BOE and Borough Negotiate Bancroft

"We still need brains and a heart."

The unanimously approved a resolution Thursday supporting negotiations with Bancroft to buy its nearly 19-acre campus adjacent to the borough high school.

The question is, if a deal can be struck, what happens next?

If the school board writes the next chapter, the land on Kings Highway East will literally be a field of dreams, for high-school sports, school-district expansion and open-space preservation.

If the borough writes the next chapter, the field will also include a residential component to ease the tax burden on residents.

"I think we have to get over that hurdle of being open to the proposition that this will be a property, potentially forever, that will not generate any revenue, in terms of ratables," Ed Borden, one of three borough commissioners said this week. "It will be something that will be used for public use and pretty much dedicated to the needs of the school district."

Haddonfield’s average property tax of $12,088.88 is nearly twice the state average at $7,776, according to the state Department of Community Affairs. Haddonfield has the second highest average property tax bill in Camden County. It trails Tavistock, an exclusive enclave at the tip of Haddonfield, enclosed mostly in an private golf course. Haddonfield's property tax bills are 27 percent higher than Voorhees, $8,777.41, third in the county.

Borden said the borough could pass a redevelopment plan with two general uses. The first would be an all school and public use. The second would be some form of private development on a portion of the property.

"That would be my preference," Commissioner Tish Colombi, the mayor, added at a commissioner's meeting this week.

That news seemed to be a surprise to school board President Steve Weinstein Thursday night after his board meeting.

"That's not the way it was explained to me," he said. "We'll have to have further discussions."

The borough and the school board have competing cost estimates for how much a public purchase of the Bancroft campus will cost. Commissioner Jeff Kasko said he "wasn't that confident" the school board can get a large bond referendum passed next fall.

The commissioners said they could pass the dual-use redevelopment plan as a fallback if the school board can not pass a referendum to raise all of the money for a public purchase.

The school board detailed a $16.86 million plan to purchase Bancroft on Feb. 6. The borough estimated a public purchase could cost up to $19.52 million, with $14.27 million in financing.

The commissioners agreed to work with the BOE to approach Bancroft for a purchase price, but also agreed the borough will need to be the lead developer. They said only the borough can apply for open-space grants for the property, which account for an estimated $3.5 million of the estimated acquisition cost.

The borough also has the responsibility of meeting Haddonfield's obligation to build up to 20 low- to moderate-income housing units on the site. The Bancroft site is included in a limited area that can possibly be developed for state-mandated low-income homes in this 2.5-square-mile borough. 

Weinstein and the school board are still upbeat, despite details that have yet to be agreed upon.

"This is just the beginning of the yellow-brick road," he said with a smile, alluding to a production of the Wizard of Oz inspired, The Wiz, musical now playing at the high school. "We still need brains and a heart."

The commissioners are considering three options for the redevelopment. They are:

  • A public purchase for active and passive recreational use, including open space and additional athletic fields
  • Market-rate town homes 
  • Age-restricted, senior housing

Commissioners have also said they may decide on a combination of the three.

Bancroft, a center for people with developmental disabilities and acquired brain injuries, has been located on the site at 425 Kings Highway East for the past 128 years. Its officials are considering selling the property and relocating in an effort to improve facilities, according to numerous public statements.


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