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Haddonfield Commissioners Approve Bancroft Purchase Letter

The BOE will vote on the issue on July 31.

The Haddonfield Board of Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a letter of intent supporting a public purchase of the Bancroft property.

The letter of intent launches a process that includes a $16.8 million bond referendum in January, if the borough school board also approves the letter in a meeting on July 31.

That is expected to happen.

The public purchase was largely driven by the BOE, which sees the Bancroft property next to the high school on Kings Highway East as a sort of manifest destiny.

BOE and borough officials argue that having the Bancroft property publicly owned is key to preserving open space, and allowing for school and recreational fields expansion. They also argue that this may be the last parcel of its size for large-scale development for the public good in this nearly built-out town.

Some residents expressed concern about rising taxes for the purchase at the first of three Bancroft purchase meetings last week. Others raised concerns about $2 million of the $16.8 million purchase and development cost going to install two artificial turf fields at the high school.

Those same concerns resurfaced Monday during the three-hour meeting, but officials said this is a start to addressing some of those concerns.

"I've been doing this for 28 years and this is the first time I feel like we've got some direction on this," Mayor Tish Colombi, a veteran commissioner, said about the property. "This is exciting, a huge moment. I think this is the rightest thing we've ever done."

Colombi voted "absolutely yes" on the proposal.

Strong feelings on each side

The vote came three hours into the meeting after lengthy public comment. Joe Haro, a retiree and long-time borough resident, delivered the first salvo.

"This is an embarrassment," Haro said. "I'm worried about middle-class flight from this town. We pay some of the highest taxes in the county and the taxes are going to keep going up from the borough, schools and the county. Our taxes went up here because there was $500,000 in uncollected taxes from people who can't afford to pay the taxes now."

Another resident told commissioners that "We can't keep expecting Phillies, Eagles and Flyers to move to our town who can afford the taxes."

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 exclusive golf course. Haddonfield's property tax bills are 27 percent higher than Voorhees, $8,777.41, third in the county.

Some residents strongly supported the public purchase.

"I think this is a wonderful thing," said Linda McCarron, a Washington Avenue resident. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. How often does a property right next door to you go up for sale?"

Joe Del Duca, the leader of a resident's group called the Turf Field Committee that is raising private donations to pay for half of the $1 million cost to install artificial turf at the high school football stadium and an adjacent field, said he's confident they will raise $500,000.

"Installing one turf field is like installing two to three grass fields because you can use them all the time," Del Duca said. "I'm not going to tell you it's a perfect solution, but it’s the best solution."

The $16.8 million proposal to buy Bancroft will demolish the existing buildings,  construct a new turf field and turf the high-school stadium field. If Del Duca's fundraising is successful, it could reduce the proposal cost by $800,000, the amount needed to install turf at just the football stadium. The $16.8 million will also likely be reduced by anticipated open-space funds from Camden County and the borough. There is currently just over $1 million in hand.

One resident said she would not vote for the proposal with the turf field component. Del Duca said he wouldn't vote for it without it.

