Of nearly 400 readers surveyed in the past nine days, the majority say the project should prioritize an expanded commercial focus and create a gathering place for the community.
By Matt Skoufalos
Now, as the preliminary and final site plans head for a vote by the township Planning and Zoning Board on Monday, NJ Pen readers have offered their opinions to the local government via a public interest survey.
In just a nine-day period, nearly 400 readers responded: building “a strong central gathering place” and “a unique downtown destination” for Haddon Township residents and the surrounding community topped their priorities for the site.
Community engagement trumps threats of builder’s remedy
Although commissioners have talked nearly exclusively about the need for the project to get underway to resolve the threat of a builder’s remedy lawsuit from developers Fieldstone Associates, the town’s ongoing legal entanglements around the property were at the bottom of resident concerns for the project.
When asked, “What objective do you believe is most important for the redevelopment project to achieve?” readers responded that they want the site to be a central community gathering place (29 percent) that integrates smoothly with the surrounding blocks (28 percent), and which contains a mix of retail and residential uses (22 percent). Another 17 percent of respondents said their priority for the project is to generate new interest in Haddon Township.
Only three percent of people polled believe that resolving the settlement of ongoing litigation with developer Fieldstone Associates and Fair Share Housing is most important purpose of the site.
Overwhelmingly, 71 percent of readers believe the Planning and Zoning Board, which will vote to approve or reject the site plan proposed by Fieldstone Associates, should “approve a plan that creates a unique downtown destination.” Another 11 percent said the board should focus on the aesthetics of the plan, a figure nearly identical to the 12 percent who said the board’s concerns should be to “just get something built” or “keep the town out of court.”
Economic as well as residential development
Readers also emphasized the value of the project as a commercial hub for the community.
The current plan proposed by Fieldstone includes first-floor residential apartments along Haddon Avenue–something that occurs nowhere else in the downtown business district–but 79 percent of respondents said that the project should only include first-floor retail.
When asked to list the ways in which they are likely to interact with the redevelopment site, 82 percent of respondents said they would shop there, 59 percent said they would be likely to visit it, and 32 percent said they would be looking forward to hosting or attending a community event there. Six percent said they would be interested in opening a business there. Only 9 percent of those surveyed said they would be likely to rent in the development.
Finally, we asked readers to list their priorities when choosing a community in which to reside. Their top answer was “short walk to shopping and dining” (40 percent), followed by “lively community environment” (34 percent). Fifteen percent listed proximity to mass transit, and another 7 percent said a top priority is “a short walk to school.” Only two percent ranked access to pocket parks or to a gym–amenities proposed in the current Fieldstone site plan–as being significant to their choice.
Of 382 people surveyed:
- 374 either live in Haddon Township or a nearby town (98 percent).
- 384 are familiar with the redevelopment project (91 percent).
- 343 are homeowners (90 percent).
- 326 list a car as their principal mode of transit (85 percent).
Ages of respondents were nearly evenly distributed among those from 25 to 55 years; the most common age of respondents is in the 35-45-year-old demographic.
- 25-35 (25 percent)
- 35-45 (41 percent)
- 45-55 (22 percent)
- 55+ (20 percent)
- younger than 25 (3 percent)
Dozens of survey respondents left comments on the project, too. For ease of summarization, we grouped them into a few significant areas of concern: Community Engagement, Retail/Commercial Focus, Population and Density Concerns, Transit and Traffic, Alternative Plans, and Redevelopment Fatigue.
Community Engagement (20 comments)
The overwhelming number of comments pointed to a strong interest in making the redevelopment site a community-focused, multi-use space.
Readers said the site should “actively encourage and facilitate interaction between the new and existing residents” with “things that will keep people spending time at local businesses.”
“The development should be used as a starting point to revitalize Haddon Avenue,” one reader wrote. “It should attract people and small businesses, and should not simply be residential. The development should be a community center point, where art and cultural events can take place, and where retail useful to the community can be located.”
Other remarks focused on the significance of the project (“This development will be here for a long time, and it should be something that will enhance our community.”), the need to devote consideration to its final result (“Let’s not be hasty and mess it up!”), and the opportunity for to integrate the site with neighboring communities (“A smarter downtown in Haddon Township will connect the dots between Haddonfield and Collingswood.”)
Top Comment: “This project can enlarge and reinforce our town center, or it can separate it further and prevent future growth.”
Retail/Commercial Focus (10 comments)
When asked for their opinion on ground-floor apartments, 79 percent of those surveyed said that the redevelopment site should not contain first-floor residential units, and that sentiment carried over to the comments.
