MESSAGE FROM THE GLOUCESTER COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE
June 21, 2017
2) How did Woolwich become the "fastest growing Municipality"?
New residents are flocking to Woolwich Township because of many reasons. With the opening of the Commodore Barry Bridge and the Blue Route, the gateway to South Jersey was also opened. Woolwich Township offers an excellent location with a small town rural appeal yet easy access to modern conveniences and a short commute to Philadelphia. In the past, poor planning designated Woolwich to be the bedroom portion of a large planned community with the commercial development being located in Logan Township Pureland.
In 1995, the township committee at that time passed a developer friendly zoning ordinance that allowed the approval of dense housing in parts of the township where public water/sewer was available. With such an influx of new residents and without the industrial ratable like Pureland, steps had to be taken to slow down that growth.
The 2003 Master Plan addressed this problem by changing the zoning in the township and lowered the number of potential residents by approximately 35,000. Woolwich Township's plan is to continue to grow by making smart growth decisions such as the zoning change. In the last couple years, homeowner values have increased by over 50%. To maintain property values, Woolwich Township is attempting to increase the amount of commercial ratables in order to level out the property tax burden.
3) Why is Weatherby the only area in Woolwich with dense housing?
According to the 1973 Woolwich Township Master Plan, Beckett New Towne was being designed and the commercial portion of that development would be centered in Logan Township known as Pureland. The residential portion would begin in Logan Township and then spread out into areas in Woolwich Township. These areas were designated to have water and sewer service (known as a 208 area).
Woolwich was to be the bedroom community for Logan's commercial development. Officials apparently did not believe school taxes would be paid for by property taxes in 1973. When the housing market fell in the late 70's and early 80's, the plan for Woolwich's large tract development stalled.
In 1995, Summit Ventures LLC picked up the plan and in 1998, Summit Ventures and the township committee at that time agreed on a General Development Plan for Weatherby. This plan included 4500 units built over 20 years. The plan also called for 250,000 square feet of non-residential building. This is a breakdown of 97% residential to 3% commercial.
In 2003, the present township committee met with Summit to create a concept plan for the new municipal building and Town Center. The concept is to create a main street type of atmosphere. A copy of the plan can be seen at the municipal building on Woodstown Road.
Currently, the Weatherby area is the only part of the Township included in a 208 area. This year, the township committee is aggressively pursuing the extension of the 208 area along the 322 corridor to the New Jersey Turnpike to create a mixed-use facility known as the Kingsway Town Center. The plan also calls for approximately 3,000,000 square feet of commercial as well.
Learning from the mistakes of the past, this project uses Smart Growth ideas to limit sprawl and bring in needed tax ratables.
4) Why are taxes increasing so much with so many new houses being built?
With only residential growth, there is an increased burden on the local school system and other aspects of municipal services that is not being balanced by commercial properties that pay taxes towards these services without utilizing them.
Balanced Growth would be about 60-70% residential and 30-40% non-farming commercial. Currently, Woolwich Township is approximately 12% non-farming commercial. Based upon its General Development Plan, Weatherby, the largest housing development within the Township, which under the current Master Plan will account for 45% of our total population, will be 97% residential and only 3% commercial.
Seeing a lack of balance, the Woolwich Township Committee revised the Master Plan in October 2003. This document decreased the estimated population in 2020 from 70,000 residents to an estimated 35,000 residents. To combat the rising school tax situation, the present township committee has focused on attracting commercial development along the 322 corridor and the Weatherby Town Center, which will greatly assist in stabilizing the tax structure with ratables needed to support our school districts.
5) How can Woolwich attract more businesses?
In early 2004, Woolwich Township hired Triad Associates to do just that. The Weatherby developer, Summit Ventures LLC, controls the timetable of the construction of the Town Center in Weatherby because they own the property. The township committee and resident volunteers from Woolwich Township's Business Development Advisory Committee (WTDBAC) continue to pressure Summit to speed up their timeframe and begin the main part of the Weatherby Town Center.
Additionally, Woolwich Township has been working on bringing water/sewer service to the 322 corridor. This is crucial for large retail commercial and office commercial to come to Woolwich. The plan for commercial ratables is in place, the final hurdle to cross is permission from the state of New Jersey.
The township committee, township officials and resident volunteers from the Plan Endorsement/Master Plan Committee have been working with the Office of Smart Growth in Trenton, the Dept. of Transportation, and the Dept. of Environmental Protection to do just that.
6) Will Weatherby have commercial ratables?
Yes, the developer Summit Ventures, is working on a plan for the Weatherby Town Center. In 2004, the CVS opened on the corner of that Town Center. In addition, 50,000 square feet of office space has been approved by the planning board this year.
