Home Haddonfield News Haddonfield Planning Board tables Bancroft site redevelopment ruling to later date

Haddonfield Planning Board tables Bancroft site redevelopment ruling to later date

At a special planning board meeting last Thursday, planner Philip Caton of the Trenton firm Clarke Caton Hintz, representing the borough, testified as to why the Bancroft site should be listed as a redevelopment area.

A decision by the planning board was not made that night, as after Caton presented his case, attorney Jack Plackter of the Atlantic City-based Fox Rothschild, LLP asked the board for a continuance on behalf of Recovery Centers of America CEO and developer J. Brian O’Neill’s holding company, II Hopkins Lane, LLC due to lack of time to study Caton’s reports and the unavailability of their engineer that night. The planning board unanimously approved the continuation of discussions for redevelopment to be moved to a later date, yet to be determined.

The Bancroft property, a 19-acre plot of land designated as a R2 residential housing area, was determined an area in need of redevelopment in 2005. Currently, the Bancroft parcel is a pre-existing, non-conforming use, as Bancroft is a school that has been on the property since 1883.

Borough commissioners asked for a reinvestigation of the property to determine if it is a redevelopment area, as a reassertion of the 2005 ruling and to create redevelopment plans for the area.

Caton cited two studies, the first prepared by planner Elizabeth McKenzie in 2002, an analysis of zoning issues and recommendations, and the second prepared by the firm Heyer, Gruel & Associates in 2005 naming it a redevelopment area.

Under New Jersey redevelopment and housing law, any of eight criteria must be met to determine a parcel of land as an area for redevelopment. Caton testified that Bancroft qualifies under criterion D, the same as the 2005 study used, which states:

“Areas with buildings or improvements which, by reason of dilapidation, obsolescence, overcrowding, faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation, light and sanitary facilities, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use or obsolete layout, or any combination of these or other factors, are detrimental to the safety, health, morals or welfare of the community.”

“Under normal circumstances, municipalities can be motivated to declare study areas in need of redevelopment so that they improve the options they have to deal with developers on that property,” Caton said. “There are both financing options, taxing options, and additional land-use controls that can be put into place in redevelopment areas that are not available in normal zoning districts.”

Caton listed five conditions at the site that are persistent problems, qualifying Bancroft for redevelopment. Those five conditions were parking, traffic circulation, storm water management, impervious surface coverage, and the conditions of its buildings and grounds.

Some specific examples mentioned were: the lack of parking available to workers; increased traffic flow during peak hours, resulting in congestion; the Bancroft campus is capable of storing 13 percent of the 58,000 square-feet of water required for a property of its size under current state statutes; 50 percent of the property is covered by impervious surfaces, also affecting storm water management; and some of the buildings on the property demonstrated lack of maintenance or deferred maintenance.

During the public comment portion, attorney Jeffrey Baron of the Voorhees firm Baron and Brennan, on retainer for the Haddonfield Citizens Group, which was formed in response to RCA’s plans for acquisition of the Bancroft site to be used as a rehab facility, close to two district schools, testified for Caton’s determination.

“You’ve had three studies done, and it’s been done by three different professional planners, and they’ve all come to the same conclusion: that the Bancroft tract is in need of redevelopment,” Baron said. “That conclusion was reached in 2003, reconfirmed in 2005, and once again reconfirmed by Mr. Caton in 2015. That’s a very telling history.”

After Caton’s testimony and public comment, Plackter asked for a continuation. He stated that he would like his engineer to have the ability to cross-examine Caton, however he was not available that night. Also, the documents that Caton used for his testimony were made available to the public only 10 days prior to the meeting. Due to this, the board unanimously agreed for a continuation of the meeting at a later date.

The next meeting would most likely be a special meeting, according to members of the planning board. However, a date has yet to be determined. Once a date is finalized, it will be advertised on the borough website at www.haddonfield.nj.org.

If the planning board determines the property is an area in need of redevelopment, it will then go back to the commissioners. If commissioners determine the parcels should be designated areas in need of redevelopment, the borough will be authorized to use all of those powers provided under the redevelopment law for use in a redevelopment area, including the power of eminent domain.

“I think this is a smart thing. I think this protects the borough’s interest in the long run and the interests of the residents here, and allows us to make the first step for us to have some control over what happens at that property. So it is a necessary step. I think we are all supportive of it,” Mayor Jeff Kasko said in a previous interview.

According to Kasko, a replacement of the zoning designations might also be possible. Instead of having an R2 residential designation, there could be some kind of mixed use of private and public, with the possibility open to some public use for schools or fields.

“I do envision some mixed public and private use, including some housing and some borough, school or field use in the actual plan, and that is what will be approved to be developed there,” Kasko said.

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