In an election year, Haddonfield Mayor Jeff Kasko said the borough government is working to put a few things to bed, including a budget and site plan for the Bancroft parcel, before the polls open this spring.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 1, 2017
In the event that they don’t, the current administration is looking to clear a few major items off the docket before ballots are cast this spring: drafting a municipal budget, tightening up local zoning laws, and wrapping redevelopment plans for the 19-acre Bancroft property.
Since March 2017, when redevelopers presented a handful of options for the parcel, Haddonfield has been negotiating terms with its buyer, developer J. Brian O’Neill. Kasko expects the culmination of that deal will happen in the next month or two, with plans for a mixed-use, 55+ project.
“We have a redevelopment plan, we own the property, we just have to get an agreement struck,” he said. “From the borough side, we want to make sure that it’s nothing too crazy, nothing too big. We’ve got to truly market it to empty-nesters.”
The principal goal of the project will be to create a usable housing track that won’t add school-aged children to the rolls of a district that Kasko said is already “packed to the gills.” Haddonfield has banked its affordable housing stock in alternative redevelopment plans for a handful of sites around the borough, and so the property could serve as an opportunity for lifetime residents to downsize, he said.
“What I hear from people who are 60 or 70 years old and their kids are gone is that they want to downsize a little so they can afford to stay in town,” Kasko said.
“The rent will be a little less and their property taxes will be half.”
Yet the mayor admits that approach doesn’t address the longer-term question of how the borough might build in additional capacity to its overfull school district—or the deeper observation of some Haddonfielders having a “15-year plan” for residency: get in, get through the schools, and sell their homes to avoid ever-increasing taxes.
“For some people, that has become the way it goes,” Kasko said. “They come in, and raise their kids there, and then leave. It’s a revolving door. The school enrollment stays steady or even slightly increases, [and] that becomes part of the concern. I don’t think there’s any easy solution.”
Even if some of the downsizing empty-nesters relocate to the new Bancroft parcel, their homes may open up to families with more schoolchildren seeking the Haddonfield public school education, which does little to obviate either circumstance. Beyond acknowledging that the real estate market bears what it will, the mayor is also working with the borough zoning board to tweak local ordinances in response to the issue. He’s hoping new regs will discourage the tear-downs of smaller houses that are later replaced with new designs that maximize the available footprint.
“If there’s people who want the big floor plan, it’s hard to stop that if they’re following zoning ordinance,” Kasko said. “I don’t know how to completely stop it but by making sure there’s an alternative, like these townhomes, and making sure that there are smaller, three-bedroom ranchers still in town.”
The borough commissioners will also take another look at ways to improve Haddonfield’s stormwater management and infrastructure engineering with an eye toward addressing pervious coverage concerns, Kasko said.
“There’s a lot of runoff and when you build bigger units and take away pervious coverage, it’s got to go somewhere,” he said.
In addition to reining in building codes and the dedication of underground cisterns as a pervious-coverage workaround, the borough will also work to pursue Sustainable Jersey gold certification, as guidelines for the new level of environmental standard are issued. Benchmarks include increased greenspace and recycling efforts and reductions of waste, noise, and air pollution. Kasko said he will also launch a mayor’s wellness program in the spring, a leftover goal from his 2016 agenda.
Haddonfield is also likely to see a formalized proposal from The Boxwood Arts Theatre and Cultural Center campaign outlining its concept for redeveloping the historic Boxwood Hall as a mixed-use fine and performing arts space. Kasko said the group is still in the planning phases, and should know by this spring whether the project is “go or no-go.
“I think the plan has a lot of merit and could be a good thing for our town,” he said.
“I understand people might be concerned with overdeveloping the property or that it’s not appropriate on a historic site. We’ll have to look at all of those [considerations].”
In drafting the 2017 municipal budget, commissioners will be looking to hold the line on local spending, hewing closely to last year’s figures while pursuing a zero-rate increase. Haddonfield saw a slight uptick in its ratable values, which helps, as does its strong tax collection rate, the mayor said.
“You’re in a town with $2.2 billion in property values; a swing of $1 million or $2 million makes a big difference,” Kasko said.
Budgeting also got somewhat easier with the $28-million sell-off of the borough water and sewer system, which allowed Haddonfield to retire its municipal debt and issue a bond anticipation note for the purchase of the Bancroft property.
The Partnership for Haddonfield, which coordinates the borough business improvement district, also formally kicked off another local tax amenity: the Shop Haddonfield program.
The shop-local initiative rewards borough business customers with discounted purchases at participating stores, and then applies the total amount spent in town to their property taxes.
It’s one of a number of initiatives designed to draw additional foot traffic to the downtown shopping district, Kasko said.
“We’re trying to get people who live here to shop local as well as continuing all the programs and the marketing efforts that PfH does to get people from the region here,” he said.
“When we have Girls Night Out, and the food truck events, and candlelight shopping, and the craft festival, it’s putting Haddonfield more on the map than it already is.”
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