John Sullivan July 24, 2012 at 12:04 PM
This article should have been captioned: "More Jeers Than Cheers," in recognition of the fact that a solid majority of the residents attending last night's meeting either oppose or have overriding reservations about the Bancroft purchase. As someone new to the Bancroft issue, I believe the most important admission by the Borough last night was that Bancroft is stating it will stay on the property and make improvements, if this deal does not close. If Haddonfield taxpayers can save $16 million+ (more than its total annual budget for everything else) and countless headaches by retaining the same institution that has occupied the property harmoniously for countless decades, why are the Board of Education and Commissioners wasting taxpayer time and money on this proposal? I like open space and low-impact redevelopment as much as the next guy, but Haddonfield can't afford this boondoggle during this dire recession. Among my take aways from last night's meeting include the realization that a pluraity of Commissioners and the Board of Education appear intent upon purchasing the property whatever the price. Offering $12 million based on an asssessment from the mid 2000s? As I told the Commissioners last night, I will offer to sell them my home based on the assessment from the same period. Unfortunately I've received no offers.
John Sullivan July 24, 2012 at 12:06 PM
I should add that many residents at last night's meeting were also troubled that the public referendum is scheduled for late January -- at a time when relatively few voters will be moved to show up at the polls -- rather than holding the vote during the General Election. Clearly a January referendum is designed to minimize voter participation.
Maryann Campling July 24, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Wow.....what a suprise! I had to leave the meeting early, but this was a no brainer. Joe Haro's suggestion was right on the money...pardon the pun...about the only thing that made any sense. And the tap dance that Commisioner B. and the BOE Prez did was worthy of Dancing with the Stars....A November referendum is the practical choice, because people will, hopefully, be getting out to vote. Late January....not so much. I see where Moorestown approved turf fields.....and we can't let Moorestown get ahead of us; we'll be the laughing stock of the "Conference" as if that matters to the majority of H-field tax payers.
Bill Tourtellotte July 24, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Yes, the price is rich, but as someone who has been following Bancroft's behavior long before there was any sale talk, one significant correction must be made to the comments above. In absolutely no uncertain terms, the relationship between the surrounding neighborhoods and Bancroft has been anything but "harmonious". The sale activities made that less of a current focus, but the undercurrents are long-standing. It has routinely been tense, hostile, litigious, etc. Neighborhood groups had been very active for many years in fighting any changes or increases in intensity by Bancroft that would serve to exacerbate what the neighbors clearly deemed to be an already unacceptable use and level of traffic and activity. Say what you will pro or con about the public purchase option, but the longstanding facts are clear that Bancroft was not a good neighbor.
Bill Tourtellotte July 24, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Yes, November would have been far better. But they simply did not have their deal cut in time to meet that deadline.
Bill Tourtellotte July 24, 2012 at 12:54 PM
The community will have their opportunity to decide about this important proposal about the future of the school district and the town. If it is important to a voter, they will show up. Most folks are around in January. Jefferson stated that we have a democracy not of the majority, but rather of those who participate. There is no doubt that the turf component of the referendum should be a separate voter question. Give all residents the ability to weigh in on not just the land acquisition, but also independently on any proposed improvements. Residents have been promised that future improvements will be subject to voter approval. But if the questions are not separated, it will demonstrate a flawed process in that regard right out of the blocks. A true voice of the community will never be heard. For example, many voters may vote no on the whole purchase because they don't want 20 year bonds on 8 year turf, or possibly want no public money for turf at all. The merits of both proposals should stand on their own. I can think of no good reason that serves the public will hat this shoud not be at least two voter questions.
John Sullivan July 24, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Bill, I suggested both November 2012 and November 2013. November 2013 coincides with the next NJ Senate/Assembly elections. In the current economic climate, it's hard to imagine much will change materially in the real estate market in the next 12 - 18 months. So, time is on the buyer's side.
John Sullivan July 24, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Bill, My point was that the business relationship between Bancroft and the town has historically been relatively harmonious. We live only 2 or 3 blocks from Bancroft, and we have had few if any issues with the actual operation of their business. (I can't say the same about the operation of Wegmann's and the properties near that side of Haddonfield, which have generate an oppressive amount of additional traffic up Grove and the side streets feeding off Grove.) In terms of Bancroft taking a negotiating position in the sale of the property (litigious or otherwise), they are a business like any other, and I would expect them to seek the best price for their property in the face of what sometimes appears to be the town's attitude that it is entitled to the property. That being said, I also expect the town to negotiate to a purchase price that is based on current real valuations, and not values assessed at the height of the real estate boom.
