Now that final site plans have been approved for Lutheran Social Ministries (LSM) to transform the old Cinnaminson Home, the township gets what it wanted in the first place—affordable housing obligations, the preservation of a historical structure and most important, a good neighbor.
Two weeks ago, professionals associated with LSM, a nonprofit housing development organization, had its site plans finalized at the zoning board meeting to open 55 units of affordable senior housing on Riverton Road, where the former Cinnaminson Home now sits vacant.
The road was long to not only choose a tenant, but to get the project moving despite some snags.
In the mid-2000s, the group of Quaker women who ran the home closed it. Since they were nonprofit, Deputy Mayor Anthony Minniti, who is most familiar with the project here in town, said there were restrictions on who could have taken the spot.
“They couldn’t just sell it, take the money and leave,” Minniti said. “There were parameters.”
There were talks of groups coming in to transform it into a residence for troubled youth and other undesirable uses for Cinnaminson, Minniti said.
“It would have been a staggering burden on the residents of town,” he added, since 20-30 at-risk youths would have entered the school system at tens of thousands each, all at cost to the taxpayers here.
A Baptist home showed interest in the 2.5-acre spot, and wanted to turn it into a highway-style medical complex.
“The use wasn’t all that offensive,” admitted Minniti, however “the look would not have fit.”
Possible uses for the home
During this time, the township started a historical commission and identified the Victorian house part of the structure, among other locations, as a historic spot in town.
“What that did,” Minniti said, “was if the home was going to be redeveloped, it would have to be historically preserved. That sort of changed the game. That raised the bar as to what the next tenant was going to do.”
No offers came through that fully met those conditions. That’s when the township stepped in. The former owners decided to sell the structure to Cinnaminson for about $400,000. Minniti said one of the conditions of purchase from the former owners was that the historic part would be saved.
“We would see it wouldn’t get knocked down and [it would] get used for some municipal purpose,” he said.
After the purchase, the township appointed an exploratory committee to research possible municipal uses. A community center, offices and a new home for the fire department were among the ideas thrown around. During tough economic times, Minniti said, those options weren’t very feasible.
The committee said the spot was “too intense a use for a community center.”
“Traffic and circulation wouldn’t work,” Minniti said. “And you’re looking at a lot of costs” plus a referendum to voters.
So the township went out to accept proposals.
Lutheran is chosen
More than one proposal came in for the Cinnaminson Home, all similar to one another, but LSM’s was the most attractive, Minniti said, since the group was adamant about preserving the history of the building.
“We were confident when we picked Lutheran,” Minniti said. “The quality of their organization—it really speaks to the care they put into their product, the care of the residents who they are serving, their attention to the needs of the community around them.”
The plan is for 55 units of senior affordable housing plus a meeting house that would be where the current brick structure sits—a later addition to the original home. The meeting house would be open for community organizations who wanted to schedule meetings or other events there. It would be organized through LSM, not the township.
So LSM began the long journey of planning and zoning board appearances to get their plan approved. However, this was all contingent upon getting the home off the state’s open space roster.
The diversion process
When township officials purchased the Cinnaminson Home, they used open space money. By using that funding, “it left the door open for us,” Minniti said.
Especially since the township envisioned it as a community center at first, he added.
“It was never intended to be open space,” said Minniti.
Using open space funds doesn’t necessarily mean it has to stay open space; it could be for community use or for historical preservation. However after a period of time, Minniti said the state insisted on putting the spot on the open space inventory.
The state found out it wasn’t on the inventory when Cinnaminson applied for another round of Green Acres funding.
“They wouldn’t give us funding until we complied,” Minniti said. “Nobody understood was the consequence was going to be.”
In order to turn the property over to LSM, and recoup money, the Cinnaminson Home had to come off the open space inventory. The only way to do that is through a diversion. After several meetings and more paperwork, the statehouse commission approved Cinnaminson’s application to take the property off the open space inventory earlier this year.
Neighbors speak out
During the diversion process, LSM was still forging ahead with their plans, again contingent upon the diversion approval. Dozens of residents expressed concerns over stormwater and drainage issues, the size of the structure, lighting and even parking spaces.
But with each meeting LSM presented at, fewer and fewer residents had issues with the project. Some even completely changed their tune and were in favor of the project after not being that way initially.
LSM officials said drainage issues would not get worse with construction but actually improve since engineers are installing an underground detention system. The roof was also lowered after some residents were fearful it was too high, and parking spots increased after concerns were raised there wasn’t enough.
“I’d like to think we made a good-faith effort to address concerns,” said Keith McWhirk, the attorney representing LSM.
And since the Cinnaminson Home will open as affordable senior housing, Minniti said it satisfies affording housing obligations Cinnaminson has.
“Cinnaminson was one of those towns in front of the courts [regarding affordable housing],” Minniti said. “By going with a nice senior project like this, we’re going that route. This also allows some of our seniors of lesser means to remain in Cinnaminson. It prevents us from having to provide affordable housing elsewhere where it would be apartment-building style. And, you’re doing it with the least impact to our schools and township services.”
Final permits and more will be acquired over the next several months by LSM and the reimbursement process back to the township will happen soon too, Minniti said.
“The township never intended to financially be on the hook for this,” Minniti said. “We were trying to prevent certain impacts to the community we felt would have been negative. There is value in the historical element. We wanted some control over how the property was developed.”
And with the reimbursement of open space funding, Cinnaminson was able to acquire more land in Cinnaminson such as the Kay property, acreage off Forklanding Road near Memorial Park. The township’s biggest park will be expanded with the acquisition of the three acres, officials said.
And none of this is costing the taxpayers a dime, Minniti said. He added that the township is seeking to work with LSM toward establishing some sort of payment to the township, not unlike other affordable housing arrangements in town.
“I believe Lutheran had indicated a willingness to see the township was receiving some sort of revenue from the property,” he said. “We knew it was going to be that cooperative spirit. They are going to be a very good neighbor. And we wanted the Rolling Greens neighborhood to have the very best possible neighbor they could have.”
When LSM starts construction, officials said it would take about a year from start to finish.
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