Bad Night for Democracy in Cherry Hill

It truly began as a promising evening of civic engagement with local government officials. The town council meeting in Cherry Hill on Monday night was packed to capacity with a rough guess of three hundred residents filling council chambers. It was a standing room only event.

Residents offered public comment in opposition to ordinance 2016-13, which seeks to amend the B4 zoning capabilities.

More than a dozen brave, and well researched citizens spoke in high opposition to the amendment, since it would allow for 16 pump, 8 lane gas stations to be constructed on such sites. Many residents stated that they did not want to live so close to a gas station in general, let alone such large, traffic attracting gas stations in their already congested west-side neighborhoods. Others cited the health risks associated with living in proximity to benzene, a known cancer causing chemical found in gasoline.

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Mr. Ravitz even showed up to oppose the ordinance, largely since it was assumed that the change in zoning was to allow a Costo location to open in the Garden State Pavilions / Race Track property, coupled with, perhaps, a mega-gas station. A Ravitz owned Shoprite is located within the Pavilions property. Mr. Ravitz also cited the illegality of “spot zoning”; a practice of rezoning with singular party benefit.

After the public comments ended, Mayor Chuck Cahn began by thanking everyone for their comments and concerns, yet cautioned the massive crowd of three hundred strong that they should be weary of what the vote was for. The Mayor suggested that the vote was to rezone B4 areas, not for a benefit to Costco. Immediately, the crowd erupted, with shouts of, “They don’t even care!”, and, “The vote was already made!”. The mayor tried to speak above the shouts, adding that there was much more to the vote than met the crowd’s eye, that the planning board approved of the change in ordinance, and that there may in fact be some fear mongering conspiracies afoot.

The council voted, and the ordinance was passed with one abstention. The crowd did not wait for the rest of the meeting to end, and left.

I stuck around for the post-voting public comment, because I really wanted the mayor and the council to listen to my concerns following the disaster I had just witnessed.

I began by thanking the officials for taking my comments and concerns, and by stating how disappointed I was. I told them that there were so many things that could have been done to prevent the mass exodus of residents from the chambers. I told them that they really did not have to push the vote through, right then and there this evening. The mayor and council heard from a unanimous crowd all in opposition to this one ordinance, yet they still voted yes. I told them that their actions, and belief that they knew more about the ordinance than the residents, did not in any way help to curb voter disenfranchisement.

The council could have voted NO, and pursued community meetings in order to better understand why residents were so opposed to the ordinance, and perhaps, if there were more things than what met the eye, community meetings would have been the perfect opportunity to squash misconceptions, conspiracies, and false information if any existed. That action would have kept the public involved in the political process. That would have allowed me, at the very least, to gain more trust in my local government. But that did not happen.

The mayor and council chose to not bother with alleviating concerns and misconceptions, and created a situation in which the officials were coming across as knowing better than the people.

Following my comment to the council, Council President David Fleischer encouraged myself and the other young people who were present to not become disenfranchised, and to keep voicing our concerns.

I totally understand, and most of all, I respect his words. I respect him even more for having payed the most attention to the other residents providing comments throughout the evening, something of which not all council members did. But it is important for him to understand how that comes across. Someone who not ten minutes ago voted against a crowd of three hundred passionate people, wants me to not lose hope?

Of course, I won’t, but it’s important to point that perspective out, all in my hope that the mayor and town council learn a few things for future meetings.

P.S. All while Cherry Hill seeks to add a fifth grocery store within a 2 mile radius, Camden City, a food desert, still needs some of those…

(Whole Foods on Kings Highway, Wegmans on Rt. 70, Shoprite on Rt. 70, and Walmart on Rt. 38) (Another grocer seeks to open across from Whole Foods on Kings Highways)

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11 thoughts on “Bad Night for Democracy in Cherry Hill

  1. I’m sick and tired that mayor and Council does not care about its citizens I live off of Route 70 yet we have a no thru traffic sign 4000 Vehicles come down there on an average of three and a half days with small children adults and seniors dodging speeding cars coming down the street and yet when we bring this up to Mayor and Council they just push it aside very sad time in Cherry Hill

    1. you are probably correct about this Brainsnorts. we were all just so disgusted.
      This is all about money. wonder whose palms are getting greased? this ruling only benefits the developer of that parcel of land and the town council. we need a whole new slate of people there who will care about the residents of our town.

      1. i just recently moved to town, so i’m looking forward – i think – to learning more about what’s going on. if i were in charge, first thing i would do is fix rt. 70. i hate that road and the thump thump thump on the west side of 295.

  2. This story proves what I have said for 50 years – most politicians think of themselves first and the people second. Just what we need, another mega gas station. Giving the mayor and council the benefit of the doubt, this is at very least their chance to say they are helping the residents of Cherry Hill. The turn out in disagreement made no difference which proves my point.

  3. If you’re voting for candidates based on their their party or religious affiliation, or their gender, then stop complaining. Get to know the candidates platform, background, and skill set. That gives you a fighting chance of electing someone who has your interests at heart and possibly the expertise to get things done. This whole countries political system has become corrupt to the point where it’s business as usual. Cherry Hill has been electing the same puppets of the Jersey power brokers for some 40 years. When King George tells you to get it done, or else your political career is finished, what do you do? The CH Town Council, Planning, and Zoning Boards aren’t representing us anymore as witnessed by recent lawsuits against them and the poor decisons that were shoved down our throats at the last minute. It has become common place to ask us for forgiveness rather than permission when it comes to violating the CH Master Plan, zoning and planning laws. It’s time for a gut check, and it’s going to be hard for people at the poles to do something they haven’t done in 40+ years, but not giving someone else a chance to do better is just dumb. If you continue to let the same party run this town thinking things will get better and more transparent, that’s stupid. You can’t fix stupid.

    1. Yay John Swanson. I’ve been saying that for years. People need to make an educated vote, based on facts, not feelings. I also think that people should have a basic understanding of how the government works (an elementary school understanding not an in-depth one) before they vote.

  4. Perhaps Council President David Fleischer has been behind the council desk for too long. How can you not be discouraged after taking part in such informed, articulate opposition only to have your fears paternalistically trivialized by the mayor and council? These towns are run by people who think they know what they’re doing but who really have no idea what it means to build a vibrant economy in the 21st century. If the mayor and council seriously think that gas stations that poison the air and big box stores that ruin small businesses are the sustainable models for the future, they are insane. Cherry Hill is addicted to an outdated development model stuck in the 1980s. We’ll be suffering the consequences of their actions long after they’re all dead.

  5. Gloucetser twp just pushed through a 10%+ property tax raise on their residents.. and care just as much as cherry hill does about the concerns of the citizens.

    Theres only one thing to do.. VOTE THEIR SORRY AS*** OUT OF OFFICE.

  6. This is why good people must run for office. If they don’t others will. Voting people out of office does nothing if they are replaced by others with the same motives. Take control of your destiny. People with true hometown pride must run and others must work hard to elect them. People in office select the zoning and planning officers. Get good people out there to apply for those posts.

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