Mayor’s Message: Richwood Project

In this week's Mayor's Message, Mayor Louis Manzo discusses the Richwood Project.

We all despise looking at the boarded-up houses in Richwood. Before updating you on that, I need to provide some background on fabled Richwood Project, which has been “not happening” for the last decade.

This a frustrating topic for those of us on the township team that have been intimately involved. Madison Marquette has been the sole developer for several years now and the reality is much of the delay associated with this project has been market-driven.

When this project was taking shape back in 2006 and 2007, it seemed that a groundbreaking was eminent. Then the economy fell off a cliff in 2008 and 2009, and hasn’t really rebounded until the last couple years. So, in fairness, we understand why the developer shelved the project awaiting an improved economy, but no one expected the downturn to last so long.

In hindsight, I believe this recession-induced delay was a good thing. It slowed the development of the fastest growing town in the state in the mid 2000’s (which Harrison Township was) and allowed for us to revisit our master plan.

Zoning adjustments were made to decrease the maximum population buildout and we adopted a smart growth philosophy that sought to interconnect the community and provide for ample open and green space. We also used the planning tools of redevelopment designations and P.I.L.O.T. (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) programs to provide our township with greater input on development projects and maximize the positive fiscal impact related to these projects.

By the time 2014 was becoming 2015, it appeared the project had legs again and we began to focus on getting the sewer question in Richwood addressed.

We sought amendments by the Gloucester County Utilities Authority (GCUA) to include Richwood in the existing county sewer system, which is not commonly done. With the help of our county and state legislative representatives, we achieved that objective with the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) approval. This eliminated the need to build a separate sewer treatment plant here. Delays since then are related to the changing landscape of the “brick and mortar” retail business, based on the Amazon effect. However, our Routes 322 and 55 interchange is unique considering the presence of Rowan University’s West Campus and a new state-of-the-art hospital and cancer center.

This has been the backdrop for our interactions with Madison Marquette over the years as we continue to amend the plan to fit today’s marketplace. The boarded-up homes out there have been a major point of contention and we have taken all the steps available to force this issue, including issuing multiple property maintenance violations. A directive by the court has been deferred based on other pending legal proceedings.

But the fact that Madison Marquette voluntarily demolished all the abandoned homes they own along Rt. 322 recently, is a positive sign this process is coming to an end. We’ll see, but one thing is certain: before they build anything in Richwood, they will demo the remaining vacant houses on Lambs and Aura roads first. That’s a promise.