Council taps Pennrose for Harper Drive site

An end to the litigation between the residents of Meadow Drive and Moorestown Urban Renewal Associates, LLC, a subsidiary of Pennrose, LLC, may soon be in sight. On Monday morning, Moorestown Council passed a resolution executing a “Memorandum of Understanding” under which Pennrose has agreed to withdraw its suits against both the township and the Meadow Drive residents. In exchange, Pennrose will work with the township to develop 75 affordable units at a site located at 307 Harper Drive.

Council unanimously voted “yes” on the agreement, but Township Manager Thomas Neff made it clear that as of now, the memorandum is a non-binding agreement. He said at this point, the memorandum is just setting forth the intentions of the township, and a more formal developer agreement set between town council and Pennrose is expected to follow. 

The residents of Meadow Drive, whose homes border 160 West Route 38, have been embroiled in litigation with Pennrose for almost two years. In March 2018, Pennrose filed a complaint seeking to invalidate a restrictive covenant at the Route 38 site, which resulted in 64 nearby property owners being served legal notices. In response, more than 15 residents became involved in the case in an effort to stop Pennrose from invalidating the covenant, whose restrictions limit development at the Route 38 site. 

In September, council formally refocused its efforts from 160 West Route 38 to 307 Harper Drive, and Monday, Neff said council will still have to give notice for any formal developer agreement and provide an opportunity for public discussion. 

Mayor Lisa Petriello said the Pennrose property and the subsequent series of alternative locations have eaten up council’s time and resources. She said tapping Pennrose to serve as this new site’s developer not only helps the township to move its affordable housing plan along, but also brings it to its compliance hearing with as little objection as possible. Prior to the memorandum, Pennrose was still actively pushing forward its application to develop at 160 West Route 38.

Deputy Mayor Nicole Gillespie said they’d have preferred to have gone out for proposals for developers, but the township felt putting Pennrose on the project helped mitigate some of the risks to advancing their plan. 

“The risks that we would be exposing our agreement and the township to if we didn’t do this seemed unacceptable to me,” Gillespie said. 

Councilman Michael Locatell said he was in favor of putting the Pennrose issue to bed. 

“I think it’s a good resolution to an issue that’s been haunting us,” Locatell said. 

Meadow Drive resident Carol Radomski, a defendant in the Pennrose suit, said her attorney informed her there’s a settlement being worked on between the township and Pennrose, and that’s agreeable to the residents of Meadow Drive. She said the neighbors just want assurances that Pennrose’s suit against them will also be withdrawn as part of this agreement. 

“It has been 20 months; we are grateful that this is coming to an end,” Radomski said. “We appreciate everybody’s efforts.”  

Township Attorney Kevin Aberant said the memorandum clearly states Pennrose agrees to withdraw and terminate all litigation with any other parties.

Resident Gregory Lane said, based on the series of events that have transpired with Pennrose, they don’t seem like a good partner in his eyes. He said he sympathizes with the residents who spent months entangled in a legal battle.

“First of all, I wanted to say to the individuals that are involved in this lawsuit, my heart goes out to you,” Lane said. “It’s a frivolous lawsuit. It’s unfounded and it’s unprecedented that you get sued over this.”

Petriello said with this piece of the affordable housing puzzle in place, the township can start working toward tax credits on the project and set its sights toward its 2020 building requirements. 

“We can now redirect the township’s energy and time to other aspects of the settlement,” Petriello said. 

The next meeting of Moorestown Township council will take place on Monday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.