Why Is Collingswood Still a Dry Town? What's Going On At the LumberYard?
Borough officials took on all comers Thursday night in a no-holds-barred Q&A with Collingswood taxpayers on a variety of issues.
Before a crowd of some 35 people at the Collingswood Community Center Thursday night, including a collection of its officials and employees, the leadership of the borough of Collingswood held an open forum on anything and everything happening in town.
Questions spanned a variety of topics from big-picture issues to personal curiosities, but the responses were candid and quick in coming in a discussion led by Mayor James Maley.
Q: How close is Collingswood to regionalizing its services to save tax dollars?
A: Closer than you think.
Maley told Collingswood residents to be less afraid of the notion of seeing regionalized fire, detective, and public works services in the coming years, as municipalities partner up to defray the rising cost of public services. Such an arrangement could put an additional 150 to 200 more police officers on the street without increasing costs, he estimated.
"In the last four years, we have reduced our full-time workforce 28 percent," Maley said. "We have to balance getting more without changing the character of what we have. It's always going to change; it's just keeping it in a way that's compatible with the lifestyle that we all have."
Q: How many LumberYard units have been sold?
The front building of the complex contains residential units that were bought within six months of the completion of the project, according to Maley. The back building has 24 units, 11 or 12 of which are sold, he said. Three more are rental properties; another nine are unsold.
Completing the remainder of the project will add another 90 apartment units, first-floor retail space, and a new head office for the construction company that takes on the job (whichever company this may be was not named at the forum).
Q: Must the second and third mortgages taken out on the LumberYard properties be repaid?
As part of the refinancing deal brokered by the borough commissioners earlier this year, Collingswood, which remains responsible for repayment of the nearly $5 million borrowed to redevelop the property, will also take ownership of the units once they are completed. That deal supersedes any prior arrangements, and also sets up the borough with a revenue base "for 100 years," said Maley.
"The schools will be getting revenues that will more than offset what we [spend to complete the project]," Maley said. "In the meantime, we will have 150 people on the avenue, shopping, living, adding to the vibrancy of the community for a hundred years.
"If we didn't do the Parkview, the LumberYard, if we did nothing, what's the cost of that?" he asked rhetorically. "For the inner-ring suburb towns, it's tough."
Q: What's up with the vacant lot across from the Collingswood Public Library?
A: It's owned by a developer who is making plans for its completion.
According to borough zoning code and enforcement officer Mary Ellen Ries, the Collingswood zoning board has received and approved development plans for the property. Maley describes the anonymous individual as someone "who got caught up in the economy" and always seems to be just a few months away from moving ahead with the project.
"Things are percolating;" Maley said. "Things are coming back."
Q: Why is Collingswood still a dry town?
A: It doesn't make business sense for the borough.
According to Maley, the borough considered abandoning its ban on alcohol in an effort to attract new businesses to town "before the restaurant explosion happened."
State regulations tying the issuance of liquor licenses to population size would limit Collingswood to two or three licenses, which would make them difficult to ration out.
At one point, Maley said, the borough even considered creating a non-profit entity under which to open a Collingswood-owned liquor store, but determined it wouldn't make sense from a business perspective, "before you even get into the other character issues" that would surround such a plan.
"It's working, so i'm not anxious to fix it," Maley said.
Q: Are there any plans for the re-dedication of the Michael Landon plaque?
A: Yes, but it's (apparently) a secret.
"In the springtime everything will be fixed," was Maley's only comment on the subject.
Q: What type of business would the borough most like to see come to town?
A: A butcher shop or food market.
When asked what kind of business he would most like to see in Collingswood, Maley joked, "My standard has always been 'any business that can make it.'" He then added that the borough has been in talks with the owners of National Food Market about acquiring the property after it was closed "a few times in the last year" because of health food violations. According to Maley, two different food companies are interested in the space, and he is hopeful that the borough will find homes for both of them.
"Retail is really hard," he said. "There's a lot of businesses who want to open another location, but they're just not ready yet. Who would have thought a cupcake store would be kicking ass?"