Borough leaders are moving to flip a handful of key vacant properties, while some residents want the local pool added to the agenda as well.
By Matt Skoufalos
Changes are coming to the White Horse Pike in Oaklyn.
The borough will “aggressively pursue redevelopment” of a trio of unoccupied properties along its major artery, said Mayor Robert Forbes: the former sites of Burger King (1 White Horse Pike), Casa Di Luzio (301 White Horse Pike), and the 24-apartment complex adjacent to the Oaklyn Discount Liquor store (208 White Horse Pike).
“There’s a lot of irons in the fire,” Forbes said. “We’re in the redevelopment zone.”
The borough council voted unanimously at its February meeting to authorize appraisals for the vacant Burger King and Casa Di Luzio properties, the first steps in obtaining them by eminent domain, if necessary.
Oaklyn is already moving to acquire the apartment complex at 208 White Horse Pike by eminent domain, Forbes said, and has undertaken a redevelopment agreement with DePetro Realty Services of Brielle, N.J. to “completely renovate the property.
“We’ve made a fair and equitable offer [of]$185,000,” the mayor said.
Forbes said “a couple offers for each property” had been fielded, but wouldn’t disclose more than that.
He did promise that the interested parties represent independent businesses and not chain stores.
A fourth property at the intersection of the White Horse Pike and East Clinton Avenue is being privately redeveloped, Forbes said.
The building, which used to house Schwarz Studio and Photos, was torn down by its owner, and will likely be replaced with a mixed-use residential and commercial space.
The mayor said local leaders had introduced the owner to some potential business tenants “to give him options” as he proceeds with the site.
The lengthy nature of redevelopment projects requires patience and persistence with a process that can drag on. Forbes pointed out that it took some 18 months of discussions to get the apartment project underway; that notwithstanding, he said, the borough is anxious to proceed.
“We want to get it done,” Forbes said.
Reviving the Oaklyn Swim Club
Another of the biggest redevelopment projects in the community might be the shuttered local pool, which to restore to operations could cost an estimated $1.5 million, borough leaders said.
Resident Nancy MacGregor, a community volunteer who spearheaded the Conrail bridge beautification project on West Clinton Avenue in Oaklyn, said there are a number of residents who “would love to see the club open again.
“It is a great meet-up place in the center of the town where you are always guaranteed a play date,” MacGregor said.
“So many families see the swim club as an important Oaklyn tradition and a part of this little town’s history and identity.”
MacGregor also pointed out that nearby Roberts Pool in Collingswood–which is headed for a $1.7-million makeover–charges non-residents a steeper out-of-town fee. Moreover, she said, restoring the Oaklyn pool would send a sign to prospective homebuyers that the town is “attractive and growing.
“Investing in our town will help bring in new families and contribute to Oaklyn’s vitality,” MacGregor said.
She also acknowledged that the primary concern in the minds of most residents is likely the eventual fate of the Oaklyn school district, which is facing an imminent budget shortfall in the next few years.
But with a little creativity, she said, the pool could be revamped to generate off-season revenues as a community center or rental hall, and membership opportunities could be extended to neighboring towns to pad the rolls.
“Oaklyn is full of creative people with grand ideas, and I am sure there is a solution that would work,” MacGregor said.
So far, MacGregor said she’d collected signatures from some 200 petitioners in favor of restoring the pool, and is seeking more to attract the attention of the borough council.
In a town of 4,100, however, both she and Forbes realize that more input will be needed to generate support for such a measure.
“We’d like to see some ideas [at]any open public meeting,” the mayor said.
“These amenities make it a community,” he said. “Everything’s a possibility.”