Hearing on controversial Berlin development postponed

Posted: June 11, 2014

The developer of a proposed 472-unit apartment complex for Berlin Borough that would include affordable housing requirements was granted a postponement of a hearing for the project by the borough's nine-member Planning Board on Monday night.

Richard J. Hoff Jr., attorney for Berlin Multifamily L.L.C., based in Berlin Borough, made the request on the grounds that the project and the interest it has generated required a bigger venue and that issues remained pertaining to the project's street lighting and storm water system.

The board agreed to postpone the hearing to July 14 and move it from the Municipal Building to the Berlin Community School gymnasium. More than 80 people packed Monday night's hearing.

Neighbors who oppose the project planned for 30 acres on Tansboro Road (the former Johnny Boy's Farm site) cite a number of reasons, including fear that it will lower property values, add traffic, overwhelm the schools, and bring in crime. They are concerned about the requirement that 15 percent of the units be set aside for low- to moderate-income families, under court-ordered Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) requirements.

There have been recent similar cases in Camden County. One in Cherry Hill was settled this year involving a proposed 152-unit apartment complex that also had to meet COAH obligations.

And the owners of Woodcrest Country Club, also in Cherry Hill, are considering an option to sell their development rights to the 150-acre site to the township, Camden County, and the state to prevent a development that would bring in an 844-unit complex, including 169 low- and moderate-income units under COAH.

In the Berlin project, litigation was settled in mid-April between an affiliate of the developer, Nexus Properties Inc., and the borough and its Planning Board.

In March 2006, Nexus filed a "Builder's Remedy" lawsuit under COAH rules. The developer originally proposed 600 homes on the site. The final judgment by Superior Court in Camden, issued in April, allowed the developer to build up to 470 units - with 71 to be affordable housing under COAH, and 399 at market rates.

"The decision was a shock to the borough," said Stuart Platt, attorney for the Planning Board.

Borough Mayor John J. Amano's office has estimated that if fully built, the development could add 155 students to Berlin Community School and Eastern High School.

Jim Osborn, 69, a retiree who lives in adjacent Winslow Township and whose backyard abuts the development, said the roads cannot handle the additional load.

"We were aware something was going to happen at that property," he said. "That used to be a peach orchard, then we were told median family housing was going in, then it was rezoned for a heavy-density property.

"Neighbors have complained they have been left in the dark," said Osborn.

Osborn said Tansgape Development and BelAir - two side-by-side single-family housing developments - were also being built across from the proposed apartment complex.

"This development will dump even more traffic onto Tansboro Road," Osborn said. "When you have 700 to 800 parking spaces - that's a high number of traffic through the other neighborhoods to get access to Route 73.

Aesthetics is another concern, he said. "Two-story and three-story buildings in this development with balconies will be looking onto our property.

"I wish they were putting something better there than what they are doing," he said. "Our property values will go down."

Paul Werner, 56, who lives on Riggs Avenue a few houses from Osborn, also opposed the project.

Werner said he attended a Borough Council meeting on May 27 and got little information from borough officials.

"Berlin Borough is being completely close-lipped about improvements being made to roads in the area to handle the additional traffic," Werner said. "Our street is the only cut-through to major highways.

"It's the most direct route to White Horse Pike eastbound or Route 73," he said. "Everyone would have to go through our street."

Added Werner: "We're not against poor people. There is a way to honor the poor with COAH, but it does nothing to help them. This development has no New Jersey Transit lines running close by or a bus line.

"I think the value of our homes will definitely fall," he said, "and many of us are involved in this fight."

Hoff was mostly on the defensive Monday night as some residents asked why the hearing postponement was necessary. After the meeting, he left without comment.


sparmley@phillynews.com856-779-3928

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