John Sullivan July 24, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Bill, Jefferson and his contemporaries also understood that elections should be held on days when people are most likely to participate. That is why General Elections have, since the 1790s, been held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. That was date on which farmers could most easily participate after the end of the harvest and before winter weather set in (the latter consideration remaining applicable even today). Since the Bourough is already paying for the General Election, and since polls held on the General Election maximize participation, it is the appropriate date. I was also under the impression that Haddonfield was proposing that School Board elections move to November, for precisely the same reason as above. Why the distinction for such a pivotal, historic referendum on Bancroft? And why the rush to vote on a matter than has languished more than a decade?
Bumpkin July 24, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Folks, Face the facts. Ed and Steve want to buy Bancroft and install toxic carpets on all of the fields. These meetings don't make any difference, the votes will miraculously be in favor of this, none of you have the ability individually or in a group to stop any of it. In fact, I will predict that somehow they find a way to loot the open space tax money for some part of this for absolute sure!
Mr. B. July 24, 2012 at 03:05 PM
I'm not set on this deal anyway. I think Haddonfield has to be very careful with how it proceeds with this to avoid bankrupting our town. But rest assured, if turf fields are any part of the referendum, I will NOT be voting in favor of this. And a lot of residents feel the same way. Imagine taking out a loan on a car for five years knowing it will last for three. That is exactly what they will be asking us to do here. Advice to the commissioners: ditch the turf fields if you want people to even consider voting for this!
John Sullivan July 24, 2012 at 03:38 PM
The Borough's attitude seems to be that our town is immune from the prospect of insolvency and credit downgrades. The Borough also seems to believe there will always be an influx of more affluent taxpayers to backfill less affluent taxpayers who flee the ever-escalating property taxes in Haddonfield. However, the latter belief is undermined by the fact that the Borough just raised its local tax 6-7% due to a property tax reserve shortfall that was caused by a substantial increase in deliquent property taxpayers. Given the protracted tax lien process in NJ, deliquent taxpayers will not move out immediately (assuming they can be compelled or afford to move out at all), but may instead remain deliquent for up to several years, requiring other, paid-in-full taxpayers to make up an ever-increasing shortfall. The purchase of Bancroft threatens to severely exacerbate this trend, particularly if the economy does not recover from the recession any time soon.
Bill Tourtellotte July 24, 2012 at 04:12 PM
To imply that the relationship between the neighborhoods that surround it and Bancroft has been "relatively harmonious" is simply incorrect. There is a long ongoing painful history that perhaps newer participants in this latest stage of the public process regarding this institution may have missed. This is not an opinion, but an absolute fact. I wish I had time to recount the details. Perhaps you could call the folks from Roberts Ave or the Mews or Birdwood etc. who were deeply involved if you are interested in the details.
Bill Tourtellotte July 24, 2012 at 04:18 PM
We both agree that November of 2012 would have been the best but that was, in fact, not possible. We do not agree that waiting nearly a full additional year to make it more convenient for folks to vote is advisable in this delicate situation now that a deal has been made. If the vote was between 4th of July and Labor Day or during one of the school breaks or holidays when people are traveling, I would agree that it would be a bad thing. That is not the case here.
John Sullivan July 24, 2012 at 04:41 PM
I am sure that the folks at the Mews will be more pleased about COAH housing going in behind their location, which is one prospect officials raised last night. Perhaps it is just my easy-going nature /sarc/, but I've never had any run-ins with Bancroft in my 30 years in town. I've certainly had plenty of run-ins with adverse parties though, in contentious acquistions including hostile takeovers. As they say, if one doesn't like the heat, they should stay out of the kitchen.
Brian Kelly July 24, 2012 at 05:51 PM
This deal was set a long time ago. There are other, better plans available that could have been used or at least assimilated into this one. It's about pushing it through with those turf fields. Now it's an up or down vote and the November elections would have brought out a greater contingent of residents, most notably senior citizens who would vote against a bill raising their taxes for turfed sports fields. The commissioners know their base will turn out and like it or not, most residents aren't aware of the ramifications of this bill and most will stay will stay home on a cold winter's night for a local election. This was never about including the town into the final plan. The agenda of the folks in power has always been spend and don't repair. The infrastructure of Haddonfield has been falling apart at an alarming rate. There's a reason for the terrible condition of the roads...the antiquated water system is so bad they are constantly under repair. Instead of spending 12 million dollars and addressing the problem once and for all, it's a constant stream of patchwork repair that year by year bleeds the town of enormous amounts of money. I talked to one of the contractors at Cedar ave who was working there for the umpteenth time and he told me Haddonfield's water system is in such bad shape it's nothing but constant, endless repairs that only gets worse. This bunch in office are the worst, most irresponsible officials to ever manage Haddonfield's assets.
