Spotlight On: Bancroft

“Bancroft” has been on everyone’s mind, not just lately, but for over a decade.  Whenever I examine the continuing saga of the Bancroft Redevelopment Plan (and its genesis), I first remind myself that the Borough’s relationship with Bancroft is so much larger than any one of us, or any single generation.

For those who may not be aware, Bancroft has had a longstanding presence in Haddonfield. It was one of the first private schools in the United States for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities when launched by Philadelphia school teacher Margaret Bancroft in 1883. Ms. Bancroft’s personal and professional commitment to serving - and more importantly, respecting - the dignity of adults and young people with intellectual & developmental disabilities, and those in need of neurological rehabilitation, is at the heart of this real estate debacle.

So, while the Bancroft buildings may now be eyesores to the public, and I often worry about what is leeching onto the open fields and into the water from the abandoned facilities, I try to focus on a few elements that inform my view, and ultimately generate my “position.”

Redevelopment plans are not rocket science - but they are incredibly nuanced. They require serious consideration with detailed analyses of the applicable land use principles and financial implications, among other things. In my experience as a redevelopment attorney and economic development consultant, I have written and negotiated redevelopment plans (including the calculation of financial incentives), and represented clients in litigation over municipal redevelopment projects.  Because of my work, I know that when a developer approaches community leaders and threatens to plant an “undesirable” or typical use consistent with “NIMBY” outrage, it’s a scare tactic.  I also know from my extensive experience in community development that generating public support and buy-in for any project requires municipal leaders to craft & disseminate messages in an engaging and meaningful way, including opportunities for public dialogue, even when discourse may become heated.

For these reasons, it would have been incredibly beneficial for the Borough to have had someone with my experience at the negotiating table, and in front of residents at Borough Hall. And it will be in the future.  It’s one thing to learn from past mistakes. It’s another to take action to prevent us from repeating similar mistakes in the future. Ben Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and I’m sure everyone from Margaret Bancroft to our current Board of Commissioners and taxpayers would agree – and that’s reason enough to vote for me.

Bancroft does not exist in a vacuum. I’ve been following housing trends for ‘boomers and millennials for many years, including studying the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) since its first round.  In the redevelopment of Bancroft, I see great opportunity for the Borough, where others may only identify challenges and headaches. My understanding of housing trends is also why I am uniquely able to recognize the present barriers to diversity, equity & inclusivity in the plans that have been floated over the years, and one of the reasons I remain committed to talking about these issues with the Borough community in a thoughtful, sensitive & proactive way.  I’m running for Commissioner because I’m committed to living & working in Haddonfield for the next 30+ years, representing the best interests of our community by initiating tough conversations, offering well-informed, holistic & sustainable plans for the future, AND being held accountable for my decisions for many years to come.

So, what would I like the reader to take away from all of this? For starters, we need to think bigger than and beyond the Bancroft saga of today. As the mom of a nearly 4-year old little boy, I have a deep commitment to our children and our community as a whole.  What do I mean by that?  I am committed to addressing the needs of the littlest among us, those seeking age-in-place options, as well as all those who have been traditionally marginalized or suppressed, including adults & children with disabilities.  This means I am committed to working WITH our Board of Education and other stakeholders as we move forward. I will push for more formal lines of communication and greater cooperation between our Board of Education and our Borough Commissioners as we plan for the future of our Borough together.

The redevelopment of Bancroft has yet to reach a conclusion. As the Borough continues to incur debt service and litigation costs, which we, the taxpayers, foot the bill for, our children continue to walk (and ride) past the facilities, once full of promise, now left to rot and rust. The “existing” Redevelopment Plan is already a thing of the past, and the dismissal of the HERD lawsuit has yet to produce a useful public document (beyond the transcript).  As such, I won’t waste your time with speculation.  If elected in November, although I will only be one vote - and I’ve had nothing to do with how we got here - I can certainly promise a better, brighter future for our Borough. 

Bancroft is a teachable moment for the residents of the Borough. It’s up to us, as voters, to put that lesson into practice: #VoteColleen2019

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