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PTA Packs Them in for Bancroft Q&A

The overflow crowd was roped in with tight rules.

An overflow crowd of more than 50 squeezed into a small section of the Central-Middle school library Monday for a Q&A with school officials about the Jan. 22, $12.5 million Bancroft bond referendum.

If approved, the money would be used to purchase and develop the 19.2-acre Bancroft property adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School on Kings Highway East.

The borough PTA Zone sponsored the meeting and imposed tight rules that included writing all questions on index cards to be read by a PTA leader to school board members and borough commissioners who attended the meeting. The rules also included an attempt to prevent reporters from taking notes or photos during the meeting.

Beth Glennon, the former Zone PTA president, told a reporter she was in charge of the meeting and that she would set the rules. Her restrictions contradicted an agreement earlier in the day with Kryssy DeVivo, the president and chairperson of  PTA Zone, the boroughwide PTA organization.

The restrictions, announced as participants arrived at the 7:30 p.m. meeting, also rankled a member of a group opposed to the purchase, who said they had been given an assurance prior to the meeting that they would be able to speak.

"We were promised our chance to give a rebuttal, give our side of the story," said Brian Kelly, a member of Haddonfield United, which opposes the purchase. "Both sides need to be addressed, it's part of the democratic process. We got bounced."

This was the last planned public meeting on the referendum before the vote.

The format did speed the meeting along. It lasted just over an hour, or about an hour shorter than dozens of meetings on the purchase over the last two years have lasted on average.

A sampling of attendees said they knew more about the purchase afterward, despite the restrictive format.

"Yes, we got some answers," said Lee Kenny, 50, of Roberts Avenue. "I still have some questions about underground tanks or environmental hazards on the site. I was on the fence when I came in and I'm still on the fence."

Opposed to high-density development

Kenny and her husband Tom, 52, were opposed to an earlier development plan to build an assisted-care, nursing facility on the property.

Bancroft, a center for the rehabilitation of the developmentally disabled and those with acquired brain injuries, has occupied the property at 425 Kings Highway East for the past 128 years. Officials have announced plans to sell it to move and update their aging facility in another location. Bancroft said it would seek to renovate and expand its existing facility if the bond referendum is rejected.

Tom Kenny said the traffic and noise at Bancroft is intolerable now. For that reason, he's leaning toward supporting the public purchase.

"My concern is losing the chance to buy the property," Kenny said. "I don't want to see a more dense built-out of Bancroft."

Dr. Beth Zigmund, 43, a physician who lives on Spruce Street, said she can see both sides of the issue, but still plans to vote no.

"The reasons that some people support this is are legitimate," she said. "Better schools, with more property, who wouldn't want that? But the price is too high. Nothing in this referendum is to improve educational facilities. Any improvement for that can't be accomplished without multiple millions of dollars more in bonds.

"There are a lot of people in this town who can't afford that. I'm fine, but some of my neighbors can't afford another $500 a year in taxes."

The BOE estimates a typical resident with a property assessment value of $492,000 will pay $189.22 a year in additional taxes for the next 20 years for the Bancroft purchase.

Haddonfield’s average property tax bill 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 a private golf course. Haddonfield's property tax bills are 27 percent higher than Voorhees, $8,777.41, third in the county.

The school board and the borough have a joint purchase agreement for the $16 million acquisition which includes $3.5 million of guarantees for open-space preservation funds from the borough, county and state.

