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Woodcrest Country Club to be preserved, township ends decades of affordable housing litigation

The entire moment went by in a matter of two minutes.

Cherry Hill Council approved a pair of resolutions that, according to Mayor Chuck Cahn and members of council, will have a bigger impact on Cherry Hill than any resolution in recent memory.

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Cherry Hill Council approved a pair of tentative agreements with Cherry Hill Land Associates LLC and Fair Share Housing Center and the Camden and Burlington County branches of the NAACP to resolve litigation regarding Woodcrest Country Club and affordable housing in the township.

The settlements, if approved in New Jersey Superior Court later this year, will preserve Woodcrest Country Club as a golf course and open space as well as end a nearly 30-year legal battle between the township and affordable housing groups.

“It will be one of the most significant nights in the history of Cherry Hill,” Cahn said.

The two settlements each addressed different issues. The agreement with Cherry Hill Land Associates, owner and operator of Woodcrest Country Club, would preserve the country club as a golf course. Cherry Hill Township would purchase the development rights of the property for no more than $3.99 million and keep the property deed-restricted for use as a golf course. CHLA would continue to operate the country club.

“It will permanently preserve the Woodcrest Country Club property,” Cahn said.

Cherry Hill Land Associates, an affiliate of First Montgomery Group of Marlton, purchased Woodcrest Country Club in May 2013 at a bankruptcy auction for $10.1 million. CHLA proposed to build more than 800 affordable housing units on the site and sued the township for the right to build on the property. The township opposed any development since the purchase.

The agreement with Fair Share Housing Center and NAACP emphasizes the direction the township is looking toward with development. The settlement gives the township a judgment of compliance and repose, stating Cherry Hill has satisfied its affordable housing obligations and prevents developers from demanding the right to develop on a specific property in the future.

“The township and our zoning laws will determine the most appropriate uses for all of our land in our community so we can continue to act in the best interest of Cherry Hill,” Cahn said.

The agreement will also allow Fair Share Housing Center to move forward with a 54-unit affordable housing development in the Short Hills neighborhood.

Kevin Walsh, executive director for Fair Share Housing Center, said the agreement spells out clear goals for the township in regard to affordable housing.

“As one of the most expensive and most segregated states in the country, expanding access to high-quality housing in thriving neighborhoods is the key to fighting inequality and advancing civil rights in New Jersey,” Walsh said. “This settlement will help hundreds of families achieve the dream of sending their children to good schools and improving access to good-paying jobs.”

“Access to high-quality housing with access to transit and good jobs is one of the most pressing civil rights issues facing New Jersey,” said Colandus Francis, president of the Camden County NAACP. “This settlement will help thousands of lower-income families in South Jersey.”

In a statement, Fair Share Housing Center said the agreement “recognizes the great potential of sustainable and fair redevelopment in a town that is nearly built-out, designating outmoded shopping centers, parking lots and offices as places for vibrant and diverse communities.”

The township has focused greatly in the past two years on redeveloping underutilized areas. CHLA owns parcels of land in the Hampton Road and Park Boulevard redevelopment areas near the township’s western border. In the settlement, CHLA has committed to working with the township to revitalize these areas for appropriate uses.

“There are a number of existing developed but underutilized properties in Cherry Hill that need to be redeveloped and revitalized,” Cahn said. “This is where we should promote development, not our open space.”

Members of council unanimously approved both tentative agreements, saying they will shape the development of the township many years down the road.

“This is an historic night for Cherry Hill and will change the landscape for many, many years to come, for our children’s generation,” Councilwoman Melinda Kane said.

Full details of the settlements will not be released until after approval in superior court, which is expected to begin reviewing the settlements in early July and will make a decision later this year.


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