Meet the Candidates in the 2017 Harrison Township Committee Election: Week 3

In the third week, the committee candidates answer questions about the township’s historic district and open space.

The Mullica Hill Sun is running a four-week Meet the Candidates series ahead of this November’s Harrison Township Committee election.

Julie DeLaurentis

1.) What do you envision for the future of the downtown Mullica Hill historic district?

The Mullica Hill Historic District is one of the great opportunities for Harrison Township, with shopping, dining and historical landmarks. Today we are beginning to experience a bit of a renaissance along Main Street with some new businesses that support the small town feel of community that many of us cherish deeply.

So why did our downtown grow while other communities’ business centers have died? The answer is that we have a plan. Lou and our township leaders have protected our community’s historic nature, while encouraging business growth. The Harrison Historical Committee, Economic Development Committee and the Merchants Association all work together with the Joint Land Use Board and of course the Township Committee. This is a team effort. They have designated redevelopment areas within the historic area and initiated Payment in Lieu of Taxes projects.

The Harrison Recreation Commission is also part of the team and works to create and run events that bring people into our town, both residents and out of town visitors. Lights on Main, Harrison Township Day, Second Saturday programs and the Civil War Reenactment are all designed to promote our town, our history and our businesses.

As we can all see, the plan is a work in progress that is working. I have been an active member of our community for many years and I would continue to keep our plan moving forward and help all parties involved to collectively build our Main Street experience. Together we will achieve great things — it is a fundamental difference in our approach as compared to our opponents.

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2.) How would you continue to protect the rural character of Harrison Township’s open space and farmland communities?

Farmland protection is a shared concern in our community. I’ve been a resident for more than 25 years and I was a witness to our township’s rapid expansion from early 2000 to 2009. I’m very happy that the growth of our community slowed and we’ve maintained our rural-agricultural character.

Why is Harrison Township’s open space and farmland so important? Besides the aesthetics that we all love, farms provide food and jobs. Farmland and open space provide important environmental benefits such as flood control, wetlands and watersheds, and habitat for wildlife. Farming is an integral part of the country’s heritage, of our township’s heritage. Family owned farms have been passed down from generation to generation, creating our unique character and contributing to our quality of life.

The township’s master plan has always emphasized the need for open space and farmland. Current zoning and planning protects our town from becoming the next Washington Township. I’d continue the township’s support of the Right to Farm Act. Additionally, I would work with our local government’s Conservation Committee and Green Team to raise awareness of the importance of farmland and open space by implementing exciting, yet educational events for our schools and community.

Finally, I would continue to work with Lou and the committee to build our bipartisan approach and work closely with the state and county officials to get the necessary support and funding we need locally. This is very important. The bipartisan relationships we have built have resulted in millions of funding dollars coming to our town. This includes funding from the state’s Green Acres program and the county’s Open Space Preservation Program. The Previous leadership did not believe in a bipartisan approach, and we received next to nothing. Going back to partisan politics would truly hurt us on so many levels. Fundamentally this is where we differ from others running for Township Committee. Being Independents reflects our bipartisan philosophy and the direct benefit to everyone in Harrison Township.

Louis Manzo

1.) What do you envision for the future of the downtown Mullica Hill historic district?

Our historic district has always been an attraction to Mullica Hill. Many people believe that the street has more potential — I am one of those people. Over the years, we have taken steps to improve the Main Street experience. Going forward, I would continue the same efforts that led to establishing the positive programs now in place.

The fact is, everything we do is rooted in providing opportunities for our local businesses to thrive and programs like “Second Saturdays” have been very successful on that front. Many of our annual events now serve as anchors for Second Saturday events, such as the Civil War Weekend and Ghost Walk this past weekend. There are the spring and fall festivals, Harrison Township Day, the Antiques Street Fair and the Art Festival, culminating with the Christmas House Tour and Candlelight Shopping. No list of events would be complete without Lights on Main, which has been voted the best event in Gloucester County four years running. It’s all about bringing the community together and exposure for our local businesses.

In 2012, we moved forward with the streetscaping plan on South Main Street, which added new sidewalks, streetlamps and brick crosswalks, along with larger flowerpots. Aesthetics matter. The historic structures on Main Street are a beautiful backdrop, but they also serve as an obstacle in some cases. Attracting desired businesses to available properties requires a transition from private residence to commercial destination. The cost for renovations can be significant.

Recognizing the cost issue, we initiated a program in 2016 that will be game changer. We took the bold step of designating our entire Main Street historic district a redevelopment zone. This will allow for flexibility in any desired renovations and most importantly, it will give us the ability to enter into a PILOT agreement with property owners, thus giving them an incentive to make improvements to their property.

The record of action speaks volumes to our Main Street commitment. If elected I will stay focused on realizing the potential, while maintaining its charm.

2.) How would you continue to protect the rural character of Harrison Township’s open space and farmland communities?

As most people know, Harrison Township was the fastest growing town in New Jersey prior to the housing slump of 2008–09. In 1980, we were a rural farming community of 3,000 residents anchored by a historic Main Street. By 2008, 12,000 people called Harrison home and all I can say is: “thank goodness for the housing slump.” This allowed us to take a step back and properly plan for future growth and address the “sprawl” that occurs with rapid development.

Maintaining green and open space is a big component of that plan. As a resident, I’d prefer the housing population to stop now. But as an elected official, I respect that landowners can choose to sell their land to a developer and our job is to ensure the resulting development is beneficial to the community. Therefore, protecting the rural character of Harrison Township has been imbedded in our philosophy over the last 10 years.

