SWEDESBORO –Swedesboro Council heard comments at their March 20 meeting from the public, voicing their concern about how the development of the vacant lot between Red Hen and the Cheega Funeral Home on Kings Highway into a commercial and residential complex would change the downtown area.
This area is part of the town’s Kings Highway Redevelopment Plan, which was officially approved by the Swedesboro Planning Board on April 10.
The project will house 6,500 square feet of retail space and 42 one and two bedroom apartments.
Groundbreaking is expected in the summer, and construction is expected to take about 18 months.
Mayor Tom Fromm explained why the project was important to the town. He said that the new commercial space and housing would “feed our businesses downtown”.
“Listening to business owners who are in our downtown area now,” Fromm is quoted as saying, “they feel that having frequent walking customers will be a benefit.”
Fromm said that councilmembers toured other towns such as Collingswood, Marlton, and Haddon Township, municipalities that filled the middle of their town and showed benefits. Councilman Dave Flaherty explained that they made sure the project had proper parking, the correct aesthetics, and stated it was “extremely important to promote a walkable downtown” in all the studies.
“The Red Hen, Great Wall, Spicy Affair, [and] Botto’s Restaurant will all benefit, because the residents will prefer to walk there,” Flaherty is quoted as saying. “I think we did our homework on this. We didn’t just start this last year.”
David Fish, now a former member of the Swedesboro Planning Board, questioned the benefits of the project, raising issues such as adequate parking for the new and old businesses in the area, as well as having adequate parking for the apartment residents.
Although Fish said he knew the parking designated for the buildings met regulations, he still questioned if there was enough to take into account other downtown parking needs. Fish said that Friday night he counted almost 80 cars in the dirt parking lot, which is the current use of the property to be developed. Additional parking is being used on the corner of Franklin Street and Kings Highway, but it is small.
Jim Moss also spoke of his concern about overflow parking onto Second Street. The borough is reportedly looking for a new location for a public parking lot to ease parking concerns.
“Retail stores are a bad idea,” Fish stated, “because the trend is going away with retail stores. The malls are empty, and they are going downhill because there is no retail,” Fish stated. “All I can think is 43 apartments right on the main street is not a good idea. We have wonderful stores on the street right now, we don’t know what’s going to come in to these new six commercial units.”
Fish, a nearly life-long Swedesboro resident, said that as a kid growing up Swedesboro’s downtown was “plywood alley” and through the council’s hard work, it has grown back. According to the minutes, Fromm stated, “We could go back to plywood alley and have no parking issues.” He added that the town needs to move forward or die.
“When Woolwich has the 80 million square feet of commercial and retail out on Route 322, what does that do to Swedesboro? It sucks it dry if we are not competing,” Fromm stated.
— By Karen E. Viereck, Editor/Publisher