The township and residents continue to persist that Summit move forward on their plan as quickly as possible. The total square footage, as part of Weatherby's General Development Plan, comes to approximately 250,000 sq. ft. of non-residential use.
However, Summit Ventures continues to insist there are not enough rooftops to support commercial development at this time. Yet, the Woolwich Township Business Development Advisory Committee (WTBDAC) was able to assist the owners of the Watch Me Learn Preschool/Daycare with a successful opening in the summer. Based on the success of this local small business, the township committee and the WTBDAC are working to bring in other businesses to the Weatherby Town Center area despite Summit Ventures claims.
7) What's important about the Master Plan?
The Master Plan is a document that guides the future of a township. This document shows the zoning requirements for the Township and the areas. This important document was overhauled in 2003.
How the master plan affects all of us requires a long answer. To best do this, please look at the slide show presentation that explains this question. This slide show was presented during the public hearing for the Master Plan in September 2003. It explains where the township was and the potential consequences of continuing along that course. Added below are the assumptions, goals and objectives of the revised Master Plan. A link to the slide show and a copy of the actual master plan is also provided.
The Master Plan is based upon a series of Assumptions, Goals and Objectives, which are as follows:
Assumption: Woolwich Township will experience extensive growth pressure through the six-year horizon of this Master Plan. The rate of increase of both population and dwelling units in Woolwich Township was among the strongest in the entire South Jersey Region during the decade of the 1990s and that trend is expected to continue during the foreseeable future. At the same time, median incomes have increased to among the highest in the region.
Goal: To preserve and enhance the quality of life in Woolwich Township in the face of rapid development.
Objective: Insure that new development is well designed and adheres to recognized principles of good planning and smart growth.
Objective: Strengthen ordinances that enhance community character such as design standards, landscaping and buffer regulations, and signage control.
Objective: Preserve open space opportunities through public and private actions.
Objective: Retain the existing character of the community, to the extent practical, through open space preservation.
Objective: Encourage commercial development in the Weatherby Town Center, along the 322 Corridor, and limit nonresidential encroachments into residential neighborhoods.
Assumption: Smart growth policies will be favored over patterns of sprawl.
Goal: To promote orderly growth within the Township.
Objective: Review current densities with an eye towards balancing designated growth nodes with lower density environs.
Objective: Develop in accordance with the State Plan and encourage the creation of communities of place. However, some land use assumptions of the State Plan may need to be reassessed, including tier designations and utility service areas.
Objective: Concentrate new development around established nodes or at planned locations that are well served by utilities and the road network.
Objective: Explore opportunities for land conservation during the process of sub-dividing tracts of land.
Objective: Encourage a sound fiscal mix of future uses.
Assumption: Woolwich Township will continue to be an attractive place to live.
Goal: To provide a safe and attractive residential environment.
Objective: Provide a variety of housing opportunities and dwelling types for residents at all income levels.
Objective: Comply with applicable laws and policies regarding affordable housing.
Objective: Insure that major new residential development contributes fairly to the provision of needed services, including recreation.
Assumption: Woolwich Township's demographic profile, the rapid growth of the Township and the surrounding area, and lack of significant existing retail opportunities, offer the potential for an expansion of retail and related development opportunities, including opportunities for mixed-use development.
Goal: Provide conveniently located and well-designed retail and commercial opportunities to serve the residents of Woolwich and the surrounding area.
Objective: Provide opportunities for more intensive regional-scale retail development, which will become possible once sewer and water can be provided to the Route 322 corridor.
Objective: Due to limitations in the road network, retail activities in the area now designated as Woolwich's Town Center should be directed towards a community-scale market and should be integrated with other planned community facilities. Mixed office and/or apartment uses in this area shall be permitted.
Goal: Limit the expansion of office and light industrial uses to areas that have good highway access to either Route I-295 or to the New Jersey Turnpike, and that have public sewer and water available.
Objective: Review existing patterns of zoning to determine if any changes are necessary in the areas designated for office and light industrial use.
Assumption: An ever-increasing range of public services will be required as Woolwich Township continues to grow.
Goal: To provide a full range of community services to residents of Woolwich Township.
Objective: Provide a new municipal administration building capable of meeting the current and projected needs of the township.
Objective: Provide enhanced public safety service, including police, fire, and EMS, to meet the current and projected needs of the population.
Objective: Work with the local and regional school districts to provide appropriate locations for necessary new school facilities.
Objective: Work with the Gloucester County MUA, Swedesboro and/or Logan Township to cooperatively determine the appropriate future roles and boundaries of sewer and water service areas.
Objective: Work cooperatively with County and Regional Planning Agencies, recognizing that some adjustments to current policies may need review.
Objective: Provide opportunities for private and quasi-public institutional uses, including houses of worship, recreational facilities, and similar uses.
Assumption: There is, and will be, a need for improvements to the local and regional circulation system as it affects Woolwich Township.
