Council hears from residents concerned over EMS station project and added digital signs

Several residents felt there was a lack of communication about the project and disapproved of the idea of adding digital signs to local roads.

At the latest meeting of Mt. Laurel Township Council, several members of the public addressed officials during public comment to express their disapproval of plans to erect monument signs featuring digital displays along roads throughout the township.

The signs come as part of a deal struck with developer Catalyst Experiential, who approached the township and offered to purchase land and pay for the construction of a new EMS station on Route 73 in exchange for permission to erect their monument signs at three locations within the township.

Since 2016, the township has been facing state pressure to relocate the site of EMS Station 368, which, in its current location, has been found in violation of Green Acres rules. According to officials, per the state, the land may only be used for recreational and conservation purposes.

Seeing no option to undertake the costly project that did not include raising local property taxes for residents, township officials opted for the Catalyst Experiential partnership.

“This is a situation where the town is forced to make lemonade out of lemons,” said Mayor Kurt Folcher. “The state put a gun to our head and this was an opportunity that we felt could save the town from raising taxes and get ourselves a state-of-the-art facility.”

During public comment, council heard from several residents who felt blindsided by the decision or simply disapproved of digital signs coming to their area and the potential effects they could have on local traffic. 

“I just feel if I come to the town council meetings I should kind of know what’s going on and if I attend regularly I should know generally what’s going on in town,” said resident Ed Cohen, who felt uninformed about the issue at hand despite being a semi-regular attendee at meetings.

“It seems like this is a situation where the people of the town didn’t really seem to have a lot of communication coming from the council,” said resident Brian Sharp. “It seems like the people of our town weren’t really informed about this going on and there are a lot of questions.”

Council in response cited a public planning board meeting where details of the project were discussed as well as previous council meetings which included discussion of a redevelopment application and a presentation by the developer.

Resident Harriet Vesler expressed concerns over how much say township officials will have when it comes to what will be displayed on the digital signs and whether they will serve as a distraction for drivers.

According to Township Solicitor George Morris, the images displayed will be static and will not feature flashing lights or moving pictures. Council also pointed out that six percent of the images displayed on the signs will be dedicated to community-related non-commercial messaging.

In other news:

Folcher presented a proclamation of commendation to Harrington Middle School SeaPerch Underwater Robotics team, Team Thalassa, in recognition of it being named overall national champions at the 2019 SeaPerch Challenge at the University of Maryland. The team bested dozens of other middle and high school teams from across the country at the annual competition last June. 

The mayor also recognized National Friends of Libraries Week by honoring the Friends of the Mt. Laurel Library for its work raising money for the local library and providing the necessary resources for additional programming, equipment, museum passes and new library services throughout the year.

A resolution passed at the meeting established regulations for block parties held within the township. 

“We’ve had a lot of block parties and it’s really a great way to foster a sense of community,” said Folcher, going on to note that the regulations come at the request of the township’s insurance company.

According to the regulations passed under the resolution, applications for a block party must be made three weeks prior to the event, no block party will be permitted to continue past 10 p.m., 75 percent of residents on the block must approve of the block being closed for the event, the event’s chairperson must accept responsibility for any and all damages, no alcoholic beverages may be served and the event chairperson will be responsible for cleanup following the party.

The next public meeting of the Mt. Laurel Council will take place Oct. 21.