Let’s work to preserve the cool spaces in our town
People who visit Hammonton—as well as Hammontonians—often comment on how much they enjoy how the town “looks.”
They are impressed by our historic buildings that have been revitalized downtown, a renovated highway district, tree-lined streets with rows of well-kept homes, parks like Hammonton Lake Park and well-maintained school buildings on attractive grounds (well, except for the “Mento-Lyons Solar Array and Enclosure Project.” But nothing’s perfect).
All these areas combine to create a general “cool’ look to the town’s. spaces The scale is usually one- to two-story commercial buildings and homes, spread out on decent-sized lots on grid streets. It’s a walkable town, with sidewalks throughout our residential and commercial areas.
The town continues to promote that walkability with new sidewalks, including a recent meeting about the project that will use a $502,000 Safe Routes to Schools grant. It’s a good idea, one that will create more connectivity on the streets leading up to all four school buildings.
Right now, a project is underway to renovate Capt. Gerard V. Palma Playground at Hammonton Lake Park. It’s another good effort by the town that will augment improvements to the lake park including the town’s construction of the Hammonton Canoe Club building, the Kiwanis Community Complex, renovated by the Hammonton Kiwanis Club, and the Hammonton Little League fields.
A note about those Little League fields: They have been there since 1947, and they are like the Fenway Park or Wrigley Field of Little League baseball. A World Series Championship season was fostered there in 1949. It’s an example of people using the same area for the same use, 75 years after the original field was created. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
It reminds me of the recent Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which has also been held in the same general area for many decades. It works so well—people walk from one area of the festival to another, with the carnival in the center of a city block and the other organizations’ headquarters and food stands, including St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish, the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society, the Assumption Society and the Sons of Italy all only steps from each other. Amazing memories are made each Feast Week because of the compact nature of the festival. It promotes togetherness.
The downtown area also serves that purpose. I don’t know what the future holds for Central Avenue, with the Central Piazza project possibly looming. I know I wouldn’t want to see the street closed in any way. I think the storeowners have worked hard to fill the street again, and with Wells Fargo closing on October 5, we should be looking at ways to fill that building with a tax ratable and foster growth.
I always thought the revitalization effort is supposed to be about aiding and promoting businesses.
Has that changed?
The local government usually made moves to support the downtown and the entire town. That’s how the town hall wound up at Central Avenue and Vine Street and not 11th Street or anywhere else. Now the local government is in the redevelopment business. Between redevelopment zones and inclusionary development zones, we’re seeing a significant increase in apartment housing. People like to talk about preserving traditions, and how that is important to them. Is that our tradition here in Hammonton? Apartment complexes? Townhomes? Maybe three-story townhomes?
Is that in keeping with Hammonton’s unique character?
When I was a kid in the late ‘80s, I walked from Tilton Street to School House Lane (Vine Street) and enjoyed the Red, White & Blueberry Festival under the massive trees on the grounds of Hammonton Middle School (now St. Joseph Academy) and along the street. Eventually, the blueberry festival was moved, and earlier this year all the large trees along the street—about a dozen of them—were cut down by the town because supposedly, the street could not be repaired with them in place.
Trees are cut down. Shade disappears. Things change. Traditions end. I’m not convinced they all must change, and I’m not convinced the local government—municipal and school—is making all its decisions in the best interest of the town. It’s time for the mayor and council to retire that “we do it for all 15,000” line they use.
I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore.
As for those trees, I did mention them recently to Dan Bachalis—a columnist here at The Gazette and the chair of the Hammonton Environmental Commission, who had mentioned at a council meeting earlier this year that the town was seeking a location for the signs proudly stating its newly-designated “Tree City USA” status.
I suggested he put those signs where those beautiful trees along School House Lane once were. There is a lot more room there now.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.