This year in Haddonfield saw news on the Bancroft property, an interest in the Boxwood property for a theater and cultural center, the library’s upgrades and reopening, a school district bond referendum and a other host of issues. As Haddonfield moves toward a new year, here’s a recap of just some of the events that made headlines in The Sun throughout 2016.
Haddonfield Public Schools bond referendum is approved
In 2015, Haddonfield Public Schools had architect Steven A. Becica and his engineers reviewed HPS facilities in terms of mechanical systems, electrical systems, exterior needs, foundations, brick and roofing. The team went through each building to see what needed to be addressed for a bond referendum to update the school’s facilities.
In December 2015, the bond referendum was estimated to cost $40.9 million. However, an accounting mistake was made and the real numbers for the bond referendum were revealed to be $35.3 million with an estimated yearly tax impact of $300.49 for the average assessed home at $484,226. These numbers were based on a 25-year bond with an interest rate of 3.53 percent.
The referendum was split into two questions, with the second question having a part A and B. Q1 addressed critical needs, including steel, brick and mortar components that keep the buildings standing, the roofs from leaking, and the doors and windows functioning. Also included was the replacement of inefficient and failing HVAC systems, and replacement of outdated communications systems essential for security. Q2A addressed air conditioning key parts of each school, and Building Automation System Control to operate utilities with modern efficiency. Q2B addressed critical repairs at the high school stadium and track. Without those restorations, use of the stadium and track would have been significantly restricted.
Residents approved all three parts in a March 8 vote.
In July, the sale of the $35.3 million in bonds came in at a significantly better cost than the district had originally estimated. After the sale of these bonds, the tax impact will be $258.66 per household a year over a 20-year time period.
Rob Notley of New Roads Construction, which is working on the projects with Becica, gave the board an update in October. As of now, things are on schedule. Bids are planned to open March 1 and a contract awarded a few weeks later.
Bigger projects to be done over the summer include asbestos abatement, the high school cafeteria construction and the stadium.
The Board of Education unanimously approved the 2016–2017 school year budget at its April 28 meeting. The budget general fund is $36.1 million. It resulted in the average home assessed at $488,481 paying an increase of $172.61 per year in school taxes.
The budget has a total tax levy for the general fund at $33.7 million, which is a 2.28 percent increase over 2015–2016. This included the use of a 2 percent tax levy, an allowed adjustment to go over the 2 percent cap for enrollment and health-care costs and a reduction from the Debt Service Fund.
The school district received $1.31 million in state aid, which is an increase of $33,950, due to more students coming in the 2016–2017 year.
A significant decrease from the revenues in the budget was in tuition with a loss of $98,000. This was due to tuition students graduating as well as not having the space to include more tuition students.
Additions to the budget included a part-time maintenance engineer and a new special education program. The new staff hire was for preventative maintenance of the school district’s facilities. The new program will be a savings of $95,000 because of consolidation of services. It is a one-year pilot program.
No other additions or cuts to staff or programs were made.
The newly passed bond referendum numbers were not included in the 2016–2017 budget. The bonds will not be sold until July, and because of that, the first payment would not be due until the following year, which will be included in the 2017–2018 budget.
Other school happenings
• Newly elected BOE members Adam M. Sangillo, Susan Kutner and Joshua Drew were sworn in for three-year terms after being chosen by residents in the November 2015 elections. Glenn Moramarco was re-elected as president of the board, and Kutner was voted in as vice president.
Board members Drew Hansen, Carlton Chin and Joshua Drew resigned from their positions on the BOE throughout 2016. Hansen was replaced by previous board member Maureen Eyles, Chin was replaced by newcomer Matt Ritter, and Drew was replaced by newcomer Robert “Bob” Little.
• Board members Mary Fagan, Matt Ritter, David Siedell and Maureen Eyles were re-elected to the board in the November election. Also, Haddonfield business administrator Christopher Oberg was replaced by interim business administrator/board secretary John J. Deserable, as Oberg’s two-year term with the district was up.
