Infrastructure improvements, capital projects, and other changes are coming in the months to follow. We spoke with Mayor Jim Maley about what to expect.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 21, 2019
2019: the Year Ahead is a series of conversations with local leaders about planning and priorities for the next 12 months. In this installment, we spoke with Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley.
The top agenda item in Collingswood for 2019 is construction. The borough could break ground on its new combined police and fire station by late summer, Mayor Jim Maley said.
In advance of that date, residents can expect additional public meetings on the project—the municipal government held its last one in November—with design updates in March or April.
Plans have entered the “value engineering” stage, Maley said, with the borough looking to knock down the estimated $10 million cost of the building while mitigating onsite environmental issues.
Engineers are focused on the surrounding areas of Wallace Street and West Zane Avenue, as well as exploring improvements to the stormwater system on the other side of Haddon Avenue.
“While we’re doing all this, we want to see if there’s any other line we can put in to help that flooding out on Maple,” the mayor said.
In addition to the police and fire building, the borough is planning to move the Public Works garage from its current location behind Haddon Avenue to the former site of M & E Marine Supply Company on Harrison Avenue.
That site “has a lot of wetlands constraints, a lot of soil issues, [and]some additional infrastructure issues” that could involve running new sewer lines underneath nearby Route 130, Maley said.
“We’ll have plans for that soon,” he said.
“We haven’t done as much community engagement around it because the closest neighbor is the compost facility across the street.”
(When the DPW garage moves, the Collingswood Bike Share headquarters will as well, with Maley promising it’ll have a new home elsewhere.)
Once the new facilities are completed, the former police station and DPW garage will be demolished, possibly by late 2021.
That real estate, once freed up, could be redeveloped in a number of ways. The mayor envisions some combination of residential units, commercial property, and public parking to emerge.
“I’ve spoken with a couple different developers and showed them what the area will be,” Maley said. “I think there can be some height back there, because you’ve got the Speedline separating you from homes, and you’ve got the water towers sitting right there.
“We’ve got to find out what works for us, and what the private development market would build,” he said. “There’s a huge demand for housing in the middle of the downtown, where you can walk; it’s becoming the young professional/empty-nest piece.”
Adding more public parking as a component of the project will address “the greatest problem we’ve ever had,” Maley said.
Finding possible office tenants would be another plus, although he acknowledged the difficulty in cultivating commercial office space in a telework economy.
“If we end up with some office component in there, I’d really like to see that, but that’s really hard to do in today’s world,” Maley said.
“A stable of office workers there helps add to the mix, and adds foot traffic during the daytime.”
Plans have long been in the works for the local government to dispose of the old bank building in which borough hall is located, and then move its municipal operations to the community center, extending one wing of the structure to accommodate new offices and a courtroom.
The Collingswood Fire Station is privately owned by the nonprofit entity behind the borough fire company, and as such, is not part of the long-term plans from the local government.
In addition to the new construction, Maley said Collingswood has allocated $1 million dollars from last year’s budget for road improvements, with construction to begin in the spring.
The work generally will consist of milling existing roadways and overlaying them with hot mix asphalt.
Full-depth repairs will be used “on a select basis, as necessary,” the mayor said, with concrete curb, gutter, sidewalk, and driveway apron replacements as needed to relieve ADA accessibility needs, stormwater issues, trip hazards, or overall condition of the roadway.
The list includes work on:
- Park Avenue, from Collings Avenue to the throughway at Knight Park
- Wayne Avenue, from Atlantic to Dwight Avenues
- Merrick Avenue, from South Newton to Bettlewood Avenue
- East Coulter Avenue, from Highland to South Park Avenues
- Belmont Avenue, from Dayton to Lees Avenues
- Mansion Avenue, from Lees Avenue to Lees Lane
- Irvin Avenue, from Haddon to Atlantic Avenues
- Maple Avenue, from Lawnside to Homestead Avenues
- Ogden Avenue, from Haddon to Atlantic Avenues
- King Alley, from Conger Avenue to the end
- Cedar Avenue, from King to Tatem Avenues
The borough also plans to work on traffic bumpouts along Homestead Avenue, the intersection at which the Collingswood Post Office is located, as part of a Safe Routes to School grant. That project is entering the final stages of an engineering review from the state.