Brian Kelly July 24, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Don't even get me started on the turf issue. Despite the misinformation given about turf, it has one purpose. Domed stadiums need turf. The NFL players association want grass in every possible situation. For all the parents hoping for turf, please keep an eye out on your children on hot days because it can really get dangerous. The NFL and NCAA player injury reports always show more injuries on turf. Hey, at least it looks real pretty, a big plus for people whose aesthetics are offended by a paltry grass field, which by the way are in terrible shape because the commissioners can't even maintain them. Take a walk on Radnor field. In the outfield there are small patches of lush green grass surrounded by huge patches of burnt toast lawn. One spot has a 30 foot circle with a rim of green lawn and everything in the middle is dead. Why? Because the commissioners can't even properly maintain the sprinkler system to water the fields. In the early fall it will fill out somewhat with weeds but the undergrowth is shot. Wonder why our girl's field hockey field is in such terrible shape? Now you know. The ineptitude of our elected officials lets our kids play in dangerous conditions but hey, a lousy field is a good selling point for turf. In a few days Haddonfield United's facebook page will show pictures taken of the field throughout the summer. Make your own decision.
Taxpayer July 24, 2012 at 08:41 PM
One stated reason that Nov won't work is that the turf fundraisers need time to reach their goal so BOE knows whether it can subtract $800K from the refendum. Ask them why the same reasoning is not being applied to the County Open Space grants--why might referendum be held before County Grant amounts are known, and as a result (you'd expect, anyway) subtracted from referendum? If the referendum passes, why would the county think Haddonfield needs ANY grant $$ since the town has voted to foot the entire bill? It is outrageous that this could be up for vote without first knowing county grant amounts. They must think we are gullible fools.
Maryann Campling July 24, 2012 at 08:53 PM
I was raised by blue collar parents in Philly, Daddy was a truck driver and Mother stood on her feet 8 hours a day on a production line. They had about 12 years of formal education between them and the were two of the smartest people I've ever known. We lived well...never wanted for anything. They had two basic tenents when it came to finances: 1. Don't spend money you don't have. and 2. There's a difference between what you WANT and what you NEED. When they died they didn't leave me a huge estate or a trust fund....but they also didn't leave any debt. I think the Boro could take a page out of their book. As far as Bancroft being a problem to the folks on my end of town (Lee Ave)...We can live with their presence...the unknown is a big threat. And to Taxpayer re: "do they think we are gullible fools"?.....they are counting on it! Keep pushing back.
Taxpayer July 24, 2012 at 09:04 PM
BOE doesn't want the borough to maximize OS grants because the land purchased with these grants would be restricted permanently from development. BOE wants to control the sale, then sell the smallest parcel possible to the borough. (And then what? more school bonds to build? or the BOE resells for development?) If BOE plays the commissioners right the borough might not get any county grants. Our commissioners don't want the cost of maintenance, so why not give as much as possible over to BOE? Who cares if Haddonfield taxpayers lose millions in grants in the process?
Brian Kelly July 24, 2012 at 09:57 PM
At last night's meeting one of the residents asked about unused fields being sold if the sports complex happens. She referenced Radnor and the lower income housing proposal. All the commissioners had a big chuckle about that one before one of them said "That proposal was on the table for about six minutes". "That proposal" was put forth at the first meeting I attended last year and the only reason it didn't get put into motion was because everyone living near Radnor field went ballistic. It was also the first time I heard about the lower income housing being put there because it was the less affluent section of town. The commissioners still try and distance themselves from that remark. That statement tells you everything you need to know about their mindset. I remember being flabbergasted that political officials would make a make a public relations blunder like that... but for a group of people to still put it forth shows you one thing. It's the way they feel. Commissioner Borden restated it during his July 3rd interview with the Courier Post and then later tried to say he was misquoted. Bull. The hard working middle and upper middle class families of Haddonfield are the heart of the town and are the ones who will feel the brunt of this Bancroft turf fiasco. Who pays for the new turf fields in 8 years when the price doubles? What happens to the 4th of July fireworks? Need to purchase special covering for the fields? The hidden costs of this deal are just beginning.

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