By Desirée Taylor
In a unanimous vote Mt. Holly officials approved a legal settlement that ends a 10 year fight between the town and residents of the Mt. Holly Gardens neighborhood.
“It addresses housing needs of current residents while enabling twp and community to meet short and long term goals, economic and non-economic, of the mixed used redevelopment plan,” said George Saponaro, Attorney.
“I think its great. It’s a fight over and with the new council things gotten taken care of quicker,” said resident plaintiff Leona Wright.
The dispute centered around the gardens neighborhood section of town. A blighted area town officials have long wanted to revitalize. To make way for redevelopment, the town planned to raze more than 300 homes. But residents, armed with attorneys fought back, setting the stage for a landmark housing discrimination case that was set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court in a few weeks. The settlement put the brakes on that and gave residents what they want, fair payment to relocate or a chance to get a new home in this neighborhood at an affordable rate.
“That’s the big difference. The township has agreed they won’t relocate people until a new unit is available for them. And then that unit will be realistically affordable to them even given their limited incomes,” said Olga Pomar, plaintiff attorney.
“Our clients have lived with uncertainty for 10 years and what they’re looking forward to is being able to live together as a community, to finish raising their kids, to be able to have their grand kids visit and be able to move into those new homes and be able to participate in the civic life of Mt. Holly,” said Susan Silverstein AARP Foundation litigation plaintiff attorney.
“The agreement brings a lot of positives. It will enable us to redevelop more quickly and brings about a settlement for the plaintiffs and we’re hopeful things will get built quickly,” said Sapanaro.
Four new units will be built in the first phase of the redevelopment plan. All total 44 new homes will be built as well some commercial properties. Longtime residents are excited to move on with their lives.
“It’s a new beginning, glad it’s resolved, we’ll now be a part of Mt. Holly fabric for some time to come,” said resident James Potter.
It’s a fabric of diverse people in a south jersey town that some believe may serve as a model for other communities facing similar battles over redevelopment plans.