Council passed a pair of ordinances on June 28 that authorize a land swap with Lockheed Martin, in which the company agreed to exchange a parcel of land on Borton Landing Road for the Nagle Tract on Centerton Road.
The land swap was met with some backlash from neighbors who raised concerns at the meeting about traffic and depreciating property values. The Nagle Tract, on the corner of Hartford and Centerton roads, has been part of the township’s affordable housing plan since 1988. The 12-and-a-half-acre parcel was identified for development of 152 units, a 50 percent set aside for affordable housing.
Council previously passed a resolution naming Walters-Cornerstone Development LLC as the intended developer. The resolution subsequently caused Lockheed Martin, whose facility is directly adjacent to the Nagle Tract, to look at the township’s development plans and approach officials with concerns.
Lockheed leases a portion of its land in Moorestown to the Department of the Navy. On May 24, Capt. Philip Mlynarski, commanding officer with the Navy and AEGIS technical representative, explained that some of the nation’s most advanced radar development and testing is done at Lockheed’s Moorestown site, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has concerns that development directly across the street could compromise the facility’s security.
Lockheed and the Navy subsequently asked the township to exchange the Nagle Tract directly across from the former’s Moorestown facility for a Lockheed-owned parcel approximately 1,000 feet down the road. Lockheed offered up a parcel approximately the same size and agreed to cover any additional costs the township may incur as a result of the swap, up to $2.7 million.
Mayor Nicole Gillespie said if the township refuses the swap, the Navy could exercise eminent domain to condemn the Nagle Tract. In that case, it would be impossible for the township to locate and purchase an alternate piece of land in time for the township’s Aug. 31 tax credit application deadline. Additionally, if the township fails to satisfy the conditions of the Judgment of Compliance for its affordable housing plan, it could be subject to a builders’ remedy lawsuit that would result in even more development in town.
Resident Andrea Wisniewski urged council not to move forward with the swap. She said school traffic already creates congestion in the area, and adding more development will exacerbate the situation.
“If you lived in that area, you would find it is a bottleneck in certain times,” she said.
Resident Dina Hays said she fears her home will depreciate in value given nearby construction.
“I have concerns. My husband and I spent our life savings on this home,” she said. “Our property value is going to go down.”
Resident Colleen O’Hara said she viewed the plan, and the three story townhouses, in her opinion, do not integrate well into the community.
“To me, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb,” O’Hara maintained. “It’s an obvious nonconforming building that doesn’t match with anything else in the area.”
Resident Navin Gupta said he felt “cheated” by the township’s decision to build so close to his property. He noted that his area has “some of the most expensive homes” in town, and new construction will only ruin property values.
“What kind of people are going to live there? Have you thought about that,” Gupta asked.
Gillespie asked why Gupta was worried about the kind of people who might be living there, and if his opinion is based on their income.
“Based upon the fact [of] what they can afford,” Gupta responded.
Resident Kate Wilson said affordable housing is usually occupied by teaching assistants, nurses, single parents and other people in professions that don’t pay well but who would like a foothold in town.
“When I hear people talking about the character of the people who will live in affordable housing, I think that’s a really sad indictment on a way of looking at this,” Wilson argued.
Councilman Quinton Law said while he welcomes all concerns on the merits of the land swap, he will not listen to judgments about the type of people who may live in affordable housing. He added that hundreds of people, his family included, have come into the community via affordable housing and have gone on to purchase larger homes.
“It’s people like me,” Law said frankly.
Council ultimately voted unanimously to authorize the swap, with members citing fears about additional costs to the entire community if they’re subject to a builders’ remedy lawsuit as the primary motivator.
“The cost to this town if we blow this is overwhelming,” Gillespie said.