Fair Share Housing Center is appealing to build affordable housing on the Woodcrest Country Club property, which First Montgomery Group, a Marlton-based real estate consortium, purchased in May.
“Over my dead body will this precious property be destroyed in favor of high-density development,” said Jeffrey Nash, Camden County freeholder.
The housing center is attempting to overturn the state Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to exclude the country club from the township’s sewer plan, using a 1993 injunction as legal leverage.
According to Nash, the county and Cherry Hill Township worked together to purchase the property, and despite not holding the winning bid, the two are working to maintain the property as a golf course or open space.
According to court documents, Cherry Hill is responsible for fulfilling its “affordable housing obligation in light of the scarcity of land in the township.”
The document further states that if numerous properties became available until 1999, including Woodcrest Country Club, the township must accommodate an affordable housing development.
According to Fair Share Housing Center lawyer Kevin Walsh, if the affordable housing obligation isn’t met, it carries over until development has occurred.
“Fair Share Housing is chomping at the bit to build low-income housing,” Nash said. “I’m not against [affordable housing]. What I’m against is tearing up a piece of historical property — it’s an outrage.”
Fair Share Housing has explored other locations in the township to develop, but no other properties are available, Walsh said.
According to Walsh, the housing “is for people who are almost always fully employed but can’t afford the state’s expensive living cost.”
“Twenty-five percent of New Jersey’s population qualifies for this type of housing,” Walsh said. “We want to give people the opportunity to live in Cherry Hill that may not otherwise be able to afford it.”
The housing center is seeking to appeal to the DEP to cancel a “long-established responsibility so they can develop on the property.” The county has the final say in the decision on the sewage, Nash said.
“The owners should have known the county has to approve sewer connections and the county has no intention to do so,” Nash said. “We find it to be very unfortunate. I think it’s a fruitless effort on their part. It’s a frivolous effort.”
Walsh says that both the township and county were aware of the obligation and should not be surprised an appeal has been filed in favor of housing development.
Fair Share Housing is prepared to sue First Montgomery Group if it does not comply with the obligation, according to Walsh.
“We made it abundantly clear to the owners if they don’t use the property for housing we’d sue them,” Walsh said.
First Montgomery Group could not be reached for comment.
According to Nash, the county has little-to-no space left for sewage. Additionally, the area is too congested for more traffic. The township and county are prepared to deny any rezoning appeal the housing organization may file.
“They’re presuming it will be rezoned by the township just because the property falls in the hands of a residential developer,” Nash said. “It would be a frivolous lawsuit [against First Montgomery Group] because it isn’t available for residential construction, period. Unless there is a zoning change, any developer cannot build on that property, and I will fight that to the death.”
In May, First Montgomery Group purchased the parcel of land, with a winning bid that was almost $4 million higher than the appraised value of the property, according to a release from Camden County.
According to a county release at the time of the bid, the freeholder board will continue to work to save the integrity of the property and preserve the parcel in the same way it has existed over the last 100 years.
“We were very disappointed [we didn’t get the property], but FMG paid twice the value,” Nash said. “We made it clear we wanted it reserved as a golf course or open space. We’re not going to permit them to develop it into a high-density project.”
According to the county release, Mayor Chuck Cahn was definitive in his support for the zoning of the property and the preservation of the land.
“Together with the county, we put our best foot forward in trying to acquire the property. I am disheartened by the outcome, but our position has not changed: Council and I do not want to see this site developed, and we will not support any change in zoning,” Cahn said.
“Cherry Hill has generally done a bad job with complying with the state’s housing laws. They’ve only done what a court has required them to do,” Walsh said.
According to a county release, Woodcrest Country Club is a par-71 layout in the southwest corner of Cherry Hill adjacent to two heavily traveled county roadways, between Route 561 and Evesham Road. The facility lies geographically in the center of Camden County. The golf club dates back to 1929, when Camden City’s Jewish population was barred at other golf courses and started their own.
“I have been passionate about many projects, but this is one of the most important, and we’re not going to give up this fight,” Nash said. “It’s so meaningful to every resident in that area. It would be a community tragedy to be in favor of more housing.”