• The BOE approved a shared service agreement with the borough in regard to the stadium lights project. HPS had to take down the lights due to rotting wooden poles. Wooden light poles are no longer approved, according to Superintendent Richard Perry. Since recreation teams often use the school’s lighting, HPS and the borough are sharing costs.
• After the results of the November presidential election, 25 Haddonfield Memorial High School students went out before students returned to school to write positive chalk messages on the sidewalk of the school. The purpose was to spread positive messages in hopes of letting students who felt they were negatively affected by the election feel as if they are in a positive, loving and supportive community.
• The BOE approved the 2017–2018 academic calendars, 7–1. Board member Matthew Ritter opposed and Heather Paoli was absent from the meeting. School will start a week later next year to accommodate for construction from the bond referendum projects. According to the 2017–2018 draft calendar, school will be closed to students until Sept. 11. School normally opens the day after Labor Day. Major changes include the reduction of fall break from a week to two days and spring break from a week to three days. There are no days off in October. The Thanksgiving break and winter break will not change. School will also be closed on Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ Day and Memorial Day
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Borough purchases Bancroft property
In the spring of 2015, Recovery Centers of America CEO and developer J. Brian O’Neill announced his intent to purchase the Bancroft property and put in a drug and alcohol treatment facility. This sparked a controversy across town, as many residents felt the facility was too close to two of the borough’s public schools.
In September 2015, commissioners asked for a reinvestigation of the Bancroft property to determine if it is a redevelopment area, as a reassertion of the 2005 ruling and to create redevelopment plans for the area.
At the October 2015 Planning Board meeting, planner Philip Caton of the Trenton firm Clarke Caton Hintz, representing the borough, gave his testimony as to why the Bancroft site should be listed as a redevelopment area. Caton listed five conditions at the site that are persistent problems, qualifying Bancroft for redevelopment — parking, traffic circulation, storm water management, impervious surface coverage, and the conditions of its buildings and grounds.
The ruling was tabled twice last year by O’Neill’s holding company, II Hopkins Lane, LLC’s attorney Jack Plackter. With the second tabling, Plackter revealed a tentative agreement signing over the Bancroft property to Haddonfield was very close to being reached.
The Planning Board unanimously declared the Bancroft property an area in need of redevelopment at its meeting on Jan. 5 with no opposition.
Not a week later, borough commissioners revealed an agreement of purchase between O’Neill’s company and the borough. The agreement had a $12.9 million sale price, split between Bancroft at $11.5 million — the same price O’Neill offered, according to Mayor Jeff Kasko — and O’Neill’s company at $1.4 million.
Under the agreement, Bancroft will continue to operate on the site until its move to a new facility in Mt. Laurel in two years. In that time, Bancroft will pay a lease to the borough for the property. The agreement will also see an option for 2 Hopkins Lane, LLC to buy back 8.2 acres for $5.5 million to develop age-targeted townhomes, pursuant to an adopted redevelopment plan. The developer has an opt-out to not buy the acres, with the borough paying an additional $600,000, covering O’Neill’s costs from the rehab center proposal. The price per acre O’Neill would pay is the same price per acre as the borough paid.
Commissioners also approved the redevelopment designation allowing the borough to hire a planner and have it draft a plan for the redevelopment of the property.
A plan was presented and approved by the Planning Board on March 17. The goal of the Bancroft redevelopment plan is to expand the public open space in Haddonfield for active and passive recreation, foster the development of an age-targeted and affordable residential development, provide room for the expansion of Board of Education facilities, and retain the 1886 Lullworth Hall and other historic facilities on site.
Within this overall redevelopment goal, the plan establishes a set of objectives based on public input conveyed over the many years during which Bancroft property redevelopment has been considered.
Changes to the plan due to board and public comments include adding historic sites on the Bancroft property to parts of the plan that were left out; considering the impact of any active recreational consideration on not only the development area, but also the surrounding existing elements; ensuring that 75 percent of the age-targeted housing units made would have a master bedroom downstairs; and changing affordable housing to 12.5 percent of the total number of dwelling units if it exceeds 80 units.
The full redevelopment plan report can be found on the borough website by clicking “Bancroft Site Redevelopment Plan” atwww.haddonfieldnj.org/latest_news/index.php. This plan is not set in stone and can be modified through the same redevelopment process.
