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Commissioners Move on $2.6M Bond Issue, National Market Buyout

Mayor James Maley said that the move to purchase the property was "drastic," but that there's a better business waiting in the wings while the market languishes.

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.

Municipal improvements

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.
Joseph Forrest December 04, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I get it. National Foods has failed...it's dirty and clearly hurting the overall streetscape of Collingswood. Then again, so are other businesses. Heck, hundreds of homes that look like hell are bringing down property values, I'm sure. So where do we draw the line? Collingswood and its bandwagon political bullies never cease to amaze me. Our streets look like hell, our street lighting is poor, our sidewalks are narrow and dingy, our public parking sucks, the parks are under-used and under-developed, and our housing stock is still chock full of dingy rentals and single family homes that leave a lot to be desired. So, in the grand scheme of things, I'm glad that we have our priorities straight. Let me guess...the prospective business owner of this really great super-mind-blowing new establishment is a friend of Maley. I'll even bet money that whatever is "in the wing" won't come to fruition. Why don't we force owners to maintain the facade of their buildings? Behind the shimmer and glitter...parts of downtown still look rough.
Future Old Angry Italian Guy December 04, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Move, JF to yr nirvana
Porterincollingswood December 04, 2012 at 03:07 PM
eye-roll inducing post.
Carolyn Busa December 04, 2012 at 06:16 PM
"After months of fruitless negotiations..." As well as a fruitless store. AHHH ZING!
Matt Skoufalos (Editor) December 04, 2012 at 06:52 PM
While that is a snappy rejoinder, it's bad form to self-Zing, Carolyn. Still, a good line though.
Joseph Russell December 04, 2012 at 07:08 PM
+1 for humor
Will McGowan December 04, 2012 at 07:15 PM
I am not a big fan of eminent domain, nor a fan of the mayor. Unfortunately, every town has houses that are in "disrepair" and "spooky" for one reason or another; "cat ladies", bad neighbors, vacancy, etc....you get it. The National is a storefront that is under the obligation to sell food in a clean, healthy manner and not use it's facility for taxis or other fodder. They seem to have warned them, time after time about getting their act together but to no avail. IN THIS CASE, I see eminent domain as an option. Does Mayor Maley have a "vested interest" in what goes in next? History would say that he does. I do not like the town getting involved in all of this property management without impact from the (high) taxpayers and that seems to be a trend since I moved here in 2006. The windows in Borough Hall are far too translucent for my taste. All of this criticism does not seem to stop our mayor from being in office again and again? What has to happen before someone else steps up? I have both eyes on the Lumberyard and will be pressing for transparency for every brick that goes in. Still no word on computer schematics and they plan to start in the Spring??
Joseph Forrest December 04, 2012 at 11:25 PM
@Will, you're very right, and I do see your point. Unfortunately, the type of issues I mentioned are not just limited to the local cat lady or elderly person. That aside, I'm concerned that Collingswood is viewed (and treated) as nothing more than one giant restaurant. Everything seems to live and die by the food trade. I get it...our downtown has evolved around boutique fare. But there is something to be said for putting all of our eggs in one basket. I'd like to think that our government and fellow residents have equal care and concern for the multitude of other issues - fiscal and aesthetic - found around our great borough. What happens when our stretch of Haddon avenue is no longer plagued by a few crappy stores? Do we roll down our sleeves and call it a day? We have such great potential all around our town, and much of it is not found on Haddon Ave. Collingswood should be beautiful and thriving, on and off Haddon Avenue. Ditto on the Lumberyard.
Porterincollingswood December 05, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Joseph - I get your point but think you are stretching it a bit. I'd have agreed with your take on the status of Haddon Ave retail a year+ ago. But in recent months I have seen a number of solid non-restaurant concepts (in no particular order): - A reinvigorated Candy Jar store that's connected with the community and is a nice place owned by people you want to see succeed. Ditto for the Gourmet Popcorn nearby. - Frugal,which dramatically improved the curb appeal of the storefront outside and offers great finds within. - American Table, which has great merchandise I haven't seen before and will soon start offering cooking classes. - Blue Moon, an excellent addition to the block that offers wonderful olive oils and balsamic vinegars. - Extraordinary Ed, which has an increasingly intriguing slate of classes and a great game / toy shop. - Canvas Mixers, a place that looks to be drawing large and lively crowds. And, while we're at it, I've had a few good meals at Indiya. And I've been wowed by the big statue and waterfall going in at Akira, hope the food matches the decor. Developing quality retail scene and building on the