If you’ve ever been to the eastern end of Haddon Avenue in the Westmont section of Haddon Township, you might have noticed a gigantic gravel lot whose only job seems to serve as overflow parking for nearby offices and restaurants. Though this sprawling space isn’t doing much these days, it was once home to the DyDee Diaper Wash Company, which shuttered its doors over two decades ago and has been long since demolished. The process of figuring out how exactly to redevelop the space, which has generally been frustratingly slow and arduous, was made even more contentious two weeks ago when the developer announced they would have to scrap plans for ground-floor retail in order to meet their obligation to set aside a certain number of units as afforable to lower-income individuals and families. Four days later, the Haddon Township planning board announced they would delay voting on the updated proposal until after a public hearing on the issue. Originally a mix of homes and apartments with retail facing Haddon Avenue, the project as it stands now would be an entirely rental building with no retail.
While it is a laudable goal to provide affordable housing in our towns, especially given New Jersey’s checkered past of dumping the needy into a few decaying urban communities (more on this from NJ Spotlight), it seems clear that the developer has completely checked out of this project and the revitalization of this part of town. As obviously disappointing as it is to hear that the Haddon Avenue facing retail component, which would extend the town’s walkability further eastward, would have to be removed to provide space for the affordable units, it’s equally frustrating that the developer seems disingenuously unwilling to figure out a compromise that would preserve an important part of the origin intent of the project. As a true mixed use development one block from the Westmont PATCO station, the original plan would be a wonderful transit-oriented, or perhaps transit-adjacent, project. Even with all rentals and ground floor retail, bowing to the realities of the economy in 2014, it would still be a good project for a popular town. Considering that people in their late 20s and early 30s who want to live in the suburbs but still want convenient transit access into Philadelphia are choosing to live in older suburban towns like Haddon Township, it would be an absolute shame to slash the kinds of amenities that brings them to walkable old towns like this in the first place.
With this in mind, township resident Jason Miller, a geographer and development enthusiast, created a plan that would make everybody happy. It has space for retail and housing, both affordable and market-rate. Considering that he was so motivated as to come up with this plan in the less than two weeks since the announcement, it seems insane that the developer can’t come up with this themselves.
He adds: “The breakout of the building types are color coded and listed with the number of units for each. The number on the buildings indicate how many floors it is. The two main buildings on Haddon are Lumberyard style [a similar Collingswood project] with retail in front, 2 level garage in back, and residential on top.”
Mr. Miller has sent this to the township for their consideration, only to receive a small token reply. I hope the planning commission and mayor really consider his alternative and demand as much from the developer, whose job it is to figure this out. There aren’t many large, open spaces left in our older towns, and the opportunity to build a great mixed-used project doesn’t come along every year. We have to make this one count, if for no reason than the continued growth of the township itself.
A public meeting to discuss this project will be on Wednesday, May 14th, at 7:00pm, at the Haddon Township Municipal Building Courtroom, 135 Haddon Ave. For more information, see the township’s site at http://www.haddontwp.com/?p=9679.