit with the rest of the town.”
“There’s a part of me that’s really happy that one thing that’s not on the list this year is ‘finish the Lumberyard project,’” Collingswood Mayor James Maley said.
“That’s been on the list for a few years,” Maley said.
The last remnant of that project to be completed, Maley said, is the traffic-calming fountain that will adorn the Haddon Avenue pedestrian bump-out at Powell Lane.
The job “may not be done until the weather breaks,” Maley said, but with the LumberYard in the rear view mirror, the borough can turn to some new projects, including improvements to Roberts Pool.
“We’re having water loss and we’ve got to do some heavy-duty infrastructure work [involving]the piping and the integrity of the pool itself,” the mayor said.
“We also want to replace bathrooms and the snack building, and possibly expand it to add some other features,” Maley said. “I know our attendance has been going up, and it’s a great amenity. We’ve been kind of maintaining there, and we want to spruce it up a bit.”
Another project that has been waylaid since the recession is “the whole notion of moving the Public Works Department” to a borough-owned property on Route 130, Maley said. The project opens up possibilities such as expanding the Collingswood community center into the current DPW garage, and maybe shifting the locations of the municipal court and police department.
“We’re just taking a new look at [the project],” Maley said.
- Collingswood LumberYard Nears Completion with Roadway Project
- Haddon Ave. Road Work Resolves in Time for Collingswood Cash Sale
In Haddonfield, Mayor Jeffrey Kasko ticked off a list of projects that the borough will consider in 2015, ranging from infrastructure improvements to land redevelopment to leadership goals.
With the Bancroft property coming on the market, Kasko said that he was resolved “to find a workable solution” for use of the land.
Consideration of that such would likely involve a re-examination of the municipal redevelopment plan (and a deeper dive into the same affordable housing questions that many other New Jersey towns face).
Kasko’s 2015 agenda also includes “to finally get the library renovations done” as implementing “an Efficiency and Accountability Program for borough government,” a byproduct of lengthy public discussions of the Warwick Road subdivision project.
- Haddonfield Library to Get Million-Dollar Facelift
- Bancroft Sale Raises Redevelopment Questions in Haddonfield
- Haddonfield Planning Board Sends Warwick Rd. Case to Appeals
- Objectors Press Haddonfield Planning Board on Warwick Rd. Subdivision
Haddon Heights Mayor Edward Forte said that for the residents of his community, establishing a feeling of safety and security is “a daily commitment.
“Being a volunteer firefighter for 35 years as I was, safety and security hits home to me as well,” Forte said.
One of the biggest challenges his community faces annually is balancing the provision of services with a manageable property tax rate, Forte said.
The programs that have been most successful in Haddon Heights are also financially self-sufficient, he said, including activities for seniors and “a great summer program that’s just growing exponentially.”
In order to continue delivering experiences like the town-wide spaghetti dinner, farmers market, and Neighbors’ Night Out, he said, the community relies on resident volunteers, Forte said–and more are always needed.
“You want to put on new programs and do new things without affecting the taxpayers,” he said. “I’m always putting my feelers out there to get some new volunteers in. Having some young blood and some new help is always good.”
Forte also expects that the borough government will continue talks about whether to draft an ordinance allowing the local sale of alcohol—an issue, he said, that will require additional public comment to resolve.
“It’s a big decision for the town,” Forte said. “It’s something that I feel that the town needs to get more of a grasp on. Right now I feel it’s probably 50-50; 60-40.”
- Haddon Heights Alcohol Talks Heating Up
- Haddon Heights Liquor Talks Focus on Protecting Local Businesses
- Haddon Heights: to Beer or not to Beer
In Haddon Township, Mayor Randall Teague said that he expects redevelopment will still be a dominant conversation in 2015.
“It would be a nice wish to be successful in our COAH litigation and to move forward with the development from Haddon Avenue,” Teague said.
Completion of the Town Center at Haddon project at the former Dy-Dee site has been stalled by, among other things, litigation from Fair Share Housing over the inclusion of affordable units in the site plan.
Despite a court order, the New Jersey Council On Affordable Housing hasn’t broken a 3-3 deadlock on revisions to its regulations. Arguments are still being heard before the state Supreme Court level, according to NJ Biz, which noted that the agency hasn’t met since October 20, 2014, and “currently has no plans to meet.”
“We’re now stuck here and our position is we do not have an [affordable housing]obligation,” Teague said.
Farther down Haddon Avenue, however, Albertson Village is positioned to start leasing in 2015, Teague said, “and that’s going to be great for the downtown businesses.”
- Teague Talks Haddon Twp. Redevelopment at Backyard Meet-up
- Haddon Twp. Residents Push Back Against Revised Town Center Plan
- Affordable Housing, Retail Parking Scuttle Original Vision for Haddon Town Center
Oaklyn Mayor Robert Forbes said that at the top of his municipal agenda for 2015 is redevelopment and business recruitment.
The borough is currently in negotiations to bring “three different businesses” into town, said the mayor, who also promised “a hard push” to redevelop a handful of key local properties.
“The strength of Oaklyn is really the loyalty of the residents,” Forbes said.
“When there’s a good business in town, it’s supported a lot locally first, and then in neighboring towns,” he said.
“Everybody really does get behind our own businesses in town.”
Forbes also said he expects to make progress on the budgetary issues facing the Oaklyn public school, which has been asked by the New Jersey Department of Education to consider a merger with the Collingswood school district.
After some preliminary discussions in December 2014, Forbes said there’s still a lot of groundwork to be laid.
“We don’t have any debt,” he said. “We have a building that needs work. We have one of the lowest-paid teaching staff in Camden County, and I’d like to say one of the best in Camden County.
“I think what doesn’t want to get lost in here is really the education of the kids.”
- Collingswood, Oaklyn Stakeholders Contemplate ‘Tax-Neutral’ School Merger
- New Report Weighs Oaklyn, Collingswood School Merger