Maley was less confident about the prospects of making improvements to the interior roadways within Knight Park, some of which have fallen into serious disrepair. The upside of the potholes, the mayor said, is that they force drivers to proceed with much more caution in an area full of children, animals, and pedestrians.
Finally, 2019 is the year in which planning begins for the Camden County-led restoration of Haddon Avenue. The roadway project could be an opportunity for Collingswood to revisit a long-ago-considered idea for installing a tree-lined median down the middle of its busiest commercial corridor.
“We’ll take a look for the whole run of Haddon about what, if any, changes might make sense for it,” Maley said.
The change would add greenery to the roadway as well as a pedestrian refuge, while curbing more erratic driver behaviors, the mayor said.
“One of my new pet peeves is people making U-turns on Haddon, usually in the busiest of times,” he said. “Narrowing the street a little bit would make it more pedestrian-friendly and also make some of those crazier traffic moves less likely.”
Along the same lines, Maley said there’s “a big push” to complete a DVRPC-funded study on the feasibility of increased bicycle traffic along Haddon Avenue. The borough is also seeking grant funding from the Board of Public Utilities to add some electric car charging stations throughout town.
Maley also said that since partnering with the Merchantville-Pennsauken Water Commission to oversee its water and sewer system, Collingswood has been able to make significant improvements to those assets. Unlike nearby Haddonfield, the borough is not interested in selling them off to a private operator.
“We think our system has great financial viability for us, and I’m not really in favor of selling access to our resources,” Maley said.
AirBnb, Backyard Hens, Open Government
The borough government has fielded public criticism in the past year for its stances on a handful of concerns: backyard hens, AirBnb policies, and its lack of an open public work session for commissioners.
Maley said that proponents of all three, which are centralized in an opposition group called Collingswood Neighbors for Change, haven’t convinced the current administration that there’s a consensus need for changing the status quo.
“I don’t think public work sessions are going to happen,” the mayor said.“To interpret it the way they interpret it, I could never talk to another commissioner.
“I know other towns that are in the commission form of government do these other sessions,” he said. “They’re also talking about stuff that’s going on.
“I keep going back to what’s the problem?” Maley said. “What issue do they not believe there’s transparency on? Everything that we have said in public meetings over and over again is exactly what the process is.
“When a group wants change and can’t tell you what the change is, it makes me think that maybe it’s [about]more than just policy,” Maley said.
The mayor believes backyard hens are a niche issue in the
borough, but added that he’s willing to reconsider his position if a majority
of residents show interest in them.
“I don’t think most of the town’s in favor of that, so go change that,” Maley said. “Build a consensus.”
The commission is working through drafts of an AirBnb ordinance with the help of solicitor Joseph Nardi, and once it’s completed, the bill will be submitted for public comment.
But Maley promised that “the people that have been looking to rent [their homes]out all year long and use it to supplement income are not going to be happy.
“I get how they think it’s good for businesses, how it’s good for people that rent them, how it’s good for people that use them,” he said, “but for the rest of the neighborhood, how’s this better?”
Finally, Collingswood is poised to commemorate its 20th year of operating the Scottish Rite Auditorium, as well as the impending retirement of longtime manager Jerry Chambers.
Maley said the borough is making plans to restructure its operations and “give the ballroom a little sprucing up.”
Farther down the list is an exploration of whether and how to update the HVAC system in the historic theater, which the mayor described as “a major, major undertaking,” costing in the millions of dollars to renovate.
Asked to describe what life is like in the borough in 2019, Maley said Collingswood is “pretty much the same as it’s been.
“It’s going to be maintained as a great place to raise your family and a fun place to live,” he said.
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