Open-space issues may be in the rearview mirror for the township, but economic projects from healthcare investment to the repaving of Route 70 loom on the horizon.
By Matt Skoufalos
Election Day 2015 brought a Democratic sweep to South Jersey in general, and to the office of the mayor and council of Cherry Hill, in specific, where voters in the traditionally Democratic stronghold returned incumbent Chuck Cahn to office by a three-to-one margin.
Although he is excited to have won the contest, Cahn said that partisan politics don’t affect his philosophy of governance.
Whatever their affiliation, officials within the local government focus more on the tasks at hand and less on who’s doing them, he said.
“They want to do the right thing for residents,” he said. “They have the same feeling I do: to work hard to make Cherry Hill a better place. There’s no partisan way to pave a road.”
For the next term, the township government will be pursuing infrastructure improvement projects great and small. In the past four years, the mayor said his administration has quadrupled the local budget for road projects, bringing it to $8 million while keeping the municipal tax bill flat.
“No guarantees we’ll be able to do that again, but we’re going to work hard,” he said.
The biggest project on the horizon involves repaving the biggest road in Cherry Hill: Route 70.
In January, the New Jersey Department of Transportation may begin soliciting bids to repair a stretch of the roadway from Cherry Hill to Pennsauken, a project estimated at more than $10 million. Work could begin as early as the spring of 2016, Cahn said.
“It’s a huge undertaking while that construction is being done, and we’re concerned about the impact,” Cahn said.
The major throughway rolls right through the Garden State Racetrack shopping plaza, which Cahn said “is built out and doing very well,” with second-wave businesses backfilling in as tenants cycle out. Expected to join them is retailer Costco, which has considered the site since 2013, according to Cherry Hill Patch.
“We’re excited to see Costco come,” Cahn said.
Another economic asset to the township is the Cherry Hill Mall, which Cahn described as one of the highest-performing malls in the country. At a time when its owner, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), sold off the nearby Voorhees Town Center, Cherry Hill remains a source of strength for the company. Cahn alluded to likely future investments in the property from PREIT and “hopefully, more announcements in the next year or two.
“We have a very good relationship with PREIT,” he said. “We stand side by side with them.”
Although Cherry Hill is well known for its retail and big-box store economic sector, Cahn said the township is in the midst of a transformation into a regional medical center. Major investments in office space from healthcare systems Cooper, Virtua, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Kennedy will bring “strong ratables,” the mayor said.
One thing Cahn is unconcerned with is any open space question in Cherry Hill. Having secured the preservation of the Woodcrest Country Club, Springdale Farms, and Merchantville Country Club, future development discussions will begin with the local Zoning and Planning Boards, and not the courts, Cahn said.
“We don’t have to focus on it every day; don’t have to worry about developers taking us to court,” he said.
Authority over land use questions may have been returned to the township, but it has very little influence over some of the biggest ongoing issues in the community: securing additional state aid for the public school district and resolving an ongoing labor dispute with its teachers.
The mayor’s office may not have much freedom to intercede in these cases, but it is keeping a close eye on things.
“We support the teachers in their right to a fair contract, and we hope they reach a settlement soon,” Cahn said.