Residents Oppose Rt. 73 Changes
"The problem is that most suburban residents, the minute they leave this refuge, are confronted by a tawdry and stressful environment. They enter their cars and embark on a journey of banality and hostility that lasts until they arrive at the interior of their next destination. Americans may have the finest private realm in the developed world, but the public realm is brutal."
Suburban Nation, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck
Sturbridge Residents Come Out to Oppose Jughandle for Developer of Atlas Concrete Site
Residents challenge changes
A Voorhees group opposes a development. It talked the township into dropping support for a traffic plan.
By Will Van Sant
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
VOORHEES - To the swept along, development is a juggernaut, rolling across the region in a blur of concrete, steel and cheap siding, despite the protests of wary residents.
Not so in Voorhees. Sometimes, it seems, all residents need to do is organize and show some pluck.
That's what members of the Sturbridge Lakes Homeowners Association did recently when they learned of a plan to bring a jughandle and traffic light to Route 73, which would set the stage for development close to their community.
Mobilized residents were able to persuade the Township Committee to rescind, in a unanimous vote, a letter of support for the road changes. The committee had sent the letter just weeks earlier to the state Department of Transportation, whose approval was needed for the project to move forward.
"It's a victory for the town, a victory for the environment, a victory for everyone who travels on Route 73, and a victory for open government," said Edward W. Ferruggia, a member of the homeowners association's board of trustees. "It demonstrates that elected officials will respond when communities become active."
In January, residents began to hear that an abandoned cement-production facility on Route 73 was the proposed site for a 150,000-square-foot retail center, restaurants and a strip mall.
The first step in the project, they learned, was to put a new traffic light and jughandle between William Feather Drive and Signal Hill Drive, right at the gates of their community, to provide access to the site.
The developer, Newark, N.J.-based ReNEWal Realty, was seeking the transportation department's approval to start the roadwork, and the township was moving toward and eventually did voice its support to the department.
Residents were informed in early February of the project in passing while talking to township officials about a different issue. Residents were both surprised that the process was so far along and angered that they had not been told of it, Ferruggia said.
It was offensive, he said, for the township to consider such a project without having consulted with those whose lives would be affected.
An additional concern to the residents of Sturbridge Lakes was the potential environmental impact of nearby development on the lakes and woodlands that give their community much of its beauty and charm.
The homeowners association took action.
The organizing "was done via phone calls throughout the community by people on the board of trustees," Ferruggia said. "And we put out a special mailing to all residents telling them that we were going to have a meeting."
The mailing worked. Roughly 200 people showed up to voice their opinions on the road changes and potential development.
"They were asked how many supported this plan, and no hands went up," Ferruggia said. "Then, we asked how many opposed the plan, and every hand in the room went up. Then, we asked how many people wanted to take aggressive action to stop the plan, and every hand in the room went up."
Fifty Sturbridge Lakes residents attended the March 26 township meeting, Ferruggia said. And for the first time, he said, officials openly said they had been involved in informal talks with the developers.
Ferruggia said he pointed out to the committee that residents should be privy to such talks and able to have their say.
The committee responded, voting unanimously to send a letter to the transportation department withdrawing support for the road changes.
"Frankly, the residents were concerned that things were moving much too quickly," said Committeeman Gary Finger. "It would be foolish for the committee to say 'No, you folks are wrong.' "
Michael Beckerman, a spokesman for the developer, said the company preferred not to comment on the township's decision to withdraw support for the road changes or on possible legal action against the town.
Finger called the homeowners association well-organized and well-informed. He commended the group on its efforts.
"Government works very poorly when people don't say anything," he said.
Mayor Harry Platt said he was pleased with the nonconfrontational tone of the meeting.
"Any time that residents come in to exchange ideas, thoughts and factual information it can only benefit to serve the entire township," he said. "Now, we have a chance to make some choices together."
Though the vote is gratifying, Ferruggia said, it may have wrought a result that could mean the story is far from finished.
The transportation department, after all, has now gotten mixed signals from the township.
"Are we going to get a traffic signal and jughandle that we don't want?" Ferruggia asked. "The town might get something it has gone on record as not approving."
That won't happen, said John Dourgarian, a spokesman for the transportation department. Such changes, he said, require support of the township, and in light of the recent letter, his department has agreed to delay action.