EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Township Committee put off a final vote on a controversial ordinance to rezone six acres near the Shore Mall for affordable housing, telling the more than 100 people who attended Wednesday night’s meeting to return April 10 for the decision.

Developers instead presented their project for the first time, taking questions from a skeptical and hostile audience.

At issue is a proposed 70-unit, five-story complex near Cottonwood, West Jersey and Eisenhower avenues in the Cardiff section of the township. It would be targeted to veterans, said Ron Rukenstein, the company principal for Renewable Jersey at Egg Harbor, LLC.

State Supreme Court rulings established that towns must consider low- and moderate-income residents in their planning. Egg Harbor Township had fought the mandates, but a lawsuit settlement last year led to the township adopting an affordable-housing plan.

Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough said the site was selected because it could connect to water and sewer lines, it was near shopping and the township owned most of the tract.

The township passed a related ordinance on Wednesday to increase the purchase price for the final piece of land from $1,053 to $1,300. The land is owned by Herbert Mazcyk of Holly Hill, S.C., who property records show inherited the wooded property in 1999.

Members of the audience audibly laughed after the company started by displaying a professional plan on an easel.

At a Planning Board meeting on the ordinance Tuesday night, Manuel Aponte, the board's vice chairman, stressed to the audience no plan had been officially filed with the township development office.

The complex would have 14 one-bedroom units, 38 two-bedroom units and 18 three-bedroom units, Rukenstein said, adding they would rent for $690, $821 and $945 apiece.

The entire complex would be screened by 35 to 40 feet of trees along the Cottonwood Avenue side of the block.

The complex would be designed for disabled veterans, with roll-in showers and lower-than-usual light switches and windows.

However, Rukenstein indicated if the complex were unable to attract enough veterans, then it could be opened to other people. Township officials objected.

McCullough and others said they would work to ensure the complex would only be for veterans. "We will deed-restrict it if that's necessary," McCullough said.

"The place is going to be 100 percent veteran," township Committeeman John Carmen Jr. said later. "They're not writing the ordinance. We are."

Applicants and tenants would face rigorous screening to live in the complex, Rukenstein said. A background check into a person's criminal and credit history would be mandatory with any application, and any criminal conviction over the previous seven years would disqualify an applicant.

Furthermore, every tenant age 18 and above would be required to submit to mandatory drug screening, Rukestein said, and tenants late with rent could be subject to eviction proceedings as soon as the following month.

Many of the neighbors who objected came from homes on nearby streets, where large stuccoed houses on small lots, that back up to properties adjacent to the Black Horse Pike, have sold for between $225,000 and $250,000 in recent years.

William Boggs Sr., 49, said he left Atlantic City to live in a more rural environment, and said the complex was too big.

What about other sites, he said, like the township's former Pathmark grocery store?

Ken Jaros, 50, said that people in the neighborhoods were constrained from building taller than 30 feet by zoning ordinance. How can this project be 50 feet tall?

He also questioned the effect of stormwater runoff, saying storms already cause low-lying parts of the neighborhood to flood.

"Whoever lives in that house," he said, tapping a Cottonwood Avenue home on the project map, "I feel sorry for that guy."

Jaros said he remained troubled by who may move there. "If they can't fill them with veterans, what will they fill it with?"

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