The Planning Board gave approval of the redevelopment plans in March, and the commissioners did the same in April.
According to Kasko, there would be little to no tax increase due to resources being used to pay for the bonds. Those resources are payment from the developer, open space monies, rent from the Bancroft institution and the eventual taxpayers on the property.
Commissioners approved an ordinance to appropriate $13.5 million in bonds or notes for the purchase of the property, with the agreement being signed on June 29.
“I feel happy and relieved that we are finally getting this done and are now able to move forward,” Kasko said.
Arts group expresses interest in Boxwood Hall for theater and cultural center
In October, a committee called Boxwood Arts Theater and Cultural Center announced it is exploring the feasibility of a theater and arts center at 65 N. Haddon Ave, also known as the Boxwood Hall property. The three main organizations working behind the committee are Haddonfield Plays & Players, the Markeim Arts Center and Dance Haddonfield.
“The want is to create a cultural center to make a statement in South Jersey that the arts are here. We want this to be a place where artists can celebrate their crafts and people can come to enjoy it. There is nothing else (in South Jersey) like it,” Dave Stavetski, president of Haddonfield Plays & Players, said. “Boxwood Hall is the perfect site because there is easy access to PATCO and (downtown) shopping, and a beautiful wooded back lot, which we will preserve, to coincide with the aesthetics of the new center.”
The borough purchased the 18th-century house along with a 20th-century house and 1.4 surrounding acres for $1.8 million in 2014.
The group envisions the heritage-protected building at the front of the property, built by John Estaugh Hopkins in 1799, would become gallery space for the Markeim Arts Center. A 365-seat theater to be built behind the house would be a new performance space for Haddonfield Plays & Players and provide a venue for lecture series and other cultural and musical events. And a multi-purpose space below the theater would include a competition-quality ballroom/dance floor for Dance Haddonfield.
“Boxwood Gardens,” the woods at the rear of the property, described as “overflowing with Haddonfield history,” would be preserved and made accessible to the public for cultural and educational purposes.
Since the project is still in the conceptual stage, plans and cost estimates are not available to the public. However, Stavetski said Boxwood Arts has been consulting with Arcari + Iovino Architects, the firm that worked with the renovation of the library, and an inclusive design consultant, to make sure the center would embrace the needs of those with all abilities.
Concepts and illustrations of the Boxwood Arts plans were released in October, showing the Boxwood Arts committee’s ideas on paper.
According to a press release, if the vision were to become a reality, it is likely the borough would continue to own the property and a community-based non-profit corporation would manage it under a long-term lease. Funds for new construction, conservation of the grounds and renovation of Boxwood Hall would be raised from private sources and preservation grants, Stavetski said.
The Boxwood Arts committee has not moved forward with its plans. If it decides to go forward, the committee would have to go through various boards such as the Historic Preservation Committee, the Zoning Board and the Planning Board, as well as allowing time for public comment, before approval. Commissioner John Moscatelli said the property is zoned R2 with an R0 overly, a single-family residence with office district overlay, so an arts center is not in complying use.
After one denial and many months of Planning Board meetings, the possibility of the house at 605 Warwick Road coming down and the land being subdivided into three lots finally came to fruition.
At a special meeting on Feb. 10, the Planning Board unanimously approved the application from applicant/developer Mark DeFeo on the subdivision of the property, with conditions. The board gave approval of the application, as long as the conditions made by the board are kept.
The proposal, originally given at the December 2015 planning board meeting, had a 13,000 square foot lot fronted by Warwick Road, a 15,600 square foot lot fronted by Warwick and Gill roads, and a 21,400 square foot lot fronted by Treaty Elm Lane and Gill Road. The application also addressed the concerns the Planning Board had from the previously denied application, including stormwater management, lot depth, lot lines, parking areas and traffic.
To be sure the future developers and owners of the property don’t deviate from the proposed plans, the Planning Board made a number of conditions that must be followed during development as well as in the future, including the creation of a homeowners association that will have the responsibility to ensure the stormwater manager system is properly maintained.
If the developer or owner wants to deviate from the proposed conditions, he or she is required to come back to the Planning Board for approval.