Goal: To work with State, County, and Local Officials to improve the traffic circulation system.
Objective: Encourage NJ DOT and Regional officials to improve Route US 322.
Objective: Work cooperatively with County officials to upgrade County highways within Woolwich Township.
Objective: Review existing street patterns to determine if new streets are required to improve cross-township traffic patterns, including bypasses of congested areas.
Objective: Take every opportunity to create an effective system of pedestrian sidewalks, particularly on collector and arterial roadways, during the subdivision and site plan approval process. Encourage the provision of, trails and bikeways during the plan review process, when recommended by the Master Plan.
Objective: Encourage the development of opportunities for public transportation in cooperation with regional agencies.
Assumption: The preservation and conservation of Woolwich's natural and cultural resources will increase in importance as the community develops.
Goal: To protect environmentally sensitive lands in the township.
Objective: Enforce environmental policies.
Objective: Protect all sensitive lands through public and private action. Objective: Link various areas of the township through a system of greenways, made available to the public through either acquisition or conservation easements.
Objective: Ensure that all municipal policies protect and favor the environment.
Goal: To protect historic and cultural resources in the township.
Objective: Identify and protect historic resources.
Objective: Foster opportunities for the arts.
8) What impact does the zoning change have on me as a taxpayer?The zoning change affects quality of life issues. Prior to the 2003 Master Plan, the total build-out of Woolwich was more than 70,000 residents. This would make us larger than Washington Township. The total commercial potential in Woolwich would not offset the rise in school taxes.
By reducing the number of potential houses, the total number of children attending the schools would therefore be reduced. At a build-out of approximately 70,000 residents, there would also not be nearly enough recreational opportunities for the residents creating quality of life issues.
Additionally, the traffic would be much worse with congestion at every intersection- think Routes 42, 73 or 70 in South Jersey. The pressure on open space would greatly increase as well. The need for more homes, roads, buildings, etc would ultimately eliminate habitats for local wildlife and destruction of the rural character that brought us all here in the first place.
9) What is the Township doing to preserve open space?
One of the most frequent reasons given by residents for moving to Woolwich Township is the country aspect of the community. While it is often difficult to articulate the conditions that create these qualities, it is easy to identify when they are lost.
Residents of Woolwich value its open spaces and its beautiful farmland and they want Woolwich to remain rural and they want a balance of elements in their community. The Township Committee has been completing the plans needed for Smart Growth Preserving Land and Water in a Growing Community.
Woolwich Township is taking a leadership position on this issue in the State of New Jersey. As you know, our farming community has some of the most fertile soil in the state. This type of resource is a finite and irreplaceable natural resource which is important, not only for the growing of many different types of fruits and produce, but also for the economy of the farmers who enjoy tilling the soil.
The national farming industry contributes nearly $1 trillion to our national economy, or more than 13 percent of the gross domestic product, and employs 17 percent of our labor force. That is why the Woolwich Township Committee and the Open Space Advisory Committee are working hard to keep farming in our community. The Environmental Commission has just completed an Environmental Resource Inventory that identifies and describes the natural resources of our community.
Woolwich Township's natural resources have made it a significant agricultural farming community. The Open Space Advisory Committee has also completed an Open Space and Recreational Plan that points out that our township is a predominantly agricultural community and has the most productive soil in New Jersey. Of the total 13,731 acres (21 square miles), 51.6% of the land use was for agricultural as of 2002.
Woolwich is a community with a gently rolling topography and many scenic vistas across its open lands. It is the peaceful beauty of this agricultural landscape that is attracting many new residents to Woolwich Township, making it the fastest growing municipality in New Jersey.
10) What are we doing to protect our environment & agricultural landscape?
Here is a checklist of what Woolwich has done over the past year to protect our environment:
1. Adoption of the completed Open Space and Recreational Plan as an amendment to the Township of Woolwich Master Plan which includes existing Open Space, Farmland, and a recommended Greenway System for Woolwich Township.
2. Submission of the final Open Space and Recreational Plan to Green Acres for the State's Planning Incentive Program.
3. Creation of an Agricultural Advisory Committee who membership will include farmers that will establish a systematic outreach program to farmland owners and discuss conservation options for Farmland Preservation, which can be funded by county and state programs.
4. Conservation Design Ordinance review and a Farmland Preservation Plan that will be a guide to preserve existing open space, farms and will assist in strengthening the farming industry in our township. These projects are being completed with grants that have been applied for from ANJEC and DVRPC.
5. Investigation and analysis of recommended properties for Open Space acquisition and Farmland Preservation Program.
6. Working with surrounding municipalities to coordinate open space and farmland preservation efforts.
7. Woolwich Township Planning Board is committed to have Developers provide as much open space within the proposed development that are presented.
