Familiar concerns were echoed among the 60 or so residents who turned out at the Wednesday night special meeting of the Collingswood borough commissioners to discuss the next phase of the LumberYard project.
They wondered aloud whether the project would unsustainably spike parking demands, introduce an undesirable element by inviting more apartment renters to town or create an eyesore that would dominate the downtown skyline.
After all the talk was through, however, the borough leadership approved the pair of ordinances on its docket. One greenlit , and another gave its builders, the , a 25-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) deal.
At the outset of the meeting, Mayor James Maley attempted to head off some objections, which he said were “flat-out dead-wrong, false, not true.”
“At least if we’re going to disagree we can disagree over the same facts,” Maley said.
Maley said that although the Ingerman Group is known for its work in low-income housing projects, the LumberYard project “is not a low-income housing project,” and that the borough had been in talks with the builder to locate its offices to Collingswood prior to its involvement with the LumberYard.
Maley also said that constructing the new building does not represent a change of course in the borough philosophy regarding apartments. Rather, he said the project has been intended as a means to increase the Collingswood tax base.
“The only way you get more retail is to have more rooftops that are oriented to that avenue,” he said. “Residential on that downtown is a way to help keep the vibrancy.
“We’ve never had an initiative to discourage apartment buildings; we’ve run out of space to build them,” he said.
Ingerman will pay 80 percent of the taxes owed on the property in the first two years of the PILOT agreement, 85 percent three years in, and an additional 3 percent annually by year 10. At some point, Maley said, those revenues would be shared with the Collingswood school district.
“The reduction in the tax payment is to incentivize a development,” he said. “This is a $15 million investment.”
Maley said that any elementary-school-aged children who moved into the apartment complex would attend , which has typically small classes, and that “the high school has the room” to accommodate any additional children who would attend as a result of renting an apartment in the new building.
“It won’t increase your taxes,” Maley said. “If you have 20 kids who come from there and they’re at all different grade levels, it’s not going to increase your costs.”
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Maley said. “It’s also a reason why you wouldn’t move in there with kids.”
Still, even after 90 minutes of dialogue, some critics of the plan couldn’t be convinced.
Resident Joe DiNella vowed that he would be leading a pair of petitions to repeal both measures on the docket for the Commissioners
“This is sick,” DiNella said. “Density doesn’t solve problems. Twenty-five-year tax abatements don’t solve problems.”