John Moscatelli January 09, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Joe, The project budget is available on the BoE site. Here's a breakdown from the original proposal: $12.192M for the land $1.75M demo and site prep $1.2M turf athletic field complex and parking lots $800K turf on Stadium field $100K concession stand/rest rooms $770K 20% soft costs $16.8M total ($16.8M minus $12.2M land = $4.6M in other costs) Since then the Stadium turf ($800K) was removed as they raised their money and then subtract of $3.5M in grants and you get the referendum amount of $12.5M. Now keep in mind that there are about $4M in County Open Space funds available that Haddonfield tax payers paid into the fund, but the BoE only requested funds for 3.68 acres. This land is all steep slopes and wetlands that can not be developed. They don't want more grant money because they want to be able to develop the land, and using grant money would require them to leave the land open space.
Sharon Parker January 09, 2013 at 03:36 PM
Please know that "open space" is defined by Camden County as both passive and active open space. Check it our for yourself. http://www.camdencounty.com/parks/going-green/open-space-farmland-preservation. Any resident who wants more open space on the property has the ability to advocate that issue once the land is procured. One of the most flexible aspects of the BOE plan is that a portion of the land use is undefined. This allows residents to petition their specific desires for land use in the future. Also please be aware that without the acquisition of open space, the tax dollars that we've already paid into the fund are never returned to the borough.
Joe Taxpayer January 09, 2013 at 04:02 PM
John, thanks very much for that and the details. Also, we do pay into the county OS fund, about $500k a year so getting that money back to enhance our use is a good thing for a change. Same for state money
John Moscatelli January 09, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Sharon, Interesting, because on page four of the formal application document it states that funding is limited to conservation and passive recreation. That's why the Borough isn't trying to get all the County Open Space tax money we've paid, they don't want to restrict use. None of this gets around the fact that we are grossly overpaying; according to the BoE's own appraisal the land is worth $6.5M for residential development, which is what it is zoned for. This is a huge windfall for Bancroft and a bad deal for taxpayers.
Tom Kenny January 09, 2013 at 04:29 PM
Brian, I wrote a long response earlier this morning but it exceeded allowable space by 1500 words so I guess that it didn't transmit. In a nutshell traffic & noise is WAY down on my list of issues with Bancroft, let's be very clear on that. Do you recall an organization called S.H.A.I.R. (Secure Haddonfield Against Institutional Rezoning)? from back in the early 2000's. Bancroft was so use to getting whatever they asked for from our Town Leaders that they requested to have the entire Hopkins Lane are rezoned as Institutional, fortunately we found out about it an organized and filled Borough Hall and stayed there until after midnight until our Zoning Board finally decided to take a step back and try to find out what Bancroft was up to and quickly realized that they were in serious nonconforming use on that residential street. I won't even mention the Lindens, Google it. Moving across the street from a High School you accept traffic for the 10 months that the kids are in school, Bancroft runs 365 24x7 with their own vans along with every serving townships vans and buses and they all use our side streets coming on and off 295 & Rt. 70. Tom
Reed Rothchild January 09, 2013 at 04:47 PM
If additional athletic fields are developed as planned you might as well throw in the cost of more (obnoxious) speed bumps on Hopkins Lane, Windsor Ave, Merion Ave. and Hawthorne Ave.since the cut-through traffic will increase significantly.
Joe Taxpayer January 09, 2013 at 04:55 PM
@John Moscatelli, state statutes do not allow for the restriction of land for only passive recreation. Green Acres, towns and county OS funds have long been used for the acquisition, development and installation of turf fields. In fact, state statutes specifically say all outdoor recreation active and passive are OK. I think even Brian Kelly double checked this.
Pro-Haddonfield January 09, 2013 at 04:55 PM
I don't think you'll see much of an increase. I will say that having parking available to students at the high school will cut down on the frenzy that comes with trying to find a spot to park in the surrounding neighborhoods while trying to get to school on time. I remember looking at houses in the area and being turned off by the parking situation both in the morning and afternoon not to mention when there is a concert or basketball game etc going on at the high school. I imagine neighbors would appreciate the possibility of relief from this.
