Haddonfield Year in Review 2019

Recapping the names, faces, dates and events which influenced the news.

Another year has come and gone in the borough of Haddonfield, and residents can take time to reflect on all that happened over the last 365 days.

Whether it’s breaking news from municipal government, changes and new additions in the school district or the unique personalities who add to the borough’s charm and character, the Sun will highlight some of the biggest events that made 2019 distinctly its own. 

Bancroft Lot proposals closer to fruition

An ongoing saga between the board of commissioners, developer J. Brian O’Neill and a consortium of concerned citizens regarding plans for the distribution of housing units on the Bancroft lot appears closer than ever to a resolution thanks to work by all parties in 2019. 

In mid-February, the commissioners and 2 Hopkins Lane Renewal, LLC, completed discussions and negotiations concerning the redevelopment and financial agreements for the Bancroft. 

Under that agreement, 2 Hopkins Lane purchased land on the site for inclusion of 90 residential units: 80 termed “age-targeted” — meaning such residences are aimed at residents whose minimum age is 55 years old and who will not have minor children residing in the home — and 10 “affordable housing” units. 

In an April 2018 public meeting at borough hall, residents expressed two primary concerns regarding the plan: Older adults would not be able to downsize and afford the units, and they would attract families with children, leading to school overcrowding. 

Residents voiced the same opposition following a late February 2019 board meeting, and a small consortium of borough principals — calling themselves Haddonfield Encouraging Responsible Development — took the borough to court over the issue. 

In late October, a Camden County judge ruled that the borough would need to take steps to alter planned construction and provide “age-restricted” development, rather than pursue the “age-targeted” approach borough commissioners and developer O’Neill had promoted.

Commissioners must join forces with the developer, in good faith, to craft a proposal that provides for the construction of between 64 and 71 age-restricted units at Bancroft. Ten units included in the reworked agreement are to be designated for low-to-moderate incomes.

It is also expected the agreement will eliminate the original 30 percent tax break offered to O’Neill, but will retain the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) designation. According to language stipulated in the ruling, if the parties (the borough and O’Neill) fail to do so, the plaintiffs (HERD) have the right to reinstate their complaint.

In late November, commissioners approved upon first reading a pair of ordinances that  sought to amend borough codes regarding previously-established edicts on affordable housing. The twin pieces of legislation were necessary to adjust to the impending creation of new housing developments on both the Bancroft and Snowden properties. 

Regarding the pending land swap between the borough and the board of education on the Bancroft property, BOE member Susan Kutner told the public at a Nov. 21 session that the nine-member body has completed what it needs to do and that resolution “is now on the borough’s side.”

Haddonfield Memorial High School’s Dickstein Hughes enjoyed banner year

Haddonfield Memorial High School English teacher Kimberly Dickstein Hughes enjoyed one of the best years anyone could dream about, both personally and professionally. 

First, she was named HMHS Teacher of the Year in early January, while also being a nominee for Governor’s Educator of the Year. Then Dickstein Hughes was nominated for  and won Camden County Teacher of the Year honors in the spring. Capping the trifecta, she was chosen among 21 of her contemporaries to be named 2019-20 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. 

Outside the classroom, Dickstein Hughes was also recognized among 18 local residents for unselfish contributions to improving their community at the Camden County Freedom Medal ceremony on Jan. 23.  

This honor arose as a result of her efforts — along with a group of 2019 HMHS graduates dubbed The Five — to bring South Sudanese native Garang Buk Buk Piol to America and help him to achieve his goal of obtaining a master’s degree from Emory University. 

“I didn’t realize how much people cared about the work we are doing in our classrooms and also how many people believe in me and the work that I do in particular,” Dickstein Hughes said. “And that has been very emotional. It’s made me think about what I value and be appreciative that they value it, too.”

All this, and Dickstein Hughes had the honor of being married in the old courtyard of the high school on the last Saturday in September. 

Borough commissioners face various challenges

Commissioner for Revenue and Finance Jeffrey S. Kasko was arraigned Feb. 20 on assault charges for allegedly hitting a borough police officer with his car while the officer was investigating a collision between Kasko and a process server who tried to deliver divorce papers to him at his home. The incident occurred one week prior.

Kasko was charged with 10 separate offenses, including aggravated assault of a law-enforcement officer. He later took part in a pre-indictment conference at Camden County Superior Court, during which he was approved for a pre-trial intervention program that  included court-appointed supervision for a period of up to 36 months. 

Mayor Neal Rochford had been sidelined for a brief period in January and February because of what he termed “a particularly virulent form of pneumonia.” His recovery from the ailment required, at times, the use of oxygen, plus a curtailment of his duties. 

Rochford has long since returned to full health and a full resumption of his duties as mayor and Commissioner for Public Safety.

Former Commissioner for Public Works John Moscatelli was caught in an embarrassing situation over a comment made at a Feb. 26 public session regarding the nature of affordable-housing units planned for the Bancroft property. He later issued a statement clarifying the context for the comment.

