Board of commissioners revisits Bancroft ordinance

Court-ordered hearing reveals member commitment, public pushback.

Following a hearing that lasted almost 2 ½ hours and included input from a variety of sources, Haddonfield’s board of commissioners ultimately voted to affirm an ordinance that contains a series of amendments relating to the 2018 version of the Bancroft redevelopment plan. 

The virtual hearing proved to be a major portion of the governing body’s bimonthly open public meeting on April 27. It resulted from a decision by Judge Nan Famular in early April, in response to a lawsuit brought by Haddonfield Encouraging Responsible Development (HERD), which filed a motion to vacate the ordinance. 

The borough defended the suit and both parties appeared before Famular on March 3. On April 1, the judge issued an order denying the plaintiffs’ motion to vacate the ordinance without prejudice and granting the plaintiffs’ motion to remand the amendment back to the borough. 

Famular ruled that a public hearing would be held, during which commissioners would have to state, on the record, their specific reasons for backing the plan, known as Ordinance 2018-01. The redevelopment plan was originally presented in April 2016, then amended in January 2018. The ordinance was ultimately approved on second reading and following public comment on Feb. 13, 2018.

On April 16, according to Mayor Neal Rochford, public notice of the hearing appeared in the Retrospect, in accordance with state statutes governing the matter. Six days later, commissioners received a letter from the attorneys for the plaintiffs alleging that the notice did not meet requirements. 

The borough believed its notice was sufficient and elected to proceed with the public hearing on the day in question. During that hearing, Rochford and Commissioner Jeffrey Kasko were to place on record and explain their specific reasons for amending the Bancroft redevelopment plan previously adopted by the borough in 2016. 

Robert Baranowski, representative for the plaintiffs, called into question the nature of the public notice, noting several flaws in its presentation. He also assailed the lack of clarity and completeness of the posted ordinance on the borough’s website, and opined that the hearing should have not been held “until a more comprehensive notice could be given.”

Once the hearing continued, Brian Slaugh of Clark Caton Hintz, the borough’s chosen planner, provided a 16-page document, the majority of which centered around a number of amendments to the redevelopment plan as reviewed by the planning board, as well as their fit within several iterations of the borough’s master plan. 

“The changes were detailed from the governing body to the planning board in the fall of 2017, in a memo by Mr. Caton, my predecessor. And they involved a set of 13 changes to the redevelopment plan,” Slaugh noted.

“In my experience, redevelopment plans get modified quite frequently to address changing market conditions. We shouldn’t take our eye off the ball.”

Amendments that received the most attention during the hearing were those that increased the number of age targeted townhouses from 70 to 80 units on 8.2 acres of the planned 19.22 acre site, and allowed for an uptick in affordable-housing units from 10 to 12; a concurrent stipulation permitting an increase in the number of affordable units if the total number of market rate units are more than 70; allowed for the imprint of age targeted townhomes to be increased from 2,000 square feet to 2,250; permitted a certain amount of units to have a master bedroom on the main floor, and if not, to allow for installation of an elevator to connect the master suite with the rest of the home.

Additional amendments covered the maximum height of the intended units’ roofline, as well as its front and rear maximum heights, along with right-of-way requirements and landscaping buffers from Kings Highway and Hopkins Lane. 

Public pushback revolved around the expected increase in cost for units whose square footage was allowed to be increased. HERD plaintiff Chris Maynes attacked the anticipated cost discrepancy as being unattractive to downsizing older couples, as well as the perceived increased cost per unit for dwellings that would require the installation of an elevator. 

Maynes, in particular, assailed these amendments as unsuitable, eliminating at least half the population from being able to obtain one of the age targeted units if they wished.

Kasko responded that the average assessed value of homes in Haddonfield would increase before the site is complete, and that downsizing for units of this type and cost would not be suitable for all borough homeowners, since some existing homes in the borough are priced significantly lower than the units intended for Bancroft.

“We can’t solve (this issue) for everybody, but that was our goal … to get that modest size so that some people could downsize,” he stated.

In lengthy detailed statements, Kasko logged his agreement with Slaugh’s report as well as his support for the principally discussed amendments above, as did Rochford for the same. 

“It is time for us to move on and finish this project,” Rochford noted. “Any reasonable person would take a look at what we’ve done and understand that (it is) in the best interest of the residents of the borough.”

The full document from Slaugh can be viewed by accessing the April 22 meeting agenda page: https://tinyurl.com/yjfk3y8

In other news:

  • Commissioners approved a pair of ordinances upon second reading, both of which relate to the impending 2021 budget: one sets non-union wages for borough employees (along with a 2 percent salary increase over 2020) and another preserves a cap bank of 1 percent ($125,595.89) above final budget appropriations. 
  • The governing body also gave consent to another ordinance on first reading, appropriating $1.495 million in funds and the issuance of bonds in the amount of $1,415,500 to finance various municipal improvement projects. 
  • The board authorized a grant application by the Municipal Alliance in fiscal year 2022 for the amount of $4,853 to participate in the state’s Drug Enforcement Demand Reduction Fund. Municipalities whose grants are accepted are required to match 25 percent ($1,213.25), while the remainder ($3,639.75) is expected to arrive from local organizations such as the Rotary.
  • Per notice in the meeting agenda, the next public board of commissioners’ meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on May 11.