John Moscatelli January 09, 2013 at 05:22 PM
I can't dispute that, I thought active recreation was OK too, but what I quoted is directly off the County application. I'd copy it here, but I can't paste a picture and the application is a PDF. However, if they can include active open space, why are they only applying for 3.68 acres? The deeper you look the more this whole thing smells. Now we find One Haddonfield is funded primarily by Bancroft; they know a gift when they see it.
Pro-Haddonfield January 09, 2013 at 05:50 PM
Not sure why Bancroft's contribution is an issue. It was reported and who does one think they would support? I think they are interested in relocating so why are we being so dramatic here? Smells like common sense to me.
David Siedell January 09, 2013 at 06:21 PM
The offer price for the land in the proposal is 12.192M. The August 2012 Appraisal of the property by Renwick & Associates puts the value of the property at 15.1M. The document is a bear to download so I've uploaded it to the Civic Association Document viewer: http://www.slideshare.net/haddonfieldcivic/bancroft-appraisal Please see page 2 for the appraised value.
Jack S January 09, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Dave: There were two appraisal in the Renick document: $6.5M and $15.1M. The $6.5M appraisal is the only appraisal that reflects uses that are permitted at the property. The $15.1M is not relevent because it assumes a "higest and best use" of the property which is not legally permitted. If this were a matter of land being seized (as opposed to a negotiated price), "highest and best" use would be relevant, but it's merely a red hering in the context of this proposed purchase.
David Siedell January 09, 2013 at 06:40 PM
Jack S. I expanded on this on HaddonfieldTalks: Many people point out the land is in an R2 residential zone and that is true and Bancroft's campus is a pre-existing, non-conforming use of the land in that zone. However Bancroft is still a school and a campus and is for sale as such. What a buyer wants to do with the land is restricted by what you can do. However if you buy it as a campus it can remain a campus and its value is 15.1M according to the appraiser.
Pro-Haddonfield January 09, 2013 at 07:06 PM
I think Crow's Woods has three or four ball fields and at least 6 soccer fields. If fields eventually are placed on a partial piece of Bancroft I think we are looking at 2-3 total fields max if we even get more than one. And by the way, this is a high school we are talking about, that isn't changing. Every school I visit has multiple available facilities for every sport. We don't have a ball field or fully competitive soccer field at the high school. We can't get past the need that exists. Neighbors by the high school knew that the high school would be their neighbor when they moved in. When I evaluated where I wanted to live, I fully considered every neighborhood before making a decision and can't complain about it now. I'm reminded of the individuals that moved down the street from the 7-11 and then complained about their hours. Oy.
Joe Taxpayer January 09, 2013 at 07:54 PM
@John M, the reply button didn't work so I am commenting here. I don't think its a surprise that the plan is to use some of the land for open space eligible uses both to acquire and develop which are permissable under the statutes and the rest is for other future uses. If the entire parcel were to be used just for open space (active/passive), then presumably the entire purchase price would be eligible. Whether the county or state would fund the entire deal under those circumstances is another story. I appreciate the sharing of information.
John Moscatelli January 09, 2013 at 08:34 PM
The issue is OneHaddonfield represents itself as a grassroots organization when it is funded by Bancroft. It's rather ironic that the term for this type of fake grassroots group is an Astroturf Group. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroturfing The practice is dishonest and underhanded. If your funded by Bancroft, then say so. Let people know where the message is coming from.
John Moscatelli January 09, 2013 at 08:35 PM
Joe, my concern is that the BoE is trumpeting the open space aspect of this, and lots of folks mistakenly think there is a large amount of open space included. This is not true; the intent is to develop.
Jack S January 09, 2013 at 09:13 PM
