The borough signs a $25,000 escrow agreement with Haddonfield Development Group to begin exploring redevelopment of the historic property.
By Matt Skoufalos | December 1, 2022
The face of the former Bancroft property on King’s Highway in Haddonfield could be headed for new life as a residential property.
Historic Lullworth Hall — which, as recently as February, held so little commercial interest that an open house drew no responses to a call for proposals to redevelop it — may be transformed into a quartet of for-sale condominiums: a triplex and freestanding carriage house.
Last week, borough commissioners signed a $25,000 escrow agreement with local developers Haddonfield Development Group (HDG) to explore future uses of the property.
Led by plastic surgeon Steven D. Mellul, the firm has just a handful of projects to its resume, all of them within the borough; Lullworth would be the seventh.
Few details about the agreement are available because the two parties have yet to meet for detailed discussions, but Haddonfield Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich said the developer’s willingness to support its interest with a financial commitment is encouraging.
“At this point we’re looking to come together to have a conversation about what the timeline looks like for due diligence,” Bianco Bezich said. “We’re obviously very excited. This concept could bring the property back to its glory and generate tax revenue for the borough.”
The mayor said she’s also heartened by the fact that HDG comprises local residents, to whom she believes the outcome of the project will be made more meaningful by their connection to the town.
“If you live and/or have an office here, then it matters to you what the fabric of the community is like, and what this looks like when it’s finished,” Bianco Bezich said.
Regardless of how close to the project HDG might be, the work ahead is significant. The 19-acre Bancroft parcel, and Lullworth Hall with it, was declared an area in need of redevelopment by the Haddonfield Planning Board in January 2016.
The historic structure needed a complete overhaul then, and its condition has only deteriorated in the years since Bancroft departed Haddonfield for a new campus in Mount Laurel.
“This parcel and this property is a huge undertaking,” Bianco Bezich said.
“The historic preservation easement, a lot of people in the larger universe aren’t familiar with or comfortable tackling something like this,” she said.
If the project does round into a four-unit property, it won’t be subject to affordable housing restrictions, the mayor said; however, HDG, like any developer, would still be required to contribute to the borough affordable housing trust fund.
Bianco Bezich also specified that the $25,000 escrow deposit is designed to offset or reimburse the borough for professional costs related to pursuing the project, including legal fees, a redevelopment planner, legal counsel, and the like.
“Importantly, there’s no promise on the borough’s side that we are going to end up with any terms,” she said. “Let’s do our homework, sit down, and have an understanding of what we can do, and what the developer has promised financially.”
Asked what might have changed between the beginning of the year and the recent interest that led to the escrow agreement, Bianco Bezich credited the work done by Cherry Hill-based Markeim-Chalmers, the borough-designated broker for the property, in marketing it to a wider audience of potential investors.
The mayor also thinks that the stagnancy of the project in the past 10 months may have led a group of locals, like HDG — which did not respond to requests for comment for this story — to step forward with a proposal.
“When we put it out to RFP, we were really hoping,” she said. “I think, too, people wanted to see some stability and momentum from us as commissioners.
“We do have bigger, better vision for the community, and we are willing to work hard at it,” Bianco Bezich said.
Next steps for Lullworth Hall will be determined in the coming weeks, as HDG meets with commissioners for initial negotiations. If a project outline takes shape, it will then be presented to the public through the normal course of redevelopment projects.
As far as the larger portion of the Bancroft campus is concerned, Bianco Bezich said borough commissioners are finalizing appraisal of the value of its redevelopment rights.
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