Mayor Gets an Earful About West Collingswood Affordable Housing Plan
Haddon Township Mayor Randy Teague heard complaints for more than two hours.
An overflow crowd of more than 150 squeezed into a small meeting room at the West Collingswood Extension Civic Association headquarters on Lynne Avenue Wednesday night to pepper Mayor Randy Teague with questions about a developing plan to build 52 units of affordable housing in the neighborhood.
Neighbors were upset.
"We're treated as a stepchild," one woman said in the meeting where few identified themselves and many spoke out of turn. "We don't feel loved by you people. We just want you to leave us alone!"
Teague tried to calm the crowd, which at times badgered and heckled him. He told them the process was just starting and they would have ample opportunity to make their protest known to other commissioners and the township planning board.
"We're crowded over here," the same woman continued. "I love my neighbors and want to protect them. Some of us may not like each other, but we'll come together for something like this and protect each other."
"This is going to be a big build up that will look like a ghetto project," a man yelled out.
"You're not close to Camden like we are," another woman said.
Teague, John Foley and Paul Dougherty, the township's three commissioners, approved a resolution this month to instruct the planning board consider designating the Black Horse Pike Auto Complex—a sprawling property that fronts the Black Horse Pike at Route 130—as a redevelopment zone. That designation would start a process to help determine a suitable use for the property, including incentives to developers, such as a PILOT(payment in lieu of taxes) agreement.
One such developer could be the Walters Group, that Teague said is exploring a purchase of the property, which is in foreclosure. The group is building an 82-unit, market-rate apartment building near Haddon Avenue in the Westmont section of the township. It's located on the old Russell Cast Stone site behind the Keg & Kitchen restaurant.
The Walters Group is being sued by a local housing advocacy group to include affordable units in the Westmont project. Teague has said the builders are interested in buying the auto complex site to build affordable-housing that it hopes will satisfy the Fair Share Housing Center, the local advocacy group. The mayor tried to distance himself from the project Wednesday during a 2 1/2-hour meeting where neighbors made it clear they opposed it.
"You're upset and angry and don't want affordable housing in this neighborhood," the mayor said near the end of the meeting. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that."
Teague admitted after the meeting that he thought the affordable housing plan there was "pretty good." He said then and during the meeting that he thought a residential development, even an affordable-housing development, would be an improvement over what's on the property now. He also argued another commercial use for the the land could be more detrimental than housing.
"We're very protective of our neighborhood," said Francine Tryka, 48, an office manager and lifelong resident here who helped organize the meeting. "This is our little gem."
Teague assured residents they would have a chance to make their feelings known. He said plans for the site are in a very preliminary phase and nothing has been decided. Teague said the planning board will not likely consider the commissioners' recommendation to designate the area a redevelopment zone until its meeting on Feb. 28.
The Walters Group, the township and Fieldstone Associates, the developers of the a town center in the Westmont section of the township known as the DyDee project, are defendants in a law suit from the Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Center. Teague said he thinks the township has met its current affordable housing obligation. A Fair Share lawyer said this week the township was trying to meet its affordable-housing obligation with just senior housing, which is not allowed.
Fair Share sued the Walters Group to include affordable housing in the Russell Cast Stone project. Residents in West Collingswood believe the affordable housing requirement is being forced on them and not on Westmont.
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