Mount Holly Mayor Tom Gibson says that “the West End redevelopment project needs to move forward for the betterment of the community.” That’s why his township has aggressively and negligently torn down over two-thirds of the Gardens, a once tight-knit community of 300 rowhouses home to lower-income and elderly minorities, in order to replace it with the Villages at Parker’s Mill, a swanky development of expensive townhomes and apartments with an unknown construction start date. The township is threatening to condemn through eminent domain anyone who does not accept their final offers.
Unfortunately, the future development Mayor Gibson envisions may not bring in the improvements to the township’s coffers that the project’s original fiscal impact study forecasted. By adjusting the study’s analysis to reflect more realistic assumptions, the Institute for Justice found that the township could suffer a loss of more than $1 million annually—about 10 percent of the township’s annual budget—rather than the originally predicted windfall.
You can read the Institute’s analysis here: www.ij.org/MountHolly.
In “Analysis of the West End Redevelopment in the Township of Mount Holly,” IJ found that the September 2008 fiscal impact study by Richard B. Reading Associates relied on a number of assumptions that are out-of-line with current housing market, population and economic trends in Mount Holly. Specifically:
- The proposed townhomes could be worth roughly 30 percent less than originally predicted.
- The proposed rental units could be worth 50 percent less than originally predicted.
- There may be three times as many new schoolchildren as a result of the project, which could lead to an increase of education costs of as much as $1.4 million per year.
- Based on data from the Reading Associates report, the development will cost Mount Holly an additional $341,442 annually in community support.
- Combining these estimates results in a possible loss to Mount Holly Township of more than $1 million annually—about 10 percent of the township’s annual budget—rather than the predicted windfall.
- This report (and the Reading Associates study) assumes no negative changes in property values, no additional unanticipated costs, and full, continued payments from the developer. Given current housing and population trends in Mount Holly, there are reasons to doubt these assumptions. If any of them change, the project could cost the township even more on an annual basis.
Last week, the Institute for Justice launched a billboard campaign protesting the township’s ongoing abuse of eminent domain. Four billboards are posted on highways surrounding Mount Holly, demanding an end to the township’s landgrab in the Gardens. JPGs of billboards can be downloaded at www.ij.org/MountHolly.
Mount Holly officials have been buying-up and tearing-down the Gardens over the past decade. The remaining homeowners have been made final offers on their homes by the township, amounting to half as much as comparable housing sells for just one block away. The homeowners would not be able to afford what they own now with what the township is offering, and would be forced to move from three-bedroom rowhouses that they own into cramped one-bedroom apartments.
According to the Institute’s report,
The original analysis did not address occupancy rates of the proposed units. As of the 2000 Census, the vacancy rate in the township was 8.1 percent….it seems likely the current vacancy rate is even higher due to the burst of the housing bubble in recent years. Even assuming a vacancy rate of 8.1 percent, 42 of the newly constructed units can be expected to remain empty after completion. Aside from the challenges of having high numbers of unoccupied housing in a community, this would impact the amount of money the township can expect to receive in property tax revenue.
“If Mayor Gibson is truly interested in the ‘betterment of the community,’ he should stop tearing apart what’s left of the Gardens and move the homeowners that remain into the new units,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice. “There will be more than enough housing to accommodate demand, especially considering that the new development would double the amount of housing that previously existed in the Gardens, and as many as 42 of the new units could be unoccupied.”
“Given what the township has done to people like Leona Wright, a 92-year-old widow who has lived in the Gardens since 1974, and Nancy Lopez, who on her own raised five children here and often worked two jobs, the only remaining alternative is to provide them with a unit in the new development. Anything less than that is unacceptable and the Institute for Justice will continue to fight for their rights.”