Disputed Mount Laurel project set to go before Springfield council

Photo by Brian Trusdell
The approximate one-acre parcel designated for redevelopment includes a house at 24 Church Mall, right.

SPRINGFIELD, NJ — A contentious proposal approved by the Springfield Planning Board to build two apartment buildings — including six units set aside for Mount Laurel obligations — on Church Mall is expected to come before the Township Committee in February.
The board needs another vote to memorialize the resolution before it can be sent to the committee, Land Use Secretary Jennifer Law told LocalSource in a Jan. 3 phone interview.

The 1.08 acres of land situated at 24 Church Mall and bordering Academy Drive and Black’s Lane will consist of two buildings with a total of 36 rental units, that include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

The redevelopment plan was first presented to the Springfield Planning Board in July by developer Veale Holdings, based in Wayne; it was approved at the board’s Dec. 11 meeting in a 4-2 vote.

While board member Jerry Fernandez voted for the project, he told LocalSource in a Jan. 3 phone conversation that he was never in support of it.
“In my opinion, we are stuffing more and more apartments, and not doing any mixed-use,” Fernandez said.

Despite his opposition, he said Alex Fisher, the board’s attorney, had advised approval of the project because if it did not pass, the developer would likely file a “builder’s remedy” lawsuit and the New Jersey courts likely would rule against the town, allowing the project to go forward without any oversight from the municipality.

Builder’s remedy lawsuits were created by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1983 as a way to force municipalities to abide by its ruling eight years earlier that obliges every New Jersey town to zone for affordable housing.

“Not in favor, but had no choice than to vote yes,” Fernandez said.
Both Jeffrey Tiger and Silviene Grzybowski voted against the project.

The topic of traffic was discussed at length throughout the Dec. 11 meeting and Morris Avenue resident Elan Goldstein spoke about drivers potentially cutting through his apartment parking lot. This would require people improperly driving on Blacks Lane, a one-way street, to enter onto Morris Avenue.

Fernandez asked Veale officials at the meeting if they had considered making a request to change Black’s Lane to a two-way street.
When contacted by phone, Veale attorney Alan Hantman said no amendments were needed to the resolution to address traffic concerns.
“There is no congestion,” Hantman said. “A testimony from the traffic engineering expert confirmed that the amount of traffic that will generate is one car per hour. There is no significant impact to what already exists.”

He added that the issue asked about during the meeting would involve drivers misusing the property by utilizing CVS as a shortcut.
“We are not responsible for people driving improperly. The existing conditions should be enforced,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Maria Vassallo, a member of the planning board who voted for the project and urged her fellow members to do likewise, questioned why her colleagues would reject the proposal, saying all the information requested about traffic had been answered in great detail.

A previous version incorrectly noted in the photo caption that the proposed redevelopment site included the Sarah Bailey Civic Center.