Notes on a $3.2-million breakup with 2 Hopkins Lane, LLC, the former developer of record for the largest available residential building opportunity in the borough.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 8, 2023
In late June, Haddonfield commissioners broke the news that the borough was officially cutting ties with 2 Hopkins Lane, LLC, the redeveloper of record for the former Bancroft parcel at the edge of Kings Highway.
The price of freedom from that seven-year relationship was $3.2 million, a negotiated settlement that emerged from multiple, protracted legal battles over the fate of that 19.22-acre parcel.
After purchasing the property back from 2 Hopkins Lane principal J. Brian O’Neill, whose initial stated intention was to create an inpatient addictions recovery facility there, Haddonfield then reckoned with subsequent lawsuits over what to build.
The citizen group Haddonfield Encouraging Responsible Development (HERD) wanted the project to create exclusively senior housing for borough residents to retire in place. Then the nonprofit agency Fair Share Housing sued to stop that plan, arguing that the borough shouldn’t age-restrict access to new-construction units amid its ongoing affordable housing deficit.
Finally, in December 2022, O’Neill’s group took Haddonfield to court, claiming that the borough had not been a good-faith broker in its discussions, and sued for the opportunity to build either or both a recovery facility and housing there.
That action was “filed without advanced notification, or any efforts to respond to our attempts to move the ball forward, or to negotiate dollar amounts,” Haddonfield Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich said at a press conference Monday.
Although the agreement between 2 Hopkins Lane and the borough included a walkaway clause, whereby O’Neill was free to abandon the project and pocket a $600,000 payout, that option was exercisable only at the developer’s discretion.
“Typically when you have a breakup clause, you have a bilateral agreement,” Haddonfield Commissioner Kevin Roche said.
“This was unilateral at the discretion of [2 Hopkins Lane, LLC].”
The ongoing legal action — both O’Neill’s suit and that from Fair Share — did, however, yield a key detail that ultimately resolved the matter for all interested parties. In the course of litigation, representatives for 2 Hopkins, LLC told the court that it has no desire or intent to build the project, according to Haddonfield solicitor Salvatore Siciliano.
That pronouncement led to the court ordering Haddonfield to solicit alternative concepts from qualified bidders to redevelop the Bancroft site. Requests for proposal (RFP) were issued in June, and they’re due by 4 p.m. August 10 (Thursday). In the meantime, the borough government posted an addendum to its original notice outlining a handful of qualifying stipulations.
- Haddonfield will consider projects that provide market-rate residential units, either for sale or rent, as well as 10 to 12 rental-only affordable housing units. If a variety of unit types are proposed, these affordable units must be distributed across all types and throughout the project.
- The market-rate residential units may be age-targeted, age-restricted, or neither. The affordable units will be two- or three-bedroom units, and may not be deed-restricted or targeted by the ages of their occupants.
- The residential portion of the redevelopment parcel covers 8.2 acres of land, and proposals may incorporate active and/or passive recreation uses there; the parcel further includes 4.65 acres of public use/active recreation, as well as 4.95 acres of passive open space.
- Proposals that fall outside of the scope of these terms would require the redevelopment plan to be amended.
“Based upon the RFIs we’ve received, I think there’s a lot of creative ideas that people are asking about,” Haddonfield Commissioner Frank Troy said.
“Or we can say none of this excites us and go back to the drawing board, as long as we’re meeting our 10-unit obligation for achievable housing,” Bianco Bezich said.
Although the $3.2-million settlement was three times the $1.1-million appraised value of the redevelopment rights for the project, and more than five times the amount of its initial opt-out clause, borough commissioners defended the buyout as making the best of a bad circumstance.
“We’ve been able to wrest the control from an outside party, and put it back in the hands of the borough,” Roche said. The settlement will allow the local body to determine “the highest and best use for the community and the stakeholders as opposed to someone who had only a financial interest in the process,” Bianco Bezich added.
“Having this lawsuit settled is a big first step,” Troy said. “We look forward to looking at all the proposals that will come in.”
Alternatively, the borough could have fought the suit in federal court at a cost of thousands of dollars, Bianco Bezich said.
“There is no way this would have ended in a settlement in 18 to 24 months,” the mayor said. “Two years of litigation means hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, application fees, expert costs, appraisals.”
Through 2040, Haddonfield already is committed to paying some $250,000 annually in debt service on the bonds it issued to acquire the property. The borough anticipates its short-term debt related to the property at $10.325 million, which includes site acquisition costs and the estimated $1 million it has already spent to demolish certain structures there.
The borough previously paid $3 million to purchase the 11-acre Radnor Field parcel from the Haddonfield Board of Education ($1.5 million in New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres funds, plus a $1.5-million municipal match).
As part of that deal, however, Bianco Bezich said that the borough is on the hook for demolition of Cooley Hall on the school-board-owned property, which is proving both costly and complex.
“The Board of Education would like to have that done as soon as possible,” she said. “The challenge for us has been the demolition of a building that includes asbestos and hazardous material. I don’t think anyone before us assumed that would cost $1 million.”
In February, Haddonfield signed a conditional agreement with Haddonfield Development Group, LLC, to restore and repurpose historic Lullworth Hall — which sits on 1.42 acres that were carved out of the redevelopment plan — into four residential units, including a detached carriage house overlooking a planned garage there.
Haddonfield has also sought help from the Camden County Commissioners to potentially cover costs associated with passive recreation space at the Bancroft parcel, but thus far, conversations remain only preliminary.
Whatever form the proposals take, at Monday’s press conference, all three commissioners underscored their desire to resolve the longstanding issues surrounding redevelopment of the site, particularly as the three are midway through their elected term.
Even if they don’t share the same idea of what might be the best fit there, “we want to move the ball forward,” Bianco Bezich said.
“The RFP represents the opportunity for us to collaborate,” the mayor continued. “I have confidence in the three of us working together to make sure it’s in the best interests of the taxpayers.
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