As one settlement is reached, council seeks new redevelopment tract

Posted: April 01, 2014

MOUNT HOLLY A decade after the Town Council decided to redevelop a blighted neighborhood, sparking litigation that headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, council now plans to designate a commercial section of the municipality as another "area in need of redevelopment."

The new proposal comes fresh after a settlement was reached with minority residents of the Mount Holly Gardens who had claimed they were being discriminated against because their homes were being bulldozed to make way for market-rate housing. In November, as a hearing before the high court neared, the residents agreed to accept either a buyout or a replacement townhouse in the development that is being built on the 30-acre site.

Mayor Rich DiFolco said the contentious litigation had slowed plans to revitalize a second 30-acre section of the town that also needs improvement. "There were three studies done, but everyone felt a little uncomfortable getting into another redevelopment when the first one wasn't resolved," he said.

DiFolco said that at least a dozen buildings in the central commercial part of town were "empty and dilapidated" and that redevelopment would allow the township to demolish them and entice developers to the area.

The redevelopment area encompasses mostly businesses on Washington Street, which adjoins the traditional two-block downtown area of High Street. "We want to wrap the downtown onto Washington Street so there will be a whole lot more stores and shops you can go to," DiFolco said. "Our ultimate goal is to make Mount Holly a walkable destination as the county seat of Burlington County."

A few of the 120 lots in the redevelopment area include houses and stretch onto King Street, Madison Avenue, and surrounding neighborhoods.

CME Associates, a consultant hired to study the area and devise a plan, said in its report the designation was "a planning tool used to fulfill the goals of rebuilding abandoned and/or underutilized properties, increasing tax ratables, improving the local economy, and improving the appearance of the community."

The designation also allows the town to acquire properties through eminent domain and to provide tax-abatement programs, the report said.

But DiFolco said, "The township is by no means looking to do any eminent domain of any property except for bank-owned, dilapidated properties." A few businesses not conducive to a shopping and restaurant district may also be asked to relocate, he said. For example, a brick and stone wholesaler on Washington Street may be asked to move because "having commercial trucks delivering stone and bricks in that area isn't ideal."

A public hearing will be held before the Planning Board on April 7, followed by a hearing before the Town Council on April 14.

856-779-3224 @JanHefler

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