Tucker's Walk, a project that would have provided housing for 24 low-income veterans, remains in limbo amid failed attempts by its nonprofit developer to secure outside funding.
A recent plan to more than double the rental units and open half of them to nonveteran seniors failed to gain the approval of Tuckerton officials.
"The borough's always supported veterans housing," said Mayor George "Buck" Evans. "The last proposal was definitely not that. And it was not a benefit to the borough."
For months, construction documents have gone unsigned as the Egg Harbor Township nonprofit Community Quest seeks partners to help finance Tucker's Walk. A Watchdog Report by The Press of Atlantic City found more than $1.2 million had been spent on the project since 2007.
Despite two groundbreakings - one held months after Community Quest defaulted on a $1 million loan in 2010 - nothing more than a sign has been built on the parcel off Tuckerton's Main Street.
Most recently, the nonprofit partnered with the Montclair, Essex County-based RPM Development Group to expand the project to 54 units, as opposed to the 24 the borough previously approved. RPM has developed and run affordable-housing complexes across the state.
"The main reason (for the expansion) is it's difficult to finance a smaller project in relation to economies of scale," said Brendan McBride, RPM's vice president of development. "The other (reason) is our model is to have a live-in, 24-hour superintendent, and a project can't support that if it's less than 50 units."
McBride said the plan, which RPM outlined in a land-use variance application, would have been funded primarily through tax credits and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, programs. RPM would have covered pre-development costs, he said.
But in its May decision, the Land Use Board found the proposed changes "will have substantial detriment to the public good." Issues cited included increased traffic along Route 9 and noncompliance with local zoning codes.
RPM has since pulled out of the project, McBride said.
Kerrie Kelly, who led the project as Community Quest's finance officer, declined to comment. Dan Kelly, the nonprofit's president, did not respond to several requests for comment.
Evans, himself a Navy veteran, said the overhauled plan lost the support of many local veterans groups. He said he's disappointed for those the project set out to help.
"We're waiting to see if they're going to come back with anything, ever," he said. "We don't know."
An estimated 63,000 veterans were homeless nationwide in January 2012, the most recent statistics available. According to HUD, 44 percent of them went unsheltered.
Tucker's Walk has experienced a lengthy development process, starting in 2007 when Kerrie Kelly first conceived the project. While a loan was quickly secured for the nonprofit to purchase the land in 2008 for $612,000, it ran into delays securing permits and construction funding.
Those close to the project have alleged mismanagement, saying Community Quest was ill-prepared to undertake such an ambitious project. In addition to the foreclosure, filed in New Jersey Superior Court in October, the nonprofit also incurred a lien against the property.
Community Quest officials said in January that they were in negotiations with a private financier, Bishop World Wide Holdings LLC, and expected construction to begin soon. It's unclear whether the Bishop deal came to fruition.
Signs of progress came in February, when the nonprofit filed the necessary water and sewer easements and mylar copies of the final site plan. However, those plans have remained unsigned.
"They're sitting in my office, all ready to be signed," said Carol Sceurman, Tuckerton's Land Use Board secretary.
Borough Engineer Jack Mallon said the nonprofit has satisfied the requirements to begin construction on the 24-unit project. At one point, the nonprofit asked to complete the work in phases, he said, but it never followed up.
But Community Quest hasn't posted the $734,000 in performance bonds and inspection fees needed before Tuckerton can issue a building permit. The problem appears to be funding, Sceurman said.
"They're back to exactly what they started with," she said.
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