Florence officials adopt ordinance to rescind redevelopment agreement with manufacturer

Florence Township Mayor Craig Wilkie discusses zoning around the Roebling Steel Plant site at a Nov. 6 township council meeting. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann

The Florence Township Council adopted an ordinance that annulled a redevelopment agreement with a manufacturing company.

The decision to approve the ordinance, which rescinded a redevelopment plan for property in the Roebling Steel Plant Redevelopment Area, was passed by the Florence council members at a Nov. 6 meeting.

Florence officials said the reasoning for the ordinance stemmed from a previous redevelopment agreement with Kampack, a Newark-based company that manufactures cardboard, which was stymied when representatives of the company informed Florence officials earlier this year that they had pulled out of the agreement.

Florence officials said they originally had plans with the company, which proposed the construction of approximately 500,000 sq. ft. of industrial and commercial space along Hornberger Avenue.

Florence Township Mayor Craig Wilkie explained that officials will have to reconsider their plans for the redevelopment site near the Roebling Steel Plant if the ordinance is adopted.

Kampack, who takes paper and turns it into carboard – we had been working with them for the past few years to become a [development] partner with us at the Roebling Steel Plant site,” Wilkie said. “About two months ago, [Kampack’s] majority owner decided to sell to an international company who then decided not to move forward [with the redevelopment plan].

“Since they are pulling out, it was in the best interest of the community for us to rescind the [plan] with an ordinance. So, if they were to come back in the future and say, ‘We want to continue’ if they have a change of heart, they will have to start over with us again. They will have no vested interest in the property.”

Prior to the company’s decision to pull out of the agreement, Florence officials said they were originally moving forward with the manufacturer to develop a portion of the Roebling Steel Plant site closer along the railroad tracks. Once the manufacturer pulled out of those plans, Wilkie explained that the municipality’s professionals encouraged another approach to the redevelopment plan.

“The recommendation from our bond counsel was to go ahead and remove the current permitted plan, so that if [Kampack] was to come back … they would have to come in and start anew with us,” Wilkie said at a prior council meeting. “They have not gained any interest with us in the process. They chose to walk away, so the recommendation from counsel was to remove this, so we can continue to move forward.”

In previous meeting among Florence officials, township planning board members and professionals expressed interest in redevelopment on the properties near the Roebling Steel Plant, which borders the Delaware River.

At an Aug. 27 planning board meeting, board members discussed the proposed development and use of waterfront property along the Delaware River, which is near the Roebling Museum and owned by the municipality.

The conversations among municipal officials were held during the board’s master plan discussion period when Wilkie introduced and led the evening’s topic.

The mayor said the waterfront property has been owned by the township since the late 1990s. He also said that over time there has been conversation about what is and what is not supposed to go there, such as a golf course, power stations and warehouses.

Although Wilkie said he had been approached for proposed warehouse development at the site before, he said he felt several factors involved with the construction of the property for that use would be costly and ruled it out of conversation.

Township planners fielded additional discussion about multiple uses for the property, which included a potential marina/waterfront district, entertainment area, residential development, boardwalk and other commercial opportunities.

Although multiple uses for the site were proposed during the August meeting, the Florence mayor made it clear that he is not anticipating to develop the property relatively soon. Wilkie explained that he felt the township’s current economic status allows the municipality an extended amount of time to plan the use of the site, accordingly.

Wilkie said that the goal for the municipality is to have a Master Plan in place and completed by December 2020.