Despite residents’ protests, the Cherry Hill Zoning Board late Thursday night approved a change of use that will allow an auto dealer to demolish two homes in a residential area and replace them with a parking lot.
Long-vacant homes and property on Park Boulevard between South Delaware and South Cornell streets would make way for 122 cars of new inventory and used cars at Audi Cherry Hill, according to the application filed by MBJ Associates LLC, part of a company that operates several dealerships in Cherry Hill.
In a 6-1 vote, members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment granted the applicant a use variance to build a commercial lot in an area restricted to residences. Several members said there are only six residences left along that portion of Park Boulevard across from Copper River Gardens and that commercial properties surround the area.
The only vote against the project came from a board member Gregory BrunoWhich accused the applicant of imposing a “pattern of decay and neglect” on the community in the past few years.
In 2020, the zoning board approved part of MBJ’s expansion plan for a showroom it owns on Haddonfield Road near Route 70. The auto dealership wanted to move its Jaguar and Land Rover operations to the building off Route 70, across from Old Orchard. development.
However, the board did not allow MBS to demolish two homes it owns on Wynwood Avenue to make way for a parking lot. Both properties have been closed for the past three years.
After the vote, Bruno suggested the applicant might now do something with the Wynwood Avenue properties. He was quickly cut off by the Chairman of the Board Jonathan Radin.
MBJ, part of Cherry Hill Imports, is a long-standing family business in the city that was founded in 1978 and owns six dealerships in the Cherry Hill area: Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen.
Previous 70AND73.COM coverage: A Cherry Hill auto dealers group is asking for zoning approval to demolish two homes for a parking lot on Park Boulevard.
The use variance granted Thursday was the first step: MBJ Associates must now go back to the board to get site plan approval.
The properties are located near Route 70 and the town previously approved plans for a car wash next to what will become an Audi parking lot.
But the board’s justification for the use variance was hotly disputed by residents who testified at the hearing.
“It’s another nail in the coffin for this area,” the community advocate said Martha Wright Moon Lin told the council. “You’re degrading the environment. It’s a parking lot.”
She said approximately 60 trees would be lost in the parking lot, although the applicant proposed replacing some.
“This is not an appropriate use,” Wright, who quoted extensively from the town’s master plan, said of the zoning regulations governing the properties. “The benefit is only for the applicant.”
Frank Maloneyof Chambers Street, who along with his Loxtwood neighbors have fought commercial incursion by agents, told the council: “We are supposed to have standards.”
“They are beautiful lots,” he said of the residential properties MBJ owns on Park Boulevard.
Like board member Bruno, a Loxwood resident Carlos Rothner Mercer Street told the board that only recently did MBJ remove the brightly colored panels above the windows at its Wynwood Avenue properties.
He testified that the condition of the homes makes “our area look miserable.”
Amanda DeMattiaa managing member of the auto dealerships and part of the ownership family, told the board that the Audi dealership needs the parking lot to continue growing.
MBJ purchased the 806 Park Boulevard property in December 2019 for $170,000 from mortgage holder Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation and acquired the adjacent 802 Park Boulevard property in a sheriff’s sale for $175,000 in May 2020, according to Camden County property records. Each home was built around 1954, according to the town.
DiMatia said the agency saw the availability of vacant homes as an opportunity for growth because the two parcels of land are close to the agency. The residential lots are located across South Cornell Avenue from the Audi property.
In his submission, counsel for MBJ Damian del Duca, Of the Haddonfield firm of Del Duca Lewis & Berr, he said the two properties were located in “a remaining portion of a residential area.”
Dealer representatives at the meeting also said car carriers will not unload their cargo at the new lot and cars will not be located using alarms on key fobs.