Cherry Hill neighbors try to block a car dealership's lot expansion

In the 1960s, Richard Cionci says, his home overlooked open space. Cherry Hill Dodge says expanding won't harm the area. LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / Staff
In the 1960s, Richard Cionci says, his home overlooked open space. Cherry Hill Dodge says expanding won't harm the area. LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ / Staff
Posted: June 18, 2012

The transformation of Cherry Hill got rolling after World War II and hasn't stopped yet.

The once-rural suburb's signature mix of lively commercial strips and leafy neighborhoods continues to evolve, which is good news economically, but not so hot for people living close to the changes.

Consider Locustwood, a tree-lined section on the township's west side, where 73 residents recently signed a petition against a Route 70 car dealership's plan to expand its auto "inventory display lot."

"We built a house here in 1966, in the woods," says Bob Esposito, 82, vice president of the neighborhood civic association.

Esposito, a Campbell Soup retiree, is determined to defeat a proposal by Cherry Hill Dodge to build a 19,000-square-foot lot for new cars on the grassy field the dealership owns on the 1200 block of Chambers Avenue. Opponents see the additional one-third acre of asphalt as another erosion of the character of their pleasant patch of suburbia.

The township rezoned portions of Chambers and nearby Wynwood Avenue from residential to commercial in 2004, when the township revised its master plan. Four years later, Cherry Hill Dodge made its first attempt to expand its car storage capacity, which the township rejected. The planning board's hearing about the newest parking-lot proposal began June 4 and will resume July 2.

You can bet that Frank Maloney, whose bedroom window overlooks the ground that may soon be covered by vehicles for sale, will be there.

"The issue is encroachment into a residential area," says Maloney, 59, who calls himself a retired entrepreneur and has a tailoring shop in his home.

Maloney's dining-room table is covered with manila folders filled with photocopied documents dating to 1972. That's when friction began between the neighborhood and the growing car dealership, which, it should be noted, has operated at the same address since 1964.

In a written statement, Kevin D. Sheehan, a Mount Laurel attorney who represents Cherry Hill Dodge, says his client "has been, and continues to be, a good neighbor" in Locustwood.

"The [larger] lot will not be an encroachment on the neighborhood," he writes. "Nor will [it] create any additional traffic."

There's already plenty of that, given Locustwood's proximity to Route 70 and Haddonfield Road, an intersection dramatically transformed in recent years by the redevelopment of the moribund Garden State Park racetrack into the Garden State Park shopping and residential complex.

Particularly on the west side of the township, increasingly dense redevelopment projects on highway strips — the proposed super Wawa in the Colwick section comes to mind — are impacting established neighborhoods.

When Richard Cionci bought his house on Wynwood Avenue in 1969, it overlooked open space. Now he sees the rear of a Cherry Hill Dodge parking area.

As a result, he says, "my house isn't worth as much" as it would be otherwise.

Like many older suburbs, Cherry Hill wasn't planned. It just happened, much of it for the good: Not for nothing are the "Enclave at Barclay" custom homes rising on one of the west side's few undeveloped parcels.

People still want to move to, and do business in, Cherry Hill. The larger issue before the planning board is how best to strike a balance between these legitimate, and competing, interests.

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.


Cherry Hill neighbors fear a parking lot expansion.  www.philly.com/tooclose

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