The redevelopment project would be the biggest in the borough since the Ingerman-built Collings at the Lumberyard, which is situated next to the proposed site, was completed in 2015.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 19, 2021
One of the largest property developers in Collingswood is aiming at a sequel to its last major, mixed-use housing project.
Ingerman, the group behind the five-story Collings at the Lumberyard apartment complex on Haddon Avenue, has expressed interest in creating “a mini-Lumberyard” in the adjacent block, Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley said Wednesday.
The developer has spent the past year or so signing agreements with property owners along Haddon and West Knight Avenues, with the intent to transform most of the block into a 184-unit rental apartment complex.
Maley introduced the proposal publicly for the first time last night in a meeting with community stakeholders, including neighbors along the adjoining properties. Initial details are limited.
“They’ve given us a couple concept plans; we’ve given them a couple thoughts,” the mayor said. “We’ll get another meeting set up as we work with them to fine-tune everything. The next step will be to start having a couple meetings with Ingerman and their team to start the process.”
Broadly, the proposal would create 169 market-rate rental apartment units, and 28 affordable housing units (a 15-percent set-aside), for 184 total units. Of those, 116 would be one-bedroom units, 60 would be two-bedroom units, and eight would be three-bedroom units.
The rough plans account for 5,500 square-feet of office space, lobby space, and amenities, including a pair of interior courtyards, as well as 3,500 square-feet of commercial space along Haddon Avenue. They also would include 150 onsite parking spaces, with six spaces reserved for persons with disabilities, and two electric vehicle charging stations.
Based on his initial conversations with Ingerman, Maley said the developer would like to situate a leasing office for the building in the Haddon Avenue commercial space; however, he’s already spoken with other potential commercial tenants, and would prefer to fill that square-footage with customer-facing businesses.
The Collings at the Lumberyard adjoins the proposed site along West Knight Avenue, and neighbors in that residential block expressed concerns during Wednesday’s meeting about the impact of the project on their community, from added vehicle traffic to overflow parking and building height.
Maley said the parking issues could be resolved with permits, and believes that the project could be designed to taper the building height back to fit the West Knight neighborhood context.
“They want to build as high as they can, as close as they can [to Haddon Avenue],” he said. “We’ve talked to them about three stories on Haddon next to the houses, but anything higher would have to be tapered back.”
The mayor, who is a land use attorney by trade, also said that the design of the building would include elements of varied architectural interest so that “it’s not a wall all the way down.” He is bullish on the project as a way to add density in the borough commercial district, thereby increasing foot traffic for local businesses.
“If it’s done the right way, it’s a benefit for our community, especially our businesses, because of more people that are living oriented to the Avenue,” Maley said.
Like the Collings at the Lumberyard, for which Ingerman was granted a 25-year PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) tax abatement, the new project could also leverage a similar PILOT agreement that Maley believes will retain an estimated $200,000 to $400,000 locally.
A significant portion of those dollars could be dedicated to community recreation improvements as part of a secondary initiative that he described as a recreation facilities committee. That committee would liaise with members of the borough government and board of education to advance the development of arts and recreational facilities in town, including some solution for the previously demolished Collingswood Junior-Senior High School stadium.
“We’re going to try to get the high-school field issues and other rec issues set up on a path to be improved without additional costs to taxpayers,” Maley said. “If a cannabis licensee ever comes, we’d take a significant portion of that revenue and put it towards recreation facilities [also].”
Since 2010, Collingswood has added 130 housing units with a 92-percent occupancy rate, while its total number of vacant units has fallen by 28. Maley pointed out that the 2020 census also showed that the local population increased for the first time since the 1970s, by 265 more residents.
“That’s a good sign for the health of the borough,” he said.
Neither is the “mini-Lumberyard” the only site of redevelopment interest in the borough, the mayor said. Plans to build new projects along Haddon Avenue include those in the works for the former sites of Jafstram Auto and All-Star Trophies in the 800 block of Haddon; the former Predpelski Funeral Home in the 900 block; and the former Sun National Bank in the 600 block.
Residential neighbors aren’t the only ones with concerns about the impact of the project.
Those properties that Ingerman plans to acquire presently house a number of active local businesses.
On Haddon Avenue, they include the Genesis Counseling Center, Pete’s News Agency, Secret Origins Comics and More, and Cabana Water Ice.
The garages behind those structures are home to guitar-maker Loudo Musical Instruments and Mageworks Productions Recording and Rehearsal Studios, among others. Along West Knight Avenue, the property housing architectural firm OSK Design Partners is also included in the deal.
For lessees like Bill Haas of Secret Origins, the back-and-forth nature of the negotiations between his landlord and Ingerman has been a source of near-constant anxiety for the past year. Haas, who relocated his comic book shop to Collingswood from Barrington in late 2019, said he’s scrambled to find a new location in town since he first caught wind of the deal.
“It felt like every other month from September to December, it was off and on again,” Haas said. “The last time I talked to [my landlord] was December, and it was pretty much dead. Then in late May, early June, he said he’d signed a letter of intent to sell the building.”
“Every other month, I had to start the process to look again [for a new space],” he said. “I was stuck in limbo because I had a year left on my lease. I shouldn’t be worried about finding a new place, I should be worried about making sure my customers are satisfied.”
Although Haas has said he doesn’t begrudge his landlord the opportunity to sell the building, the process of finding a storefront that he could afford and which would suit his business was an added stressor as he and his wife welcomed a new baby this spring.
“I’m a businessman; if I had a dream offer to take something off my hands, I probably would go with it too,” he said.
Fortunately, Haas said he’s brokered an agreement to keep his shop in Collingswood “because it’s a financially sound decision to stay in Collingswood,” and “the town has been great.
“I’m happy with the place we found, but I did feel the pressure that if we didn’t find a place immediately, I’d be out of luck,” Haas said.
“But there are people who, out of nowhere, are learning that they might not be here in a year,” he added.
“It’s very frustrating. I wish the process was further along with more concrete details.”
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