On Wednesday, Sept. 4, members of the Resident Action Coalition, a newly established nonprofit formed in response to Moorestown Township’s affordable housing plans, were gathered at the Collins Park home of Craig Roberts for their first official board meeting. In the few short weeks since they’d joined forces, Moorestown’s affordable housing plan has been in what seems like a constant state of flux, and this night was no different. Just two hours before, the township had issued a statement on its website and Facebook page.
“A comprehensive court-approved settlement agreement requires, in part, the township to gain site control of a suitable property for that purpose by mid-September. To date, the township has been unable to come to a satisfactory agreement with the owner of the Miles site and is now advancing the purchase of an alternative property located at the corner of Harper Road and East Gate Drive (307 Harper Drive, Block 3201, Lot 3, the Harper site),” the statement reads.
So, as forecast at Moorestown Township Council’s last meeting, the Miles Site is officially out. But members say that hasn’t changed the group’s mission. They said the new site still annexes low-income people away from the center of the town and on the industrial side of Route 38.
Erin Nowak, RAC’s president, said the group came together upon learning the township was interested in pursuing the Miles site on Route 38 as an alternate location for the much-talked about Pennrose site. She said the township suddenly seemed to be going through a “lightning fast” process to advance the Miles site – one that still left many questions about setbacks, traffic and other safety concerns for residents in the surrounding areas.
“I think it grew out of a frustration with a process that’s clearly out of control with inadequate oversight and distinct lack of transparency,” said fellow RAC member Gregory Lane.
Lane said, the more he and his fellow residents looked into the proposal, it became clear to them that council was proposing creating a high-density site that was unlike anything else in Moorestown. He said the lot is in an industrial area and situated at one of the worst intersections in town. He said the developer was proposing setbacks that were more conducive with commercial lots, and the idea of potentially putting residences with children in them right up against Route 38 left many feeling ill at ease. So, they formed RAC and filed for nonprofit status.
“Frankly, we didn’t really think that unless we were formed as a cohesive group that it would have any impact with the town,” Lane said.
Members showed up in full force at the township’s Aug. 19 council meeting to cite their concerns. Member Joseph DeLorezno said the group feels the township’s overall affordable housing plan lacks any real integration into the town. He said, to their eyes, it seems like the township is positioning all of the low-income housing on one side of Route 38.
In a Sept. 4 statement, the township says the Harper site has “certain advantages” compared to the Miles site.
“It will likely save taxpayers in excess of $1 million,” the statement reads. “The Harper site has more public transportation options immediately adjacent to it and is closer to employers and amenities which will benefit future residents.”
DeLorenzo said they understand that the township has a constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing, but this isn’t the way. He said there’s been a real lack of transparency throughout the process, and the township’s most recent choice on Harper Drive underscores that point. He said just because they’re not moving forward with the Miles site, doesn’t mean they’ve settled on a better site given that Harper Drive still sees the affordable housing annexed on the industrial side of Route 38.
“Although we can appreciate their efforts and hearing their concerns about the Miles property, i don’t think that eliminates generally this group’s concerns,” DeLorenzo said.
Lane said the Harper Drive property still puts people in an area zoned for commercial use and carves out one block to be densely packed and zoned for residential use.
“We’re better than this,” Lane said. “It’s just wrong.”
Roberts said they take no issue with affordable housing. He said all of the members gathered around his kitchen table on Wednesday night qualified for affordable housing at some point in their life. He said the township has proven, in the past, that it can seamlessly integrate affordable housing into the town, and so that’s what they’re looking to see done again. He said, in their eyes, they’d like to see the housing somewhere in “Moorestown proper” as opposed to the outskirts of town.
Nowak said, since forming, residents who haven’t felt comfortable writing an email or addressing council themselves have reached out to the group to say they share its concerns.
“Other people feel the same way, but might not feel comfortable having a public face, and so that’s what we provide,” Nowak said.
The group is tight-lipped about what it plans to do next, but of one thing they’re all in agreement: they’re not keeping quiet. They said just because the Miles site is out doesn’t mean they’ll stop attending meetings or working toward alternate solutions.
“They’re going to hear our voice,” Lane said.
Moorestown Township Council is expected to take action on the Harper Drive site during its Sept. 9 council meeting in Town Hall at 7 p.m. The public will have opportunity to comment at that time.
Anyone interested in reaching out to or getting involved with the Resident Action Coalition can contact it via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.