Mayor’s Message — Harrison Township’s sidewalk program

Mayor Louis Manzo: ‘The program defines the projects necessary to create the “walkable” community we envision’

In a recent conversation with some residents I mentioned our sidewalk program in Harrison Township, and one of the residents chuckled, “we have a sidewalk program?” Yes, we do!

The sidewalk topic, which is very popular, is part of a much larger initiative officially known as the Harrison Township Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan, published in 2013. You can view the whole 57-page report on the township website under the “Boards/Commissions” tab. Click on “Joint Land Use Board” — you will see a link to our “master plan,” and on that page you will find the “Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Amendment 2013.”

The scope of this study and resulting plan is all encompassing, as it addresses the overall connectivity issues we face and defines the projects necessary to create the “walkable” community we envision. Part of this plan focuses on the existing “gaps” throughout town that fail to connect housing subdivisions to Main Street or other destination points, like shopping centers or our park system. Thankfully, the housing slump of 2008–09 allowed us to take a step back and devise a strategy to remedy the oversights in the approval process of residential and commercial development of our community.

Beyond the high aesthetic and material standards in place, we established a connectivity requirement to the approval process going forward. Thus, future developers would be expected to include off-site sidewalks connecting their project to a nearby destination, be it a main roadway, shopping center or park. Unfortunately, that mindset did not exist in the late 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s when construction approvals were granted during our growth surge.

This new philosophy and corresponding guideline addresses the future, but the existing “gaps” were another matter. The obvious “fix” was simply to install sidewalks in the numerous areas we identified throughout town that lacked the desired connectivity. The roadblock is obvious as well — it’s costly and we run a tight budget. Therefore, we expanded our future sidewalk philosophy by asking current project developers to fill some of the existing gaps. I’m pleased to say the first of those agreements will be evident soon.

As part of the approval for the notable renovations of the Mullica West complex, Rukenstein & Associates, the developer, agreed to invest $750,000 in off-site improvements throughout Mullica Hill. This includes a much-needed retaining wall supporting the hill on the southwest corner of Mullica Hill Pond. They will also connect Main Street to the pond by installing sidewalks and street lamps from the bridge, up the hill. In addition, they will provide new sidewalks connecting Mullica West to Main Street, as well as fill in the gaps walking south on Main Street from Commissioners Road, past the Municipal Building, and connecting to the crosswalk at Mullica Hill Plaza.

These are exciting additions to the feel of our community that is 100 percent privately financed, which makes it even better. There are other similar projects in the near future that will connect the pond to the sub-divisions immediately east on Route 322 and wrap around the point at Clems Run/Bypass to connect to the William Wilt Soccer Complex. Again, all financed as off-site improvements from other approved projects.

We appreciate the partnerships we have developed and are excited about how this will enhance our community.