I don't have the #s with me, as I'm in the office today. But I believe the demo costs in the BoE's plan are in the range of $1.7 million, or between $15 and $20 per square foot. When several local citizens who oppose the bond (and who have engineering expertise) benchmarked actual demolition costs for the site based upon inquiries to leading demolition firms in our region, the cost estimates came in vastly lower, at between $4 and $5 per square foot. This differential is due in large part to the fact that the BoE's demolition estimate is based eroneously on US Veteran Administration benchmark costs and, as such, assumes, among other things, that the BoE must pay its contracted demolition firm(s) prevailing wages pursuant to the Davis Bacon Act. The BoE is not subject to such Federal regulations, including Federal prevailing wage mandates and, as a result, the board's demolition costs are inflated by as much as three or four times. The excessive dollars in the bond for demolition are excentuated by the fact that the recently release Phase II environmental study found a relatively few red flags. (I just hope the study is accurate, as I live not too far away from Bancroft.)
Joe Taxpayer January 09, 2013 at 09:23 PM
JM, reasonable concern but the land is not open space today so any amount carved out would be an enhancement to the boro and future generations. It's not like we have lots of options of land to save.
Jack S January 09, 2013 at 09:40 PM
Dave, the $15.1 million appraisal is not reflective of the permitted uses of the property. As such, it is not a relevant appraisal. Although Bancroft is using the property as a campus, the $15.1 million appraisal wrongly assumes an EXPANDED institutional use of the property, which is different from Bancroft's current nonconforming use. Bancroft would need to request a use variance for such expanded institutional use, which in turn would require approval from a super majority of our zoning board -- a difficult proposition even in the best circumstances. Remember the 1000s of residents opposed to high-density development (of which an expanded institution use would be one flavor)? When I spoke with board president Steve Weinstein a few months back concerning the number of third party buyers who would line up to purchase the property for an expanded institutional use, he couldn't think of any. If Bancroft itself thought it would be so easy to get a use variance for an expanded institutional use, why are they selling?
Jack S January 09, 2013 at 09:47 PM
Perhaps it's just me, but the concept of turf being open space is a stretch. Yes, I realize that it may qualify technically as "active open space" under certain grants, but a stadium environment, with the lights and sound system, is not a location where I'm going to escape for a stroll and peace and quite. Again, just my opinion, for what it's worth. Others are free to disagree.
Jack S January 09, 2013 at 10:03 PM
Actually, the 3.68 acres covered by the grants is currently open. And that 3.68 acres would remain open even if a third party were to acquire the property today, as those acres are essentially wetlands and unbuildable slopes. In terms of the buildings to be demolished, I would hope that such land could remain open, but it's quite probable, given the board's consistent statements about the need for educational construction on the property, that some portion of that area would be taken for district projects.
angela melzi January 09, 2013 at 10:31 PM
$28 Million plus capital improvement proposal for existing 5 school buildings was presented to the BOE 6/6/12 by Garrison Arch. hired BOE architecht for the Bancroft proj. This proposal is for repairs rennovations infrastructure issues etc that the architecht deems necessary for these buildings This $28Mil proposal is in addition to the Bancroft bond This proposal has not been made public by the BOE On 11/27/12 at a BOE mtg I asked the BOE about this proposal and showed the colored bound proposal I had in my possession. Initial BOE member response was denial then Mr Weinstein stated that this report had been submitted to the NJ Dept of Ed to meet Long Range Plan requirements suggesting that the BOE took the stated needs of this plan seriously enough to provide the State with such A Bond and attempt to secure State funding was suggested in this proposal as method for obtaining such money I believe it is important that ALL information be made available to Haddonfield voters by the BOE so that well informed decisions can be made I question if this is the case At present, Haddonfield has bond debt, I believe, totaling $41mil +/-;County, BOE and Borough. $18Million +/- is BOE debt from bonds '99 $18mil+/-, '04 $14mil+/- for which $2mil+/- is pd yearly Total Bond money given to BOE 1988-2004 is $44mil+/- I must seriously question the fiscal responsiblity of incuring addtional debt when so much is needed to maintain
Brian Kelly January 09, 2013 at 10:46 PM
Pro Haddonfield is correct that it's legal for Bancroft to contribute to one Haddonfield. My problem concerns a conflict of interest as the property is overpriced by millions of dollars. I have a big problem with this. Some people won't. It will up to each individual to make to make that decision. The biggest issues will be the ones everyone has been discussing for the past months. John M, I made the same assumption about the active space but Joe Taxpayer corrected me and got me the right info.
