As the project enters the homestretch this spring, the municipal government looks to lock in key details of the plan at its February 26 meeting.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 16, 2019
After years of negotiations, a pair of lawsuits, and lengthy discussions about the best use of the property, Haddonfield commissioners are ready to advance a deal for the redevelopment of the former Bancroft campus.
On February 26, the municipal government will vote on terms of an agreement with 2 Hopkins Lane Urban Renewal LLC, a group led by developer J. Brian O’Neill.
(The issue is also on the agenda for the commissioners’ February 19 work session.)
O’Neill acquired the land from Bancroft, which departed for its new campus in Mount Laurel last year, with the initial proposal of building a rehabilitation center there.
To prevent the use of the property in that fashion, the borough government brokered a deal to acquire the land from O’Neill at a premium, and secured his rights to develop it.
The borough originally paid $12.2 million for the 19-acre parcel; about $642,000 per acre. O’Neill will buy back a little more than eight acres at $597,000 per acre, which he plans to develop into a 90-unit townhome complex.
Eighty of those units will retail at market rates (an estimated $500,000 apiece, which compares with the median home price in Haddonfield) with 10 units designated as affordable housing. Units will max out at three bedrooms, occupying 2,173 square-feet in total.
The per-acre buyback price fell a bit in negotiations, but bought a few key concessions from the developer, Haddonfield Commissioner John Moscatelli said.
“They were hoping to put in a lot more units and a lot larger units; we gave them a slightly higher unit count, got them down to smaller units, and reduced their buyback costs for the land,” Moscatelli said.
The development is “age-targeted” for buyers 55 and older, although the complex will not be an age-restricted community, much to the dismay of a contingent of borough seniors.
The affordable housing set-aside remains a component of a broader settlement with Fair Share Housing, which Haddonfield commissioners said is nearly finalized.
Another key component of that settlement involves the construction of a multi-unit affordable housing redevelopment on Snowden Field (behind Haddonfield borough hall) with a separate developer.
A second, separate lawsuit over the site, which was brought on by a group dubbing itself HERD (Haddonfield Encouraging Responsible Development) and led by former Haddonfield Mayor Jack Tarditi, remains unresolved.
Terms of the redevelopment deal also secure a 30-year PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) for the property owners, which starts at 70 percent of the full tax value and ramps up from there.
Payments are tied to the current annual tax rate, and the PILOT runs longer than the 20-year repayment term of the municipal debt incurred for the project.
“We’re pretty comfortable that the way the PILOT is structured is going to be beneficial to them to sell the units,” Moscatelli said.
“The PILOT is more than adequate to cover the borough’s debt, the debt service, the cost to deliver services, plus all the students we expect to be generated over the course of the development,” he said.
“Then, in the later years, we’re not going to have any of that debt service, so that’s going to be some extra revenue that the borough will have.”
When the plan to redevelop the Bancroft parcel as housing was first proposed, Haddonfield commissioners said their plan wouldn’t burden taxpayers with tax increases to subsidize the cost of the acquisition. With the deal entering the homestretch, they claim that math will still hold.
“We have every expectation that if [the developers]sell it at what their market study is projecting, that it should generate plenty of tax revenue to cover the borough expenses and all the students it creates,” Moscatelli said.
“It’s not going to cost the taxpayers to have the property developed.”
A quarter of the parcel acquired by the developers will be preserved as open space, while the borough is working to execute a potential swap of some four acres with the Haddonfield school district.
Under terms of that proposal, the borough would then acquire Radnor Field across town, and preserve it as open space. Moscatelli said Haddonfield has about $4 million in NJDEP Green Acres dollars that could be dedicated to those ends.
The acreage at the Bancroft site that would transfer to the district borders Haddonfield Memorial High School, and could potentially be used for athletic fields, additional classroom space, or reserve capacity for future needs.
Excluded from the project will be a parcel of land containing historic Lullworth Hall, which will be subdivided and sold to an entity that will preserve it in some additional form.
The property also contains a historically significant outbuilding (a former medical facility) that Moscatelli said developers will preserve as a meeting room or mailroom.
“There are maybe five rooms in the building,” he said. “It’s the size of a small, two-story house, right at the tree line towards the back of the property.”
The berm fronting Kings Highway will also be preserved as part of the project, “as most of the public wanted,” Moscatelli said.
The commissioner also said the redevelopment should generally yield a positive impact for stormwater management on the site.
“The real problem with Bancroft the way it sits right now is that those hills are getting eroded away by all the sheet flow,” he said.
In contrast, changes in the engineering brought on by the redevelopment will reduce how much stormwater is washed over the hillside and into the nearby Hopkins Pond.
“They have to meter it out more slowly, so it’s going to reduce how much water is hitting the waterway, and almost none of that water is going to be washing over the hills,” Moscatelli said.
The proposal still has to clear the Haddonfield Historic Preservation and Shade Tree Commissions before a formal application will be brought to the borough planning board, which is expected sometime in May at the earliest.
For borough commissioners who’ve worked on the deal throughout their prior terms in office, resolving the issue will be a milestone.
“This was one of the biggest reasons I ran again, was to see it through,” Moscatelli said.
“We’ve been talking about this for years now,” said Commissioner Jeff Kasko, who was mayor of the borough while the initial deal was being brokered with 2 Hopkins Lane.
Kasko anticipates that if the deal can be finalized this spring, developers can get “shovels in the ground later this year.”
“We’re at the endpoint now,” Kasko said. “It’s taken us a very long time to get here. We’re finally getting there.”
For more details on the proposal, visit the Haddonfield website.
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