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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

What’s happening with affordable housing on 11th St.?

THG/Joseph F. Berenato. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Eastern Pacific Development president Hans Lampart gave a presentation for a proposed 70-unit, 100 percent affordable senior housing complex at 151 S. Washington St.

If you think government doesn’t always tell the public the full truth, you would be correct, in my opinion.

If you watched the council meeting on January 23, 2023 read the article in this week’s edition and read the article in the July 13, 2022 edition about redevelopment, you will know what I am referencing.

In July 2022, council approved a redevelopment plan for land on 11th Street. Residents came and expressed concern about affordable housing.

I was in the room that night. Council tried to reassure people.

“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” at the July 6, 2022 meeting.

Then a few paragraphs later:

“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” in July 2022.

Council must have magical powers because about six months later a guy came and presented to council about an affordable housing project on the very land in question to the town.

And despite public comments, the public was not notified that the development company was going to be at the council meeting. The presentation was not listed on the agenda distributed on January 20.

Did the town intentionally deceive the public? I don’t know. How am I supposed to know? I can make my own personal assumptions based on previous comments and behaviors. Maybe they were just as surprised as the public was to hear about the plans for affordable housing.

The company was Eastern Pacific Development.

Ironically, this is the same company that I heard was trying to bring low-income/affordable housing to the site last year.

I even made an OPRA request in July 2022 about this development.

Am I psychic? No, I listen well. It’s just that easy to learn what is happening in town if you care about the future of the community.

When town clerk Frank Zuber responded in August 2022 to my OPRA request, he stated, “I have never had contact with this company nor have I every heard of them. I will contact the other Town representatives to see if they have anything” in an email.

Later he sent, “I did find an email that I received on 3/27/2021. Once I get all responses back from everyone I will send.”

I received the email chain from Zuber and it dates back to 2021.

Our council did receive emails about it. DiDonato, Zuber, Councilman Sam Rodio, Councilman Steven Furgione, Councilman Thomas Gribbin and town solicitor Michael Malinsky have all been in office for a while.

So where is the truth?

I wish I had an answer.

I could blithely say it is on the pages of this newspaper, but we are only able to print what we learn through public meetings, OPRA requests and by comments made to our reporters.

We are only able to print the truth as far as we know it.

I will say this, this newspaper with Gabe Donio and I leading it, will only print facts in our news articles and offer opinion and knowledgeable insight on our Opinion pages.

When an elected official promises you something is true or makes words of comfort, know that they have an agenda and that they need your vote.

Back to the article from July 2022:

“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” in July 2022.

I hope Gribbin meant what he said. I hope the town has control. I also hope Gribbin meant what he said about changing of the landscape. I guess we will have to see.

Gina Rullo is the editor-in-chief of The Hammonton Gazette. In 2022, she was named an “Editor Extraordinaire” by Editor & Publisher Magazine and in 2021 won two awards for investigative journalism.


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