There are a few ways to permanently preserve land. The County Farmland Preservation program is the most obvious and more than 1,500 acres have been preserved in that manner. The county and local open space programs also guarantee no development and we have more than 150 acres designated as such. Finally, the township has strategically purchased properties adjacent to our parks to allow for future expansion, if needed. The dual objective was to also eliminate housing approvals on those properties, thus controlling population growth.

If elected I will stay the course of this successful philosophy that will guarantee we maintain a rural aspect to our community and control the population growth.

Lisa A. Rotte

1.) What do you envision for the future of the downtown Mullica Hill historic district?

Our vision for the future of the downtown Mullica Hill Historic District is one of residential and small businesses co-mingled in harmony and prosperity.

Mullica Hill has an amazing history and has managed to keep the rich historic feel by protecting the integrity of the buildings that line Main Street. Soon, the residents of Harrison Township will be witnessing a change in appearance to Naples Restaurant and that establishment will have a bar. We will see a liquor store be built on Route 77 in front of Future Fitness.

While Jacci and I are all for growth and moving forward, we believe we can do this in a way the essence of our town is protected while it still grows and modernizes. We also envision more diversity in the way of small businesses on Main Street. We hope to attract, and have been contacted by, small businesses and shops that hope to bring more opportunities and choices for shoppers to Mullica Hill.

While we hope to offer a different array of shopping venues we, again, will preserve the essence of what Mullica Hill has always been. We will work with current residents that have been trying to restore and enhance their homes so they can get the renovations they desire done quickly and more cost effectively. We want people to move to Main Street and want to maintain and beautify what is already there. Jacci and I want to see downtown Mullica Hill thrive and be prosperous co-mingled in harmony with the families and homeowners that live along Main Street.

2.) How would you continue to protect the rural character of Harrison Township’s open space and farmland communities?

The rural character of Harrison Township’s open space and farmland communities is a major factor in why my husband and I chose to move to Mullica Hill almost three years ago. We loved the feel of living in an area where you were not living on top of each other; you could bike ride and run for miles from your driveway and you had ample choices of farm stands and nurseries. We have all this and yet commercial development for shopping is within a 15-minute drive.

As I have learned and witnessed over the last six months, there has been an onslaught of redevelopment studies of our farmland in Harrison Township along with the possibility of development. This is especially true along Route 322 from Wawa towards Main Street and Route 77 toward Main Street. We believe that all this redevelopment can, and will, change the essence of our town, which we want to protect.

We would rather turn our efforts, at this point, into welcoming new residents and new businesses to homes and buildings that are vacant than build new and try to fill those. We believe in fixing what exists now as a problem before creating more problems. Jacci and I are for protecting the farmlands and open space that we have now, and protecting the integrity of our township and fixing existing problems. Too much Development too quickly, while still having abandoned and empty homes and businesses, is not good for this community, or any community. We will protect the heritage and essence of Mullica Hill, and while doing this it will entice people and businesses to stay.

Jacqueline Vigilante

1.) What do you envision for the future of the downtown Mullica Hill historic district?

We are very fortunate to live in a town that has such a rich history, dating well back into the 17th century. As a community, we all benefit from the 1991 registration of Mullica Hill on the national and state Registries of Historic Places. That recognition was key in preserving the 300-plus years of history that Mullica Hill represents. We also benefit from, and should have deep gratitude for, those who own properties in the historic district and who devote so much time and energy to their care and maintenance.

As a college history major, Mullica Hill’s past is a highlight of living here. I value that history and envision a Main Street district that continues to showcase our history, while supporting growth of its existing and future businesses. We are soon going to welcome a bar that will be opened at Naples at the Warehouse. While this will be new to our historic district and to Harrison as a whole, originally Mullica Hill boasted two taverns many years ago. Our goal will be to welcome that change while maintaining our history.

As a team, Lisa and I intend to provide support for the existing businesses, which make their home on Main Street to create greater opportunities for growth and prosperity. Specifically, we will seek grants such as those available through entities such as the state Historic Preservation Office, which administers programs and services for places like Mullica Hill on the National Register of Historic Places programs, including tax incentives, easements, grants, technical assistance and educational programs. Our plan is to use these resources to support existing businesses and to revitalize waning ventures so the economic development on our historic district can compete with the future commercial development that is currently planned.

2.) How would you continue to protect the rural character of Harrison Township’s open space and farmland communities?

For many years now, a large part of Harrison Township’s appeal has been its open spaces and ample farmlands. It is nice to live in a place with such a rural character, which is still within close proximity to convenient shopping and commercial development. For many of us, part of Harrison’s great appeal was the commercial development, while convenient, was not located in our town and along our roads. Under the current administration’s plan, it seems that more and more farmland is being designated for redevelopment studies and possible development.

We believe Harrison Township has overused the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. For example, the township committee recently approved a redevelopment study for the farmland at Route 322 and Tomlin Station Road as part of larger redevelopment study for the newer business and Commercial Park on Tomlin Station Road. While such a study may bring interest from developers, it seems cavalier to add that farmland to a redevelopment study when there is already a significant amount of underutilized development right across the street.

Unfortunately, at the rate the current administration is proceeding, all that development will diminish the open space and rural community we all love.

Our plan is to protect as much open space and farmland as possible so the township does not risk becoming overdeveloped. With all of the redevelopment zones and redevelopment studies currently in progress or already approved, residents are genuinely concerned the rural character of Harrison Township will suffer. We think the better approach to protect farmland and open space is to slow the pace of redevelopment plans, pending actual development in the existing redevelopment zones.