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A swath of open space in Cherry Hill located just across from the Merchantville Country Club and surrounded by a residential neighborhood may get a makeover to replace its dilapidated vacant buildings.
In the latest step in a major redevelopment plan, the township has targeted the area for an apartment complex with 300 units – much to the dismay of some nearby Still Park residents and others who object to the proposal.
“We believe it is a wonderful reuse of underutilized properties in this particular part of town,” said Mayor Chuck Cahn. “I’m very supportive of this.”
A proposal approved by the township planning last week calls for building the apartments between Cuthbert Boulevard and Hampton Road on a tract of unused commercial space and woodlands on the west side of the township.
The 20-acre parcel, once home to a commercial printing facility, has been vacant for years. The township identified the site, which has fallen into disrepair, as an “Area in need of redevelopment.”
The plan is part of an settlement reached by the township in June 2015 that secured the future of the the Woodcrest Country Club as a golf course and ended a bitter fight over affordable housing in Cherry Hill.
That agreement immunized Cherry Hill against more litigation over past affordable-housing goals, under the state’s Mount Laurel decision. Cherry Hill and the advocates had been involved in legal disputes for three decades.
At least 15 percent of the units in the proposed apartment complex would be set aside for affordable housing and for people with disabilities. The plan includes a fitness center, outdoor pool, a playground and a dog park.
“It makes a lot of sense to replace old warehouses with new homes,” said Kevin Walsh, Executive Director of the Fair Share Housing Center, which along with local NAACP branches, filed suit a lawsuit several years ago to force the creation of affordable housing. “This is a wise use of land and a good way for Cherry Hill to meet its housing obligations.”
The proposal is among a series of projects now in Cherry Hill’s redevelopment pipeline for the heavily developed Camden County community of more than 70,000 residents. Cherry Hill has been using redevelopment – a state-sanctioned combination of tax incentives, spot zoning, negotiated purchases, and the implicit threat of eminent domain – to start replacing vacant or shabby properties.
Some residents are concerned about traffic and congestion and the possible loss of wooded areas near the proposed apartment complex. They also contend the Still Park neighborhood already has too many rental units and worry about the impact of more on property values.
“I’m really upset about it,” said Wendy Kates, 68, a longtime resident and real estate appraiser who lives in the Erlton section. “Do we need 300 more units on the West side? An emphatic ‘no!’”
Some critics question why the township would propose putting the complex across from the Merchantville Country Club. The township’s 2015 agreement on affordable housing preserved the 165-acre Woodcrest Country Club property as a golf club.
Founded in 1892, the Merchantville Country Club touts itself as “South Jersey’s Best Kept secret” as the 10th oldest golf club in the country. It has a nine-hole golf course and a club house.
Mark Fanelli, Merchantville Country Club President, said club officials “have some concerns” about the proposed development across the street from the golf course and were awaiting more details on how the project would impact the club.
“This is very early in the planning stages,” Fanelli said. “Right now we don’t know anything.”
Cahn and township officials say the project will have little or no impact on the country club and steps will be taken to divert traffic from congested areas. They also said the project will add additional green space to the area.
“It doesn’t work. It needs to be revitalized in some fashion,” said township spokeswoman Bridget Palmer.
The proposed site includes the former Saunders Publishing Co. printing plant, which has been vacant for 10 years. The tract includes what planner Bob Melvin of Group Melvin Design, which prepared the site study, described as inaccessible woods area.
In a 46-page draft proposal to the planning board, Melvin said redeveloping the Hampton Road site would help ease pressure to develop elsewhere in Cherry Hill. Township officials agreed, saying they want to preserve open space.
The redevelopment plan calls for a mixture of buildings, including eight two-story quadriplexes, eight three-story walk-up units, one three-story building with an elevator and two four-story elevator apartment buildings. A one bedroom unit could rent for about $2,000 a month, the mayor said.
The tract is expected to be developed by Cherry Hill Land Associates, the owner of Woodcrest Country Club. The firm is a subsidiary of First Montgomery Group and in 2013 had sought to build 840 apartments on the site of the Woodcrest Country Club.
The proposal must be approved by township Council. A date has not been set. If approved, Cahn said the project, which could cost between $50 million and $80 million, would be done in phases and take several years to complete.
“People don’t want change,” Cahn said. “As the mayor, I have a responsibility to take these blighted sites and improve them.”
Last year, the planning board gave final approval to the Park Boulevard plan, the first of five redevelopment projects. It calls for a combination of apartments and townhouses on Route 70 overlooking the Cooper River.
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