Residents of one Cherry Hill neighborhood have reached their limit trying to coexist peacefully with a major car dealership that has been granted permission to expand.
Frustrated with the lack of progress, the residents recently pleaded with township council to remedy the situation. At an April 12 open public meeting, almost a dozen residents of Locustwood and adjacent areas told council about experiences with employees and customers of Cherry Hill Dodge.
The dealership made overtures to the township’s planning board beginning last summer in an effort to increase its parking capacity on site. While it was ordered to limit disruptions to surrounding homes, the business, residents say, has not kept up its end of the bargain.
Resident Lisa Perrone broached the subject, informing council and the public that the application to expand Cherry Hill Dodge, located on Route 70 West between Fulton Street and Chambers Avenue, was made by Charles Foulke III in August. The dealership is situated in the southern part of Locustwood, whose boundaries include the township’s municipal building.
The application sought variances that would have allowed the business to expand by demolishing a pair of homes on Wynnwood Avenue to increase the number of on-site parking spaces from 481 to 559. Marathon sessions of the planning board ensued over several months as residents described, in great detail, abuses they have suffered over the last 30 years as the dealership grew.
During the council meeting, Alexander Esposito recounted some of the transgressions he and his fellow neighbors witnessed, including drag racing on the street by dealership employees as they presumably tested cars, employees harassing and accosting residents on a regular basis and staff and customers activating car horns for up to five minutes to locate vehicles.
Just two days prior to the council meeting, Esposito said he captured video of an alleged incident in front of his house on the 1100 block of Warren Avenue.
“In one test drive … I counted seven violations, including driving on the shoulder, blowing two stop signs and ignoring stop signs, driving at an excessive rate of speed and then cutting off a lane of travel on the Fulton Street jughandle, from the left lane, abruptly cutting off traffic and then turning into the driveway (of the business),” he revealed.
Councilwoman Michele Golkow noted that she was present for all of the aforementioned meetings last year, verifying their length and confirming complaints by residents. She explained that while the planning board did grant the requested variances and imposed expansion limits, there were dozens of concessions attached.
“Things like requiring Mr. Foulke to come up with a different system to locate cars on his lot and not to use the car alarms, which he agreed to,” Golkow noted. “Conditions like turning off the lights after close of business. Conditions like unloading on the property instead of on the street, and committing to specific test-drive routes that would not disturb neighbors.
“The planning board ultimately approved the addition of the parking spaces,” she added, “which didn’t have anything to do with these grievances.”
Perrone said one of the conditions in a resolution passed by the board on Oct. 5 was for the triplex to set up neighborhood meetings to solve some long-standing issues. She added that to date, there has been no measurable progress between the two sides across eight meetings.
According to other residents, the October resolution clearly stated that the planning board can rescind approval if the dealership fails to comply with agreed upon conditions.
“We are asking township council to please improve the safety and quality-of-life issues surrounding Locustwood development. And to withhold permits and to rescind the approval of Cherry Hill Dodge’s application,” added resident Frank Maloney.
On behalf of the Council of Cherry Hill Civic Associations, Dawn Higgins offered her own statement that in part read: “We feel they have made a good faith effort to resolve the issues made by the encroachment of Cherry Hill Dodge into their neighborhood, but to no avail. We can’t expect them to spend hours each week documenting and emailing information to Dodge and to the township.
“It is time to put an end to this situation that is having such a negative impact on the quality of their lives.”
Golkow also expressed how disheartened she was to once again hear from neighbors about the lack of agreement between the dealership and residents, adding that the planning board indicated it would be up to the township to enforce conditions within the resolution.
“This is something that needs to have some light shed on it, and rest assured that there’s a much closer look at what’s happening there,” stated Council President David Fleisher. “We hear you.”