Brian Kelly January 09, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Tom, I do have friends living in your area that have those concerns such as I stated but still, I agree these are not the major points driving the bond. There are lots of pro and con on many issues but the most important one comes down to cost and how higher taxes will affect people over the years. There are many people that are having trouble dealing with costs and many that are just tired of paying these taxes and want repairs to our roads, schools, our water system (that's going to be a big one) before this kind of money is spent. That's really the primary focus.
Mister Mike January 10, 2013 at 02:04 AM
@Jack S, I agree with you on that specific observation. My understanding of open space is that it's open to the use of the people to use for various things. Yes, there may be some restrictions such as whether pets can be walked there, hours that the space is closed (say from 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM as an example) and others, but by and large people can use open space to walk, run, and a picnic, etc. I highly doubt that a sports stadium, whether with a turf field or natural grass, would be open to the public to enjoy except to attend sports events. Additionally, with most of those sporting events (such as football) you will probably need to Pay admission, even though Haddonfield residents have already had their property taxes used to build the sports facility. That hardly sounds like open space to me!
Mister Mike January 10, 2013 at 02:46 AM
@Pro-Haddonfield. I agree with you 100% that one needs to consider what is already there when deciding to purchase a house. You don't buy and then decide something shouldn't be there that was there first. My wife and I purchased our house over 23 years ago across from a county park with a lake. That was a definite positive, while having daily traffic that was 1000% more than our old house located on a cu-DE-sac was a big negative. Suffice it to say that the positive outweighed the negative for us. Our decision once made, we would never demand that the county change our street into a local permit needed to use it or park on it road!
Concerned January 10, 2013 at 03:11 AM
I would love for Bancroft to stay, but the truth is that they want to go. Moving would benefit their students and staff. The best choice for that property, if sold, would be the BOE. The main discrepancy I can’t seem to comprehend is the BOE overpaying for the property. In addition, less then a year ago, BOE outsourced therapies to Bancroft (their largest public schools contact) for $657,236 with ever considering other alternatives. Other public schools usually go thru a competitive bid process. What is the BOE and Bancroft correlation?
Jack S January 10, 2013 at 03:55 AM
@Mister Mike. I'm also concerned that the open space we already have in Haddonfield is in abysmal shape. In some cases, that's the fault of the County. Hopkins Pond, for example, is a stone's throw from my house, but I never go there except to drive by. The pond is so dirty and disgusting that it saddens me to see it. I used to catch fish there as a kid, but now I wouldn't want to get a drop of that water near me. The acquisition of Bancroft does nothing to improve that situation. If the Borough could convince the County to get its act together on Hopkins pond, then that would do something to improve open space.
Joe Taxpayer January 10, 2013 at 03:56 AM
Jack S, yes lots of people have different definitions and views on what they would define as "open space". The good news is that state statutes define it for us. As a reference, the state open space laws funded through the Green Acres Program have this to say Q What can be developed with Green Acres money? A For Green Acres purposes, “development” is the improvement of parkland with facilities for outdoor recreation and/or conservation purposes. Examples of development projects include construction of tot lots, athletic fields, running tracks, athletic courts, walkways, trails, boat ramps and boardwalks. Structures that will be used to support the outdoor recreation use of parkland (such as restrooms, maintenance sheds, or concession stands) may be constructed with Green Acres funds. Below is the press release from last fall on funded Green Acres projects. As you can see, open space money goes to support open space AND all things that come with open space such as turf fields, parking lots, restrooms, boat docks, etc. Consider when open space money goes to preserve someone's farm. Do we get to walk on and pick our fruits and vegetables when that happens? Of course not yet it is acquired with our open space tax dollars and we have zero access or control of it. http://www.nj.gov/dep/newsrel/2012/12_0106.htm

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