On Monday, borough commissioners signed off on the second reading of a $2.6 million bond measure to improve the municipal water infrastructure of Collingswood, heard grievances on the failures of public parking kiosks, and recognized the fire safety efforts of a pair of quick-thinking kids.
Yet the issue that caused the greatest stir at their monthly meeting was the second reading of Ordinance 1529, which would authorize the purchase of a property located at 741 Haddon Avenue—a.k.a. the National Food Market.
The property has been appraised at $380,000, said Mayor James Maley, and the borough tendered an offer to its owner, Shinder Pal, based on that appraisal.
After months of fruitless negotiations, however, the borough may have to invoke eminent domain to move the process along, which isn’t its first—or even a preferred—choice.
“[The property has] not been listed for sale,” Maley said. “I think our initiative in this has led them to indicate that they’d like to sell it.
“They’re very hopeful that we can work out an amicable resolution, but it’s been three months, longer than that, and I don’t really have a good counter-offer,” he said.
“Usually in a negotiation, you get something back,” added Commissioner Mike Hall.
Maley restated the nature of the issues the borough has had with Pal as a storefront owner, including multiple health code violations and failure to meet the local commercial standard for hours of operation.
Ultimately, however, the borough is pushing to move the process along because there’s another food-related business owner waiting in the wings to turn the location into something that “people are going to be really excited about,” Maley said.
“We think [the storefront] could be something really good, but we’re taking a kind of drastic step,” he said.
Deteriorating property 'has an impact on the entire downtown'
Some residents were curious as to why the borough hasn’t invoked eminent domain to take possession of other darkened storefronts in down.
“There have been stores that have been empty for a long, long time,” said resident Timothy O’Neill. “Why haven’t you gone after them?”
“Most every one [has been] people selling or trying to sell a building,” Maley replied. “It’s been a rough economy.
“The condition of [The National] has an impact on its neighbors and the entire downtown,” Maley said. “It would seem that there should be an interest [in] selling the building.”
Hall likened the measure to the borough’s purchase of the Collingwood Hobby Shop, which later became Nunzio’s Ristorante Rustico; Maley agreed, calling it “a classic example” of the appropriate use of governmental pressure to turn over a failing property.
“The roof was falling in,” he said. “For whatever reason, nobody was talking about selling [the Collingswood Hobby Shop], but I think we worked out a deal to purchase it. That’s what we’re really hopeful is going to happen here.
“This would hopefully get done in a way that we would not be paying for it,” Maley added, restating his hope that the borough would simply broker the deal on behalf of a new property owner without having to actually loosen its purse strings.
The meeting kicked off with proclamations issued to youngsters Holden Fisher and Matthew Havens, “in recognition of [their] alertness and quick response” to notify authorities of a house fire on West Browning Road October 5.
“A tragedy was averted and damage was kept to a minimum,” read Maley, who stood with Collingswood Fire Chief Keith Davis to congratulate the pair.
Commissioners also passed unanimously a resolution amending the Collingswood 2012 capital budget to include a 25-year, $2.6 million municipal improvement bond (Ordinance 1528) financed through the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust projects.
The state-issued bond would be dedicated to much-needed improvements to the water plant and water lines in town, Maley said, as well as drilling a new well.
“We do this through the state’s trust because they basically put together hundreds of towns’ infrastructure bonds,” he said. “They raise the funds one time so they get a really good rate.”
Other business approved at the meeting included:
- the reappointment of Lisa Sollenberger to the Collingswood Planning Board
- the appointment of former borough administrator Bradford Stokes to the Shade Tree Advisory Board
- the award of a towing contract to Cioffi’s Towing Service, Inc. of Cherry Hill
- the ratification of a $7,050 emergency contract with Sal’s Tree Service for the removal of trees on Bettlewood and Belmont Aves., “which were trees we just couldn’t handle,” during Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy, Maley said. “All of this is part of a package we’re submitting through FEMA that we’re hoping we’re going to get reimbursed,” he said.
- the approval of a $2,600 federal grant to purchase body armor for the Collingswood Police Department.