Residents come together to oppose new retail plan

Township Planning Board denies application across from Signal Hill Elementary School

Special to The Sun

Numerous residents of nearby neighborhoods came together last week during a virtual Voorhees Township Planning Board meeting to oppose plans for a new retail center at the intersection of Route 73 and Signal Hill Drive.

Birdena Brookins, whose home along Quail Hollow Court would have been directly behind the proposed Voorhees Commons, was the first to speak during public comment in opposition of the retail site, discussing the increase in traffic the site would almost certainly bring to the area.

“The space and proposal … does not fit this particular area,” Brookins said. “The plans look nice but the reality of these plans are that it’s right across from (Signal Hill Elementary School). They’ve talked about the school but they have not talked about the busses and traffic in and out of Signal Hill Elementary.”

Birdena Brookins’ husband, James Brookins, said he did not believe the traffic study testimony given by a traffic engineer was reflective of the true nature of traffic flow on a day-to-day basis in that area of Voorhees Township. According to traffic engineer Jay Troutman Jr. of McDonough and Rea Associates Inc., the study evaluated traffic on a weekday in late December of this past year.

“I live here every day. You’re looking at it through a short window and I don’t believe that window was sufficient,” said James Brookins. “Try getting out of this development during the summer or even the fall when traffic is backed up on Route 73 and it takes three traffic lights to cross the road … now you’re telling me you’re going to dump this traffic into my development and I have to do the best I can to get out?”

Dean Development Associates LLC had looked to build a 14,000-square foot retail center at the location, which is the combination of two lots totaling 2.6 acres. According to township officials, plans for a retail center were approved for the site in 2006 when the lots were zoned for commercial use. However, the center was never built and later rezoned for major business, causing the need to come before the planning board to request variances and waivers under the new zoning.

Following extensive public comment, the board voted 4-4 on the motion, thus denying the developer’s application, as a majority vote was needed to approve the plans for the retail site. According to owner Viken Kirian, the building was anticipated to include nine store fronts. Although he could not provide specifics, he said during the meeting he planned for the location to include businesses that make it “a very typical neighborhood center,” such as breakfast and lunch restaurants, retail offices, a laundromat or hair salon and more.

Following a meeting with the Voorhees Environment Commission (VEC) earlier this year, lawyer Robert Baranowski Jr. said during last week’s planning board meeting that the owner had worked to ensure it was keeping in mind the effect its location may have on nearby residents.

“We tried to make it better for the (residents) in Quail Hollow,” Kirian said.

Kirian referenced the fact that the building was pushed further west on the property to move away from the property line near the residents. The plan was also changed to include an eight-foot high fence, as recommended by the VEC.

When discussing traffic problems at the nearby intersection due to congestion potentially caused by the retail site’s location, Baranowski said it was relevant to note that the problem is already an existing nuisance for nearby residents and that the retail site is not the main cause.

“You’re asking us to present you with a solution to a problem we’re not creating,” Baranowski said.

According to testimony, the intersection in question is currently on a 150-minute cycle for those along Signal Hill Drive, often causing much aggravation to nearby residents. However, the intersection is under jurisdiction of the Camden County Department of Transportation, so the township is unable to change the light on its own.