The Haddonfield Board of Commissioners approved a $3.25-million settlement agreement in July with 2 Hopkins Lane LLC, the former redeveloper of an 8.2-acre parcel commonly referred to as the Bancroft Lot.
Though 2 Hopkins Lane entered into a sales agreement for the 19.2-acre lot in 2015, according to the lawsuit, and received the right to develop from then until now, nothing has been built or redeveloped. The commissioners are now reviewing nine requests for proposals (RFPs) for the property’s future development.
“I feel really confident and excited about the three of us and our administration working together to move things in a new direction, and ultimately really salvage what I believe to be a priceless piece of Haddonfield’s history, with our control as selected by the taxpayers rather than a redeveloper from across the river who didn’t necessarily have the taxpayers’ best interest in heart,” said Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich at a press conference on Aug. 7.
2 Hopkins Lane first entered into the sale agreement with Bancroft in 2015, with the intent to use the space as a residential rehabilitation facility for disabled people suffering from drug and alcohol dependency, according to the lawsuit. But it faced barriers, including resistance from community members and denial of a zoning permit and appeal application by the zoning Board.
The lawsuit claims that the board solicitor notified the redeveloper that it couldn’t offer evidence or testimony at the hearing, what the redeveloper’s counsel said was “a violation of its due process rights.”
The alleged obstruction from building a residential treatment facility on the property is why 2 Hopkins Lane sued the borough for “improper, unlawful and discriminatory conduct with regard to 2 Hopkins Lane’s attempt to develop the 19.2-acre property into a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility.”
Borough Solicitor Salvatore Siciliano noted that the redevelopment was unilateral, not bi-lateral, which means only that 2 Hopkins Lane could walk away from the agreement.
“We’ve owned this parcel for years,” Bianco Bezich noted. “The redeveloper had an option to build, and was in a unilateral option to walk away if we paid that redeveloper something and the floor was set. Not timing, not a ceiling, and we had no right to walk away.”
Bianco Bezich said that in related but different litigation between the borough and Fair Share Housing over affordable units, 2 Hopkins Lane stated on the record that it had no desire or intent to build the project.
Judge Sherri Schweitzer then ordered the borough to issue the RFPs in June, resulting in the aforementioned nine requests.
“What’s been made abundantly clear throughout is that the affordable-housing obligation is still going to be part of the parcel, part of all of the proposals that we receive,” said Commissioner Frank Troy.
“ … Apartments need to fit into the feel of the town,” he added. “We have to have the affordable-housing obligation met, and I think it needs to be for the highest and best use of that property.”
The onsite obligation specific to the last go-around and last redevelopment program is that 10 units must go in the 8.2-acre parcel, no matter what is built there as of now, Bianco Bezich noted.