Some were more emphatic than others (“No ground-floor apartments! They look like trash. I don’t want to drive through town to see people hanging on their stoop.”) citing safety concerns (“As a woman, I would never want a first-floor apartment in a shopping district.”) and aesthetics (“I think of walkable New England towns like Salem, MA or Waterbury, VT as inspiration.”).
Others warned that breaking up the downtown business district frontage with residential units would have a negative affect on local business.
“The site needs to bring more people to town to shop there and in turn, our other establishments,” one reader wrote. “I considered locating my business in Westmont but decided not to due to the lack of continuous, pedestrian-friendly retail; I instead chose Collingswood,” another said.
Top Comment: “Ground-floor apartments are okay as long as they are not in the buildings with frontage on Haddon Avenue. That should be reserved for retail only.”
Population and Density Concerns (11 comments)
Another segment of readers expressed their objections to the proposed site plan for its perceived impact to the township infrastructure, from schools to finance.
Neighbors in the surrounding blocks worried about the height of the buildings proposed (“If they put a four-plus-story apartment building close to our homes, that’s all we will see when we look out our windows.”) as well as the tax impact of the 30-year PILOT agreement attached to the project (“We need to get as much as we can from a project of this size. What I see and read may not be enough.”).
More than a few readers wished the original site development would have carried the day (“Our community would have benefitted more from townhouses and mix of retail.”) and said that the township needs more homeowners and fewer renters (“people who are going to pay taxes and invest in the community.”)
Top Comment: “As a 30-year-old who grew up in Haddon Township, all of my friends are buying houses or condos in Philadelphia because of ease of travel to and from work and proximity to restaurants and shops. Haddon Township has all of this but is not capitalizing on it.”
Transit and Traffic (11 comments)
Although the redevelopment site is labeled as a transit village in the zoning ordinance, readers surveyed were most afraid that car-related issues will dominate the current site plan proposed by Fieldstone; namely parking and traffic.
“Parking and traffic under any scenario will be a disaster,” one reader wrote. “I don’t think our town can handle this extra traffic throughout our streets and established neighborhoods,” another said, while one reader said he or she is “worried about what it will do to the traffic on Haddon Avenue.”
Although 85 percent of readers surveyed listed a car as their primary mode of transportation, alternative transit options were concerns to some readers who claimed daily reliance on the PATCO Hi-Speedline (“The short walk to PATCO was a huge reason why we chose to buy in Westmont.”) and others who believe the development should be friendly to pedestrians and cyclists (“If [the site] is car-heavy, people will not want to spend time there.”)
Other readers appealed to the Planning and Zoning Board to consider creating an interstitial street that would cut through the development (“Use the new design with center road between West Crystal Lake and Center.”) as opposed to the current Fieldstone design, which directs traffic in a loop throughout the entrance.
Top Comment: “Focus less on parking for cars and more on a transit village five miles from Philadelphia. If this becomes another strip-mall-plus-apartments, it’s going to contest an already over-taxed area.”
Alternative Plans (16 comments)
A large contingent of readers said the Planning and Zoning Board should not approve the site plan proposed by Fieldstone without significant changes.
Those who weighed in criticized its design (“vanilla”; “an uninviting, cookie-cutter blockade”), layout (“ground-floor commercial, and a central piazza/boulevard are keys to success of this project”), and function (“some kind of open space that could be used for community events such as the farmers market, some retail shops, and parking”).
Several readers urged the board to consider the alternative design changes proposed by Haddon Township resident Jason Miller (“I thought it made way more sense than the current design”; “I have reviewed the suggestions of Jason Miller and strongly agree with them”; “his plan should be given serious thought before committing to the original Fieldstone offer”).
Others asked the board to scrap its agreement with Fieldstone altogether (“Get a developer with the town’s interest[s]in mind”; “Time to change course.”) or just to turn the site into a community park.
Top Comment: “The revised plan proposed makes the most sense. It creates a great environment for community, safe housing and retail.”
Redevelopment Fatigue (8 comments)
Finally, there were those whose comments suggested that, after 11 years, they just want an answer to the ongoing questions of what will happen at the site.
Feedback from these commenters ranged from succinct (“Just get it done already!”) to weary (“The horse is dead. Gentlemen, start your bulldozers.”) to contrarian (“I was against it when they snuck it in, and I’m against it now.”).
Other readers simply want to see action at the site (“The site is an eyesore and has been for years. It brings our town down, and the sooner something is built, the better”; “Move forward to complete something with less litigation expense”; “We desperately need something there.”).
Top Comment: “If you take 20 more years to make a decision, then you will have to re-name the development project since no one alive will remember what the heck Dy-Dee did before they shut down!”