Redevelopment zone OK’d
Parcels on 11th & Wash. Sts., town garage on S. EHR
HAMMONTON—During a special meeting held on July 6, the town council voted unanimously to approve the establishment of a redevelopment zone for three parcels of land, including two parcels located at the corner of 11th and Washington Streets and one parcel located on S. Egg Harbor Road, the site of the municipally-owned Public Works Building (informally known as the Hammonton Highway Garage).
According to the July 6 council meeting agenda, the council passed Resolution #97-2022 “Determining Redevelopment Area” which resolved:
“1. The property referenced above (Block 2608, Lots 1 and 2 and Block 2902, Lot 12 on the Town of Hammonton Tax Map) is a redevelopment area; and
“2. The Municipal Clerk is hereby directed to forward a copy of this Resolution to the Commissioner of Community Affairs for his/her review and to take any other action required by the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.”
After the meeting, The Gazette contacted town solicitor Michael Malinsky and asked if the property had been named in the town’s COAH/Fair Housing settlement.
“Yes. Lots 1 & 2 of Block 2608 and Lot 12 of Block 2902 (hereinafter collectively referred to as the ‘Redevelopment Area’) are part of the Town’s Settlement Agreement with Fair Share Housing Center dated April 30, 2018. The Settlement Agreement contemplates the Redevelopment Area being utilized as a rental development with a 15 percent affordable set aside,” Malinsky wrote in an email to The Gazette on July 10.
Town planner Stuart Wiser of town engineering firm Adams, Rehmann and Heggan presented information regarding the redevelopment zone to the council during the meeting.
During the meeting Mayor Stephen DiDonato commented on what kind of housing could be coming to the redevelopment area.
“If somebody tells you it’s low-income housing, we don’t know what’s going to happen. If somebody tells you it’s going to be market-rate housing, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” DiDonato said.
Members of the public spoke about the redevelopment zone’s potential impact during the public session of the meeting.
“I came back here. This is my home. And when I see projects like this coming into my neighborhood, I don’t like it … I know a lot of people who are very much against it. I could probably get you a thousand signatures in a week,” Susan Cruz of S. Washington Street said.
Later in the meeting, when the public hearing process was being discussed, Councilman Sam Rodio commented on public opposition having an influence on the council.
“And if it ever gets to that point, find them thousand people and fill this room. Tell them you don’t want it. That’s all you got to do. It’ll go away,” Rodio said.
The council said there would be a series of meetings with public hearings in the coming months about any potential project that may be built, and that the public would be able to comment at those meetings.
“You could be looking at six to 12 months before we come back, possibly with somebody that might be interested,” DiDonato said.
The issue of potential contamination at the site was discussed during the meeting.
“Isn’t that land supposed to be contaminated? And now all of a sudden it’s not contaminated? How does that happen?” Cruz asked.
“That would all have to be tested. If that’s the case. They would have to do a phase one, phase two study and do their due diligence. I don’t know of anything on the one parcel,” DiDonato said.
Resident Christina Pinto of Washington Street joined Cruz in voicing her concerns about contamination on the property involved with the redevelopment zone during the meeting.
“This gentleman here to my left [referring to Wiser, who was seated to her left] the last meeting we had, he said that, right before the meeting he was told that there was contamination on that land, or possible contamination that was discussed years ago and he did not know about it until that meeting. So it’s known,” Pinto said.
Wiser commented during the meeting.
“I think the young lady clarified. I did not discover any contamination in terms of what she is talking about ... Somebody from I believe the audience represented that there was contamination, the same way we heard about what apparently the rumors are for what that development is going to be. I can say that in our report we did indicate that there was historic groundwater contamination, that remediation took place and DEP indicated an unrestricted use on one of the lots and on the second lot again historic contamination remediation took place. So on two lots … there was historic fill, historic identified contamination that had been remediated and unrestricted use classification was issued by DEP. To the extent that there was anything other than that, we did not identify it, we were not, it was beyond the scope of what we did. And I think mayor you’re right, any developer that comes in is going to have to address any of those site conditions, be it anything from wetlands to underground storage tanks to full-blown contamination, as part of their development process, according to law,” Wiser said.
Councilman Thomas Gribbin asked Wiser who would be responsible for any potential cleanup of contamination.
“If by chance there were contamination, remediation would be at the cost of the developer, not the town?” Gribbin asked.