Bob Marshall, who was appointed in July to fill Moscatelli’s spot, had to deal with the fallout from extensive flooding from summer storms that affected numerous homes throughout the borough and caused damage to existing stormwater infrastructure. Despite community engagement on the issue and notice of a detailed plan for remediating stormwater infrastructure issues, he was defeated in a special November election. 

Colleen Bianco Bezich, who bested Marshall, became just the second woman to be elected to the Board of Commissioners, following Tish Colombi, who served from 1985 to 2013 and as mayor for the final 12 years of that run. Due to a shuffling of duties, Bianco Bezich became Commissioner of Public Safety, while Rochford switched to Public Works. 

Haddonfield School District debuts new digs

The Haddonfield Board of Education held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Haddonfield Memorial High School on May 4 to commemorate the completion of various projects included in a $35 million, district-wide referendum that was passed in March of 2016. Included in the new B-wing construction are a new cafeteria, dance studio, gymnasium and athletic offices, as well as additional courtyard space. 

With some students having felt the crunch when looking for space to eat and relax for a significant portion of their time at the high school, consensus from staff seemed to be that they are taking to the new construction enthusiastically. 

“It’s been wonderful watching them eat in the cafeteria and have the space to learn and hang out with their friends and have some down time,” said HMHS Principal Tammy McHale. “I didn’t realize how many sacrifices were being made until we opened (everything) back up and realized how much our students had endured and how well they’d been handling everything.”

On the second floor of the B-wing is an expanded HMHS athletic hall of fame, which covers an entire wall and includes plaques of every inducted member along with their respective bios. 

Later in May, J.F. Tatem Elementary unveiled its new method to lead students into a 21st-century learning mindset: an updated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lab, which was split across three rooms at the school. Tatem PTA raised more than $18,000 for the project. 

Among the scientific wonders on display and demonstrated by Tatem students were: mechanized ferris wheels, snap circuits, virtual-reality goggles, magnetic power sources, a build-your-own-video-game kit, green-screen technology and orbs powered by microchips that can be moved via a toggle switch from a tablet.

And in September, before a large contingent of teachers, parents, students and district staff, Tatem debuted its brand-new ADA-compliant playground. A combined effort between the PTA, school district and the board of education, the 4,100-square-foot space was created thanks to LAN Associates.

‘Haddy’ celebrates multiple milestones

The site where the dinosaur Hadrosaurus foulkii was first unearthed more than 150 years ago by amateur naturalist William Parker Foulke had its name added to the National Register of Historic Places 25 years ago — officially on Oct. 12, 1994. 

The Hadrosaurus was a duck-billed herbivore who lived during the Cretaceous period,  some 70 million years ago. It measured up to 23 feet long with a mass of 2.5 tons. According to the borough’s website, “Haddy” gained worldwide recognition because it was the most complete dinosaur skeleton unearthed anywhere in the world when it was discovered and scientifically documented in 1858. 

“Haddy” later had the honor of being the first mounted dinosaur skeleton displayed anywhere in the world, in 1868 at the Academy, per the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 

Hadrosaurus foulkii became the official dinosaur of New Jersey in 1991 after years of hard work by teacher Joyce Berry and her fourth-grade classes at Strawbridge Elementary School in Haddon Township, but it remains a point of pride within Haddonfield itself. 

The iconic statue of “Haddy,” which sits on a lane just off Kings Highway in the downtown core, celebrated its Sweet 16 during the Fall Festival & Juried Craft Show on Oct. 12,  complete with balloons, cake and an appearance by its creator, sculptor and borough resident John Giannotti. 

Borough stalwarts Driscoll, Previte pass away

Patricia Ware Driscoll, daughter of Haddonfield native and former New Jersey Gov. Alfred Eastlack Driscoll, passed away at the age of 86 on Oct. 3. 

Driscoll attended J.F. Tatem Elementary School, Haddonfield Junior School and Haddonfield Memorial High School from K-10 before graduating from Abbot Academy (now merged with Phillips Andover Academy) in 1951.

She graduated in 1955 from Hood College, then completed a post-graduate program at Harvard-Radcliffe. In the 1970s, she worked as a special education teacher at Bancroft School, where she assisted in the development and creation of the early-education program. 

She was the beloved mother of five children, grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of two. 

Mary Previte, a longtime Haddonfield resident who served the community as well as state government, passed away on Nov. 16 at the age of 87, following injuries sustained when she was hit by a car earlier in the month. 

Born in China to missionary parents, Previte was an early eyewitness to the brutality of man, having spent three years in a Japanese internment facility as a child during World War II. She shared her story about Weihsien Concentration Camp openly, and even went as far as personally reconnecting with her liberators in her later years.

Locally, she served on the borough’s board of education in the 1970s, and eagerly organized various activities over the years for Roberts Avenue’s celebration of American independence and Haddonfield’s annual Fourth of July parade. 

Despite losing her left hand as a teenager in an accident with a saw, Previte still engaged in activities such as sewing, bike riding and playing the organ. She was also an advocate for the creation and maintenance of Crows Woods Gardens, looking forward to both the opening and closing of its season and busily working her own garden plot in between.