As our township grows, the rural aspect that we now enjoy could change. We have developed strategic plans that will focus on saving open space and protecting one of our township most important resources, farmland, and the enjoyment it brings to each of the residents.
11) What is the Farmland Preservation Committee?
The Farmland Preservation Plan (FPP) is being developed in accordance with guidelines of the State Agricultural Development Committee's Farmland Planning Incentive Program. The Plan is guided by an appointed Agricultural Advisory Committee made up of Woolwich residents including township farmers. The FPP will delineate agricultural development areas where farmland preservation should be concentrated.
The Plan will also include an analysis and recommendations to improve the Township's right-to-farm ordinance and other measures that would help to protect farming operations and support farming as an industry in the Township. The Plan will be used by the municipality to apply for a Farmland Planning Incentive grant from the State Agricultural Development Committee. The Plan is a requirement for eligibility into the Program and funding for farmland preservation.
12) What special events are held in the area?
You can find the entire calendar of events sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Committee on their web page. With a growing community filled with young children, the Park/Recreation Committee is always looking for new ideas and events.
As the summer goes on, the main events are the Movie Nights held at Locke Park beginning at dusk. Other popular summer park events are Fun Day and National Night Out. Additionally, there are many other events such as Swedesboro/Woolwich Day in the fall with booths and vendors from around the community. Another new event recently begun was the Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony at Locke Avenue Park.
13) Where is the park?
Woolwich's park is located on Locke Avenue. This facility contains play equipment, soccer fields, baseball fields, and a walking/jogging trail. A concession stand and public bathrooms were added within the past year to accommodate residents.
Designed in the 1990's, the park is presently too small to accommodate the increasing population. Woolwich Township has acquired 56 more acres from Del Monte next to the Locke Avenue Park to create more recreational possibilities. The township is also in the process of requiring additional acreage around the old PMC tomato cannery.
In the Weatherby development, there is presently a shortage of open spaces for recreation. This is due to the fact that the original general development plan called for one large parcel for recreation but gave no timetable for it. The Township Committee is also working with the Swedesboro/Woolwich School District to build 2 basketball courts next to the water tower in Weatherby. In Swedesboro, Lake Park (East Avenue and Park Avenue in Swedesboro) includes a play set as well as a nature trail along Lake Narraticon, and fresh-water fishing (with the appropriate state license).
14) How can I get more involved?
Woolwich Township has many opportunities for residents to get involved in their community. You can see on the township's website that there are many committees where residents can help create positive change in the community. Additionally, there are links to some of the local teams. Residents of Swedesboro and Woolwich work together for soccer, basketball and baseball. We also work with Kingsway with football and wrestling. There is a local troop for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Additionally, the Woolwich Volunteer Fire Department is always looking for more volunteers to help protect the residents of Swedesboro and Woolwich.
15) Do we have builder impact fees for all the increasing population?
The state is looking to implement builder impact fees, which will look to offset the impact on the property taxes due to rising school taxes. Woolwich is at the forefront on this issue due to the rapid growth and the reliance on property taxes.
The township does have recreational impact fees that were revised recently. Prior to 2003, the cost was $200 for a home in a development with greater than 50 homes. This is why you may see some developments with 49 homes or developments that were built in phases. Last year, the Township Committee changed the ordinance to require a builder to provide approximately $1500 in recreational impact fees for a major sub-division (5 or more homes).
16) What is the Nike Base?
Located on Swedesboro-Paulsboro Road just off Route 322 (near Ryder Trucking), the Nike Base or PH58 Facility is a Cold War relic that is a common site along the East Coast. These military bases were designed to protect the Eastern Coast of the United States from missile attack. The base shut down in 1972.
Long time Woolwich and Swedesboro residents can tell stories of the missiles being raised and lowered during drills. Since 1972, the base, which is owned by the federal government, has been left to deteriorate. Two years ago, the present township committee put together a group of interested and knowledgeable residents to volunteer their time to work to get the property back on the tax rolls and provide needed tax revenue to Woolwich. The PH58 Committee has been meeting with representatives of the military, federal government, state government, and federal senators to move the process forward.
17) Where is the nearest library?
The Swedesboro Library Branch of the Gloucester County Library System is located at 1442 Kings Highway, across the street from the Bethesda Methodist Church. The library is one of the oldest libraries in New Jersey, 1st established in 1783. For More information, please contact the library at (856) 467-0111.
18) Where is Motor Vehicle Services?
The Gloucester County Motor Vehicle Dept. is right off exit 20 of Int. 295 N. Make a left at the end of the exit ramp and it is on the right. The Salem County DMV is located on Route 49 in Salem. Take Kings Highway south, follow the signs to Salem Hospital and turn right on Route 49. The DMV inspection center is approximately one mile on the right and the office is approximately one mile past that.