When everything came to a vote, the board had to approve its prior determination that no lot depth variance was required, the deviations from the two-year percent reduction and 2.5-inch drain, and the application with the set conditions. All members of the board there that night unanimously approved each prerequisite and the application.
The Planning Board gave final approval of the redevelopment in April.
Haddonfield Public Library renovations finish and officially opens in September
The Haddonfield Library, which began construction at its present site, 60 N. Haddon Ave., in 1917 and was completed in 1919, has been around for almost 100 years.
Because of its age, the library was in need of improvements, not only structurally, but also for compliance with American with Disabilities Act and 21st century technology. Commissioners approved the renovation of the library and awarded bids in April 2015.
Construction on the library continued throughout 2015 into 2016, undergoing $2.2 million of renovations. The opening of the library was given a number of dates by which the library would be open; however it was not officially open to the public until Aug. 8, taking around 15 months to complete the reconstruction.
Building improvements made included an almost 2,000 square foot, three-floor addition on the Tanner Street side of the building, making ADA improvements such as elevators and handicap bathrooms as well as adding fire egress stairs; upgrading the fire system; adding a new roof; improving the heating and air-conditioning system; removing the stairs in the teen room, allowing for more space; opening the children’s area; creating more open meeting room; and upgrading the electrical components to support technology.
As for aesthetic improvements, the spaces of the library are being used in different and unique ways to provide support and accessibility, all the while maintaining the aesthetic of the library itself. Systems have been upgraded, but older aesthetic, architectural items remain, including terrazzo, a mosaic and moldings.
Some aesthetic changes made include the front entrance being more open, using the old fireplaces to its advantage; a new circulation desk added; the public computers moved to one space and upgraded for 21st century learning; the teen room includes a meeting space; the fiction section is now on the main floor; the nonfiction section is upstairs; the children’s department is more open and colorful and includes a children’s destination space; new technologies are available throughout the library; and different choices in color and furniture were made.
A grand opening ceremony for the library was held on Sept. 17 with a ribbon cutting and fun activities for all ages.
During the time of the redevelopment, Eric Zino, who was acting library director, was named library director effective July 5.
Zino said the library is planning to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year and will continue that celebration through 2019.
Borough commissioners approved the municipal budget for 2016 at their meeting on March 22. The budget included an increase of $36 in municipal taxes for the average assessed home at $488,481 per year.
The borough budget was $16.2 million, of which $10.3 million would be raised through property taxes. This puts the tax rate at $0.49 per $100 of assessed property value, which is an increase of 1.49 percent over last year.
For the average assessed home at $488,481, municipal taxes will go from $2,379 to $2,414.
Employee salaries, benefits and pension payments made up 51 percent of the borough budget, totaling $8.3 million, going up by $470,945. This increase is mainly due to cost shifting of expenses from the water and sewer utility to the current fund and a 53rd week of pay that falls in 2016. A cost-of-living increase averaging 1.5 percent was granted to non-union employees and the police.
For the sixth year in a row, it was anticipated state funding would be flat at $981,000.
The borough’s annual road program continues to play a large part in the capital budget, with the commissioners funding $1.7 million for road reconstruction and design. Through the proceeds from the sale of the water and sewer utility, the borough was able to liquidate most current debt. This enabled the commissioners to increase the amount of cash for the road program, which would allow the borough to complete more road projects.
General borough happenings
• The Markeim Arts Center was founded in 1956. It was formerly the Haddonfield Arts & Crafts League in 1954, but in 1956 Bessie and J. William Markeim gave the current building, at 104 Walnut St., to the organization and it changed its name to the Markeim Arts & Craft League. In 1989, the name became Markeim Art Center, and last year it changed once again to Markeim Arts Center.
“The plural ‘arts’ is important as we are really striving to embrace all of the arts,” Bob Hochgertel, chief operating officer of MAC, said.
For 60 years, the MAC has been providing exhibition opportunities to regional artists, education to the community, camps and workshops for children of all ages. It also has provided art training for students with disabilities and hosted exhibitions for autistic artists.
