WOOLWICH TWP. — The future of Woolwich Township is here and it’s bright.
Woolwich Township has been mired in an identity crisis since the mid-1980’s. Traditionally a farming community located in the Southwestern section of Gloucester County, Woolwich began a radical transformation during the 1990’s and 2000’s due to fast paced residential development driven by its central location between Philadelphia and Exit 2 of the New Jersey Turnpike, the last undeveloped interchange on the Turnpike.
Woolwich’s population doubled during the 1990’s, then tripled during the 2000’s, leading to the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing community in the Northeast if not the entire eastern seaboard.
Woolwich Township has long recognized the need for proactive land use planning, including its highly acclaimed Open Space Preservation Program. But the key to a successful future for Woolwich resided in the ability to concentrate future development, particularly commercial, in a centralized location within the Township.
The Route 322 corridor, since renamed Kings Landing at Woolwich, was the perfect location. State and regional agencies agreed, and Woolwich over a span of more than a decade has received numerous State approvals, all of which have been contingent on the township’s ability to bring public water and sewer to the area.
“Simply stated”, commented Matt Blake, Director of Community Development, “without public water and sewer, there is no chance of attracting any commercial investment of significance along the corridor.”
Mayor Alan Schwager expressed his excitement. “Since the years I sat as the chairman of the Joint Land Use Board to the present day as the township’s Mayor, I have heard the phrase ‘build it and they will come.’ To be honest, there were times in the past when it seemed like we would never get there.
“When I was elected to Township Committee and appointed the Mayor, I decided to focus my time and energies on finding a way to reach the finish line and give the township what it deserves, a thriving commercial district with local shopping and dining options, as well as much needed tax ratables and tax relief. Those promises are now being fulfilled.”
One of the main obstacles to providing public water and sewer has always been the lack of sewer treatment capacity at the only available facility located in Logan Township. The Logan treatment facility simply was not equipped to handle the additional sewer flow that would be generated by new construction along the undeveloped 322 corridor.
The bottleneck cleared last year when the Logan Municipal Utilities Authority declared that it was proceeding with plans to increase the capacity of its plant. Consistent with those plans, the Authority passed a resolution in September acknowledging that the projected flows from a fully built out Woolwich Township can be accommodated at the expanded plant and committing to work with Woolwich in the design and implementation of the sewer conveyance infrastructure.
Almost all of the efforts the township Committee have expended in exploring all options and negotiating with various state agencies and developers occurs without the general public having any real appreciation for how much effort it has taken to align all of the many interests necessary to jumpstart Kings Landing at Woolwich Township.
Schwager stated, “I am so very proud to announce that on October 16 the Township Committee approved a Redevelopment Agreement with our strategic partner Precision Land Development, LLC. The Agreement with our new infrastructure redeveloper is a landmark in our township’s history and truly tips the first domino in what I am confident will be a series of dominoes resulting in the final build out of a township we can all be proud of and enjoy living in.”
Woolwich Township currently has pending a loan application with the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust, a state entity whose sole mission is to provide funding below market rates and with very favorable repayment terms to design and construct public infrastructure projects that enhance ground and surface water resources and protect the public health and welfare.
The loan will be repaid in time by developers as new projects are connected to the system. “All indications I have received during our meetings with state officials are that our application is tailor made for the NJEIT Program, and we expect a loan approval in the very near future to fund both the design and construction of sewer infrastructure.
“The second piece to that puzzle was partnering with Precision Land Development, a subsidiary of South State, a highly respected state contractor with extensive experience in the design and construction of all manner of major infrastructure projects. With their expertise and willingness to assist the township in financing its initial obligations, we are now ready to make our dreams a reality. In addition to our agreement with Precision, we have assurances from our water franchise holder that public water will be installed at its cost, simultaneously with the installation of our sewer infrastructure.
“In my view, all that is left is to finalize the design, attain necessary permits and put a shovel in the ground. In fact, I expect members of the public will soon see survey teams along 322 preparing for the installation of the piping,” said Schwager.
“Since I joined the effort in bringing water and sewer to Woolwich Township along with Mayor Schwager”, added Deputy Mayor Rizzi, “I recognized early on based on my business and finance background that there were numerous hurdles to get over before we could reach an agreement with any entity to install water and sewer. There were many proposals rejected over time for a variety of reasons, but Mayor Schwager and I continued working and we now have not only a viable option but a concrete plan to deliver what Woolwich Township has asked for over a decade. I could not be happier for the residents of Woolwich.”
According to township officials, the Redevelopment Agreement with Precision Land Development is unique and groundbreaking and may prove to be a model for other public entities across the New Jersey who have also run into the same roadblocks as Woolwich in putting together financing when there is need to move much more quickly than the standard process and State programs allow.
“The time for delay is over,” said Schwager. “The time of Kings Landing at Woolwich is here; it cannot wait any longer.”
By Matt Blake, Woolwich Twp. Director of Community Development