Commissioner Ed Borden said Thursday he thinks the borough still needs to "have a conversation" with Bancroft Neurohealth about acquiring its 19.2-acre campus, even though a bond referendum for a public purchase of the land was rejected by voters Tuesday.
Borden made the comments to a reporter during a school board meeting Thursday. He was at the meeting for a discussion on school safety.
"I'm sure we will have a conversation with Bancroft about where we go from here, about if there are any other alternatives," Borden said. "I think we have an obligation to, at least, have a conversation with them. Bancroft's public statements are that it's over, but I think it's important to have a conversation with them to see if there are any other possibilities to explore."
Bancroft, the center for developmental disabilities and acquired brain injuries, has occupied its campus at 425 Kings Highway East for the past 130 years. School board President Steve Weinstein spearheaded the public purchase effort that led to the referendum. He thanked a crowd of about two dozen at the board meeting Thursday during a public statement.
"That's what democracy is all about," he said about the referendum's defeat by 251 votes, 2,387 to 2,136, with nearly half of the borough's 9,434 registered voters casting ballots.
Afterward, Weinstein said the BOE effort to purchase the property for athletic field expansion and future use was over.
"The commissioners have to decide which course to take. They have to decide whether to revoke the redevelopment designation or go forward. Or, they have to decide how to deal with Bancroft's request for rezoning and variances requests to do what they want to do. Those are the two current approaches; they don't really involve the school district."
Bancroft released a statement Tuesday detailing what it intends to do next.
"We are excited to begin the process of modernizing our campus, so we can provide the best possible services here in Haddonfield for many, many years to come," said Toni Pergoin, Bancroft's president and CEO. "We know there will be challenges along the way, but we look forward to working proactively with borough representatives to make the process as smooth and positive as possible for everyone."
Borden acknowledged Bancroft's statement seemed to leave little doubt about what it wanted to happen next, but he and the other two borough commissioners, Tish Colombi and Jeff Kasko, still need to figure out what they want to do next.
"I've always thought it would be in the public interest to acquire some or all of the property, but the hurdles that we would face now are even more difficult," he said. "We had a public referendum in which the public determined it did not want a public purchase of the property, at least not of the whole property.
"The referendum decision was pretty clear. I think there were many factors that went into the loss of the referendum but it would be my expectation that the strongest was concern about an increase in taxes. There are certainly ways to substantially decrease that impact and there are ways ratables could offset increases."
Borden said residential housing on the property is still a possibility.
"Something that generates ratables and thus offsets property taxes is something the public would at least want to hear about."
Borden did rule out the development of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), a plan he championed in the past that residents rejected as "high-density" development.
"I think the chances of a CCRC are very, very, very, very, very unlikely," he said.