Markeim Arts Center celebrated its 60th anniversary with a gala fundraiser and a “Diamonds are Forever” exhibition in January.
• Commissioners approved an ordinance that prohibits smoking in the following places: inside all Haddonfield municipal buildings and within a 25-foot radius of the entrance of all municipal buildings; all public parks and recreation facilities owned or leased by Haddonfield and all property owned or leased by Haddonfield, including all areas adjacent to facilities such as parking areas, driveways or drive aisles; and any motor vehicle registered to the borough. Each area would be designated with a clearly visible “no smoking” sign. Violators are subject to a fine not to exceed $200.
• Interfaith Caregivers, a nonprofit organization that provides services such as driving, meals and visiting to seniors 65 years and older and those with disabilities in Haddonfield and Haddon Heights, celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala and fundraiser in April.
• In August, the borough launched its new website, meant to be more aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly and easier to navigate both on a computer and on mobile devices. The borough website remains at www.haddonfieldnj.org.
• Haddon Fire Company №1 held its 50th Fire Prevention Night on Oct. 13, combining safety education and fun.
• Haddonfield’s Open Space Trust Fund will continue, after 73.84 percent of voters approved of the one municipal question on the November ballot.
With the passing of the question, the maximum tax for the open space tax levy that could be collected is one cent, which would raise approximately $225,000 each year. This equates to $49 per year for the borough’s averaged assessed property of $488,481.
Borough commissioners have the right to assess the open space tax at less than the maximum amount each year. For the past few years, commissioners have not authorized the full assessment. Right now, the borough collects at a half cent.
The Open Space Trust Fund can be used for the purchase of land for active recreation such as sports fields, passive recreation such as walking trails and parks, and conservation of open space; the development of active and passive recreation on borough-owned land; the maintenance cost for any recreation areas owned by the borough; the purchase and maintenance of historic preservation purposes; and the maintenance of existing historic properties.
Having such a fund also allows Haddonfield to apply for double the amount of state Green Acres Program grants to help purchase open space. For example, Haddonfield could apply for 50 percent of the purchase price of a property rather than 25 percent.
Every year, there would be a public audit of all expenditures.
• In November and December, New Jersey American Water began an $8 million “facelift” for a portion of the water and sewer system in Haddonfield. The project includes building three new sewer lift stations on Atlantic Avenue, Coles Mill Road and Roberts Avenue, and replacing the existing water and sewer utilities around these sites. Together, these projects will better meet peak flows, improve service reliability, reduce service disruptions and relocate utilities out of environmentally sensitive areas.
Weather permitting, these projects, including final paving and restoration, will be completed by the end of summer.
• The Partnership for Haddonfield and the borough announced 20 businesses have signed up to participate in the newly launched “Shop Haddonfield” Property Tax Reward Program. That number is expected to continue to grow.
The Property Tax Reward Program is a new special tax-incentive program that allows Haddonfield homeowners to earn a property tax credit each time a purchase is made at a local business participating in the program.
“Shop Haddonfield” cards were distributed to all Haddonfield residents the first week of December. When shopping at a participating business using the special “Shop Haddonfield” reward card, a percentage of each purchase is applied as a credit to the homeowner’s property tax bill. A full list of participating businesses and their tax reward offers, as well as further information, can also be found on atwww.PropertyTaxCard.com/ShopHaddonfield.
• Commissioners approved an ordinance on first reading restricting pet shops to the sale of dogs or cats under certain conditions. According to the ordinance, a pet shop may offer for sale only those dogs and cats obtained from or displays in cooperation with either an animal care facility, an animal rescue organization or breed specific hobby breeder.
In September 2015, Camden County freeholders initiated a countywide movement by passing a resolution offering enforcement services to any municipality that passed “Norman’s Law,” an ordinance named for a shelter dog adopted by Freeholder Jeffrey Nash. The law prohibits pet stores operating in Camden County from selling animals from breeders operating inhumane puppy mills.
Since then, more than 125 anti-puppy mill ordinances have been enacted nationwide, banning pet stores from getting their animals from commercial breeders.
Haddonfield is the second-to-last municipality in the county to adopt such an ordinance.