“That is my starting point when I write a redevelopment plan. Now, if you decide that the project is so good, you as council decide that the project is so good that you want to kick in for part of that, that is a decision you make at the time. My starting point is that the town’s not out-of-pocket,” Wiser said.
“Until you get a phase one and a phase two and possibly, possibly if necessary some soil samples, nobody’s going to know. Everybody’s just honestly grabbing at straws right now,” DiDonato said.
“We were going to put this building up there at one time, if I remember right … The contamination didn’t go nowhere. If it wasn’t there then, why would it be there now?” Rodio said.
“Town hall was going to be there … I can’t say that’s why they didn’t build it there. They didn’t build it there because at the time, the political winds changed, and they felt this was a better location to support the downtown in this area to keep town hall downtown. So I wouldn’t say it was because of pollution or anything else,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato asked Hammonton Public Works Manager Robert Vettese if there were any studies regarding contamination on the site.
“I think when we were originally looking at it for town hall, I believe there might even be some borings or a study that was done, but I’m not sure … Atlantic County had a storage yard there at one time,” Vettese said.
“I think the reality that DEP issued no further action unrestricted findings for the two lots tells you something,” Wiser said.
According to a front-page article in the October 19, 2005 edition of The Gazette, “According to Pinelands Commission Director of Regulatory Programs Charles Horner, the town’s application for a 28,492-square-foot town hall received a preliminary approval without supporting documents for environmental studies outlining the 11th Street site’s former use as a dumpsite and debris and other contaminants that could be in the soil.
“Horner stated that the Pinelands Commission had not received the reports as part of the municipality’s submission by town engineer Adams, Rehmann & Heggan, which was received by the Pinelands Commission on September 16.
“‘We did not receive those reports. We will be writing a letter to the township asking about information from those reports … I think it’s important to note that the Pinelands Commission makes its recommendation based on the information that we have at the time,’ Horner said.
“Horner said he was apprised of the environmental reports in a packet sent to the Pinelands Commission by local attorney and Hammonton First Campaign Chairman Brian Howell,” the report in the October 19, 2005 edition of The Gazette said.
According to published reports in The Gazette in 2005, now-Councilman Sam Rodio was the president of Hammonton First in 2005.
During the July 6, 2022 meeting, Pinto said she was concerned about her property’s value being reduced.
“I didn’t sign up to live in an affordable housing development … I respect all of you to make a decision with the land, but I don’t want to lose 25 percent of the value of my home,” Pinto said.
“I promise you one thing. Your house isn’t going to go down 25 percent in Hammonton,” DiDonato said.
Gribbin said the action taken by the town council was only a start to the process.
“This is just to start looking at the potential … I’m not looking to change the landscape of that area in any way … We would have control over the process,” Gribbin said.
“It may make the neighborhood better than it already is,” Councilman William Olivo said.
“It may actually make your home worth more than it already is,” Rodio said.
Following the comments by the public and the council, the resolution establishing a redevelopment zone for the area noted in the council agenda was passed unanimously by council.
In other council business, at the beginning of the meeting of July 6, the council unanimously agreed to enter into negotiations to enter into a redevelopment agreement with a company called West End Development Associates Urban Renewal LLC, which wants to develop a residential townhouse community on West End Avenue, according to acting solicitor Christopher Fallon, who was representing the town in the absence of town solicitor Michael Malinsky.
The council agenda, issued on June 30, did not include any information about the negotiations to enter into a redevelopment agreement with West End Development Associates Urban Renewal LLC.
“I believe council in closed session said they would like to entertain negotiations,” DiDonato said.
An ad-hoc committee was formed to deal with the negotiations for the council, consisting of council members Councilman Edward Wuillermin, Olivo and Councilman Steven Furgione, with Wuillermin as the chair since he sits on the planning board.
According to DiDonato, the borders of the proposed project are Washington Street and Messina Avenue and Orchard Street and Fairview Avenue (which is 13th Street on that side of the railroad tracks).
“It’s a large parcel. This is currently owned by John Bee, and there’s a developer interested in it and putting up townhouses,” DiDonato said.
“The old fruit co-op,” Wuillermin said.
The council also unanimously approved the introduction of Ordinance #017-2022 “By title only-Registration of Foreclosure Mortgage Properties.”
Council will hold its next meeting on July 25 at 7 p.m. at town hall.
Gina Rullo contributed to this report.