December 18, 2009

 

Military retreats on plans for tract

By JIM WALSH
Courier-Post Staff

Army officials, who faced public opposition over a planned military-training center in Gloucester Township, are now considering a new site for the facility.

Camden County officials submitted the alternative location this month, and the Army "is evaluating the site schedule and cost impacts of moving (there)," said Ken Beyer, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

County spokesman Ron Tomasello declined to identify the proposed site Thursday, citing a confidentiality agreement with the Corps. However, he said it was on publicly owned land.

A decision on the site is not expected until July, Beyer said.

The Army drew criticism this summer when it disclosed plans to put the center on privately held farmland along an increasingly commercial strip of Berlin-Cross Keys Road in Gloucester Township.

Critics argued that would deprive the township of a potential property-tax bonanza. They said the 11-acre site could generate more than $700,000 in annual property taxes if it were to be developed into a shopping center, a use allowed by current zoning.

The Army, which does not need township approval for its center, would pay no property taxes on the site.

"We welcome them in Gloucester Township, but not at that site," said Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton. "Losing a ratable is just not acceptable to us."

She also noted an outcry among people living near the township site. Some 200 people, most of them critics, crowded into a public meeting on the project in August.

"This would be right in their backyards," Rau-Hatton said of the site near the Kearsley Road intersection.

The Army wants to replace its aging Nelson Brittin Army Reserve Center in Pennsauken. In Gloucester Township, it proposed a $22 million complex with a 53,000-square-foot main building and more than two acres of parking for about 100 military vehicles and trailers.

The Army chose the Gloucester Township site after considering nine locations across South Jersey.

But it now has directed the Corps to design a building for the site proposed by Camden County, Beyer said. The alternate site also "will be incorporated into the project's environmental assessment," he added.

Both the assessment and design process are to be completed by July, he said. "At that time, it will be determined if the (alternative) site is suitable," Beyer said.