restaurant rep don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Joseph Forrest December 05, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Porter - don't get me wrong. I live here and I want to see successful establishments. I don't go to bed each night with a Haddon avenue voodoo doll under my pillow. Many of the places and improvements you mentioned are both good, yet very recent. So while I hope they grow and prosper, I worry about the inherent challenges of having an extremely niche business in a down economy. We should not forget about the neighborhoods, homes, and infrastructure that exist outside of the almighty Haddon Ave corridor. My belief is that we should also invest in other areas of our town. Other historic towns make an effort to include the whole town in their re-development and beautification efforts. Even Camden has a cohesive and modern infrastructure in downtown. When you focus on the big picture (greenery/trees, safe and beautiful sidewalks and streets, proper lighting, clean and beautiful signage) everything else just comes together and says "wow". To boot, Collingswood has a housing stock that could really shine with some help. Facade or energy grants would really help local families keep their older homes in top shape. Instead of getting defensive, let's just acknowledge that there are plenty of areas within our town that need improvement. I apologize in advance for unleashing the super-cliche tirade, but what the hell do childless people in Collingswood get for high taxes? We love our town and the gems on Haddon Ave....but that can't be the "be all end all".
Will McGowan December 05, 2012 at 07:35 PM
We are on the same page for the most part. We also have to consider, like it or not, that the Haddon Ave biz district IS the "postcard" to Collingswood. With the new retail end of the Lumberyard coming up, it will still continue to be "Main St. USA". Entrepreneurs continue to branch out in other areas like the "Theater District", but, by their own choice, have chosen to open (successful) restaurants like IndeBlue and Zeppoli. We are kind of stuck with the moniker of being a "restaurant town" and I don't really see that as a bad thing. With choices in Philly as our only real competition, I seem them as the "anchor" to stores like American Table, Warner Landscaping, etc. Since moving here in 2006, I found that Colls suffers from a bit of an identity problem. Are we a "village" extension of Philly for the young, hip,GLBT, artistic, starter family or are we an "older" inner ring suburb with no alcohol, nice eateries, cheaper houses and "decent schools"? I have always been an advocate of liquor in town; not frat house bars, but a gastro-pub (Triumph Brewery, Iron Hill) or any place that you can eat in town, shop at night and actually STAY in Collingswood rather than go to Philly.!
Tracy December 05, 2012 at 08:12 PM
To "Future Old Angry Italian Guy": its not my job to defend Joseph Forrest but it also is not your job to try to bully folks that offer an opinion by suggesting that they "move". To actually add on to Joe Forrest's comments, it was NEVER the intent of our founding fathers that "eminent domain" be used for governments to acquire private property and then sell it / turn it over for other private development. What if the Borough decided that your home (where ever it is) were better suited as some type of private business and then decided to use eminent domain to "take" it from you and then "give" it to some other private person? Usually the stench of these types of actions is greatest when it hits a little closer to home. Plus, what I want to know is which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did a private business approach the town about acquiring the National or did the town decide that they wanted to acquire the National? Something else that doesn't smell right in Denmark.
Tracy December 05, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Carolyn, I like humor as much as the next guy but not when it is poorly used / timed and seems to try to trivialize a very serious discussion. It's as if you spent the entire time reading the article wondering what you could say that would appear "snappy", as Matt said. Maybe I just missed "fruitless" as a setup line for immature humor?
Loretka December 06, 2012 at 03:38 AM
All that being said, it is quite evident that the present owners of National Food Market are not interested in operating a food market any more. I hope they will cooperate in selling the property in an amicable way. And I hope it will be transformed back to a nice, clean, inviting food market with quality food products. I've been in town for over forty (40) years, and I remember when National Food Market was a family owned business with fresh meats & poultry, cold cuts, fruits and vegies, dairy products, in addition to canned and boxed staples --- and they also made great hoagies. All you guys --- Will, Joe, Tracy, Porter, et al --- haven't been here long enough to know how really nice it used to be.
Porterincollingswood December 06, 2012 at 12:32 PM
People tell me that it was a great asset to the community, I believe you. And I'd support a town grant to get that neon sign back up and running, I love those.
Will McGowan December 07, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Love the neon sign idea! Would fit right in with the old / new look of the town!
