Cherry Hill Planning Board delays vote on Master Plan

The board opted to delay the vote by one week to allow residents extra time to review the plan.

For more than a year, Cherry Hill Township engaged in public input for its 2018 Master Plan through surveys, open houses and public meetings.

However, with the Master Plan finally up for a public hearing before the township planning board at the board’s meeting last Monday, residents felt they weren’t given enough time to review the plan after it was posted to the township website 10 days prior to the hearing.

Residents will now get an extra week to review the draft of Cherry Hill Township’s Master Plan 2018. At its meeting last Monday, the planning board agreed to continue the public hearing on the Master Plan at a future meeting after some residents requested more time to review the 400-plus page plan.

The planning board voted, 7–2, to continue the public hearing on the proposed Master Plan at a special meeting scheduled for Monday, Oct. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

The vote came after a two-hour presentation on the proposed Master Plan followed by more than an hour of comments from residents. About 20 residents attended the meeting, with some representing civic associations from around the township and many having taken part in the public input process.

The meeting began with a two-hour presentation from township planners and professionals going over the entire plan. A particular focus was put on the revised land use and economic development plan elements as well as a new chapter called the Plans for Place element. The Master Plan defines Plans for Place as listing seven locations in Cherry Hill where the township can focus “to illustrate the implementation of the policies and action recommendations within the Land Use and Economic Development elements.”

The majority of the residents who spoke at the meeting focused their comments on the amount of time they had to review the plan prior to the public hearing. According to planning board solicitor James Burns, the township made the proposed plan available as per state statutory guidelines 10 days prior to the public hearing on Sept. 20. A copy of the draft plan on the township website was also dated Sept. 20.

Despite this, numerous residents felt they didn’t receive enough notice prior to the meeting. A number of speakers stating they hadn’t found out about the meeting or seen the proposed plan until a few days before.

“It’s 460 pages, 460 pages that I looked at today for the first time,” said Greg Bruno of the Erlton North Civic Association. “So I’m here to appeal to you to give us more time, so that we can work through the associations with our neighbors to make sure they’re all calm with this. They’re very nervous about what this involves.”

Bruno went on to warn the board it would “lose a lot of confidence in the community” if it were to approve the plan at last Monday’s meeting.

Dawn Higgins, a member of the Council of Cherry Hill Civic Associations, echoed Bruno’s statements.

“We’d just like some time,” Higgins said. “We’d like to get together, we’d like to look it over, we’d like to come back and give you our input.”

“They’re things I love about the plan,” Higgins added. “Just give us some time.”

After several more residents also requested for the vote to be delayed, the planning board spent some time deliberating the decision. Several board members, including Councilwoman Carolyn Jacobs and mayor’s designee Betty Adler, felt the residents made a good point during their request for more time.

“I’ve heard these folks,” said Jacobs, who made the motion to continue the public hearing on Oct. 8. “They’ve said, ‘Please just give us a little more time.’”

“I think it’s important to delay … to allow the public to view it a little bit closer themselves,” Adler said in voting for the continuance of the public hearing. “I want to go back read a little closer.”

Two board members disagreed with delaying the vote. Board chair John Osorio and Marlyn Kalitan both voted against continuing the public hearing and felt no additional time was needed to contemplate the plan. Kalitan noted the low attendance at the meeting. At the time she spoke a little after 11:30 p.m., about 10 residents remained in attendance.

“When I look out at this audience, I do not see an overwhelming response from our town that would make me think that we need to postpone this vote,” Kalitan said.

Osorio and Kalitan were the two board members who voted against continuing the public hearing. All of the other board members voted in favor of it.

To read the draft version of the 2018 Cherry Hill Master Plan, visit www.cherryhill-nj.com/868/Plan-Cherry-Hill. Visit www.cherryhillsun.com for a story on the Oct. 8 planning board meeting.