The agreement in principle would restrict 71 of the 81 proposed units at the 19-acre parcel to buyers 55 and older, while setting aside 10 affordable units.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 27, 2019
A legal hurdle to Haddonfield’s long-delayed Bancroft redevelopment was cleared this morning, as neighborhood objectors saw their lawsuit against the project dismissed without prejudice in Superior Court.
Haddonfield Encouraging Responsible Development (HERD), a citizen group led by a contingent of former borough mayors, announced it had brokered a deal with the current commissioners to build 71 market-rate townhouses that would be deed-restricted to owners 55 and older.
The deal would create 10 affordable units on the 10.25-acre property while preserving the remainder of the Cherry Hill side of Hopkins Lane as public parkland.
It also scales up the proposed 30-year PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement to a nearly 100-percent arrangement that would retain locally a significant portion of taxes on the units.
Former Haddonfield planning board member John Stokes, a supporter of the HERD lawsuit, celebrated the agreement.
Stokes, who had recused himself from Bancroft matters while on the board “because I felt we needed a better plan,” said that, for seniors, the terms of the new deal reflect “a much better alternative than the original [80-townhome] project.”
“That would probably have been much more attractive, according to all the experts we’ve spoken to, to millennials with young families, than seniors,” Stokes said.
The agreement in principle would also alter designs of the townhomes in ways that create a more senior-friendly product, he said.
Floor plans will expand from 24 to 32 feet in width, creating a building mass that allows for first-floor master bath and bedrooms with second-floor lofts and common areas.
Doing so might also expand the overall footprint of the project.
“If you go to any community that is developed specifically for seniors, this is the type of design you’re going to see, not what was proposed initially,” Stokes said.
A near-100-percent PILOT also preserves an additional 20-percent share of local revenues; without it, those dollars would go to the county. The nuts and bolts of that agreement have yet to be brokered among the borough, the board of education, and the developer, but Haddonfield Commissioner Jeff Kasko said the deal should raise enough to offset debt service on the bonds issue to purchase the property.
“It allows us to not give a huge tax break to the people who buy these things, and it also allows us to share that revenue with the board of education,” Kasko said.
The commissioner said he was relieved to have brokered a deal that he termed “a compromise plan.” Next up will be revising the terms of its plan with developer J. Brian O’Neill to fit the terms of the agreement in principle that led to the dismissal of the HERD suit. (O’Neill declined to comment on the dismissal of the lawsuit.)
“I’m happy that we’re able to finally move forward on our redevelopment plan,” Kasko said. “I’m hopeful that we can get it done in a few months and we don’t get more delays or lawsuits and we’ll be able to move forward.”
The Fair Share Housing Center, which had brought a lawsuit against the borough for the lack of affordable housing in the initial proposal, reserved judgment on the proposal.
“We have not seen the full settlement yet, and there is not enough detail in the press release for us to be able to determine whether the settlement complies with Haddonfield’s fair housing obligations,” said Fair Share Housing Associate Director Adam Gordon.
“Our goal is to get as many homes as possible for lower-income families to be able to live in Haddonfield,” Gordon said.
“We are looking forward to there being dozens of new homes for families based on our settlement with Haddonfield in the coming years.
“We will be reviewing the settlement, when it is available, carefully, to ensure that it makes the development of the 10 affordable homes for families at Bancroft realistic, and obligates the developer to proceed with building them expeditiously,” he said.
Haddonfield also has plans in the works for Snowden Commons, a 28-unit, fully affordable housing development that would be situated behind borough hall.
In a statement from HERD, former Haddonfield Mayor Jack Tarditi claimed that the agreement would “protect the public schools from an influx of students they would not be able to accommodate—or pay for.”
Kasko said that’s an overreach.
“I still believe that the age-targeted units would have worked, and would not have brought in that many schoolchildren to the district,” he said. “And 55-plus doesn’t mean no children; I just turned 55, and I have five children in the school district.”
Kasko also alluded to “the whole backfill issue” as well; i.e., the occupancy by families with school-aged children of homes formerly owned by downsizing seniors.
“[The Bancroft development will offer] very attractive units, and I’m happy that they’re units that people can downsize from a larger home, but it does not solve that [backfill] problem,” Kasko said.