Seth December 08, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Wonderful. You think the mayor would have learned his lesson with the Lumberyard, but it looks like the only way we're going to be able to end this madness is by voting him out.
Tracy December 08, 2012 at 10:48 PM
We need to start that conversation now...
Porterincollingswood December 10, 2012 at 11:29 PM
It's like The National...with better branding... http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/another-trader-joes-recall-8212-trend-193200588.html
Billy December 17, 2012 at 01:18 AM
A bunch of negative whiners above. The "mayor is corrupt"... The "mayor is this, the mayor is that, commissioners, etc", the taxes are high. Blah bla bla. It's a figgin eyesore, a blemish on the town. I say seize it. Take it. And make it work. Collingswood is a town struggling to support every business type. And despite economic adversity, people are so negative and downright ungrateful. Look what we've accomplished to date! Look at all the Philly / Jersey people filling restaurants every weekend. Ungrateful. You can't see the forest for all the trees. I know nothing of actual day to day operations of a town and allocation of tax revenues yet we have so many armchair experts. Meanwhile, town administrators are trying to do something pro-active and in the heart of town at an anchor location and all people can do is whine about lumberyard and secret deals and bla bla bla. Be thankful for what we've built together and the potential for even more. You can always move to Camden if you want something real to complain about.
Seth December 17, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Sure, "make it work"...with private money. If its going to work, it'll work on its own.
Billy December 17, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Therein lies the problem. The owner won't sell it, much less know how to run the business. So he sits on it and the blight stays in the middle of town. The time is up. And this is an appropriate candidate for eminent domain rules. There is a buyer lined up and the end result is we get an all new look at the enormous potential this space has. It's a positive thing. We should be excited and we will recover any tax money we spent to seize it.
Seth December 17, 2012 at 04:37 PM
I've heard that line "we will recover our taxpayer money" before. It didn't turn out so well. There's also a lot of unanswered questions here. Who is this potential buyer? What kind of business do they plan to open? Why can't the potential buyer move into one of the many other storefronts which are either for rent or for sale on Haddon Ave? Why don't the current owners want to either rent or sell? I have no problem with shutting the place down and hitting them with health code violations. However, the owners are under no obligation to run a business out of the building as long as they pay their taxes and the place isn't falling down. I don't know if they're paying the taxes, but the building certainly doesn't look to be in any worse shape than several others in the same area which are not receiving this treatment.
Billy December 18, 2012 at 07:25 PM
You have valid points too about whether ED is legal in this matter and I suppose the owners could lawyer-up to block the move. But surely there must be a strong case in order to take such action as in, unpaid taxes, code violations, unpaid fines, required repairs not done, blight issues, health concerns, etc etc. That would lay the grounds for action to be taken given such a prominent location that affects the future growth of our town (since it is at an anchor location that potentially could be a huge game changer). It's impossible to know every piece of business the town is engaged in unless you go to town meetings. I know there are other buildings. But maybe their legal status and codes are all within the law and it's up to them to sell.
Seth December 18, 2012 at 07:41 PM
I guess you can't reply to a reply on here...weird. Anyway, my point is that a lot of the information that would let us assess whether this is a valid use of eminent domain isn't being made available. We don't know if the taxes are not being paid. As for repairs and blight, there's nothing going on there that's a danger to the community there. The building is in moderately good condition. I'm sure there are health code violations for a food service business all over the place, but that's only grounds to shut the business down, not seize the building. If their legal status and codes are within the law, its the owner's right to decide whether or not to sell. If there is a slam-dunk case against the owner, then it should be publicized. Until I see good answers to these questions, I'm going to remain skeptical.
Will McGowan December 20, 2012 at 07:19 PM
This comes back to an issue to transparency. How much can we see? I really don't want to be an armchair politician either; I just want to know what is going on when we get into the real estate game. I seriously think Collingswood is on the verge of a second renaissance. The media we have gotten lately as well as the new businesses opening on the avenue look great (Blue Moon, Aikira, The Candy Jar) and people really are coming here to opt for a family "in the city" without living there. I just hope the realtors are marketing the town as an optiion to the city and bringing the families and DINKS (Dual Income No Kids) into town for the better. Any graphics on the Lumberyard yet? I wanna see what I am financing!

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