Grand new residences are replacing 1950s ranch houses on seemingly every street in Haddonfield’s Fargo section, but that doesn’t bother Jerry Macnamara.
“It’s the times we live in,” said the retired salesman, 77, who bought a three-bedroom Farwood Road rancher half a century ago and now has a 2½-story new house next door.
Although Macnamara says he’s “flabbergasted” by the prices such homes are commanding in his neighborhood and elsewhere in the borough, others describe the latest wave of Haddonfield teardowns and build-ups somewhat differently.
“Parts of town really are under assault,” said longtime resident Brian Kelly, who runs the popular Haddonfield United page on Facebook. “I grew up here, and I wouldn’t say it’s being enhanced by teardowns and subdivisions.”
Elizabeth “Betty” Creidler, a Haddonfield resident for most of her 91 years, said: “I’ve seen perfectly good houses torn down, and McMansions built in their place. I think it’s ruining the character of the town and making it difficult for anyone other than wealthy people to live here.”
The densely populated borough — 11,500 people in less than three square miles — has little vacant land available. Property values are rising and property taxes are high, even by Camden County standards.
But a charming downtown, well-regarded public schools, and handy PATCO station continue to make Haddonfield aspirational for buyers and builders alike.
“Many people coming here don’t want the old houses. They say renovating an old house takes too much work and that it’s easier to tear it down and build a new one,” said Mayor Neal Rochford, who grew up in Haddonfield and said some new homes have blended “seamlessly” with older ones.
One might say the borough has a problem other communities would love to have: a roaring residential real estate market where supply can’t keep up with demand for open floor plans, expansive kitchens, lofty ceilings, and other design features many buyers, including young families, seek.
“It’s a reflection of how people live today,” said Salvatore Siciliano, a lawyer who lives in Haddonfield and represented residents opposed to a Warwick Road subdivision.
“It’s a cyclical thing,” he said. “Haddonfield is evolving. It’s a testament to the community that people want to live here, and are willing to buy a rancher and invest their dollars” to build a replacement home.
Since 2014, borough records show, 57 single-family houses have been demolished. Typically, much larger and taller new homes have taken their place — and more of the allowable space on the lot.
“Homes characteristic of Haddonfield have been replaced by extremely large homes that kind of dwarf others in the neighborhood,” longtime borough planning board member John Stokes said.
A Fargo resident, he’s also a member of a planning board subcommittee that has been studying issues related to teardowns and subdivisions for at least two years. The board has adopted its recommendations and is prepared to formally present them to the borough commission, perhaps as early as Tuesday.
Modifying the maximum allowable height of single-family homes in certain zones, reducing the prominence of garages, and clarifying definitions of “elevated” basements and “half” stories are among the key recommendations.
The planning board also will ask the commission to consider whether subdivisions of large, single-home properties for multiple new dwellings should be limited, particularly on “gateway” streets such as Warwick Road and Kings Highway.
“Most people in town are pretty supportive of preserving the large lots” in key locations, said commissioner Jeff Kasko, noting that teardowns are difficult to prohibit outright.
“Our intention is to be respectful of homeowners’ rights and to balance them with [requirements] to in some way eliminate McMansions,” said planning board member Jon Simonson.
“I do think there’s been overdevelopment,” he said. “Teardowns are to be expected, and are going to continue to happen. So let’s at least find ways to have some modicum of control, so we can have some impact on making new construction more compatible with existing neighborhoods.”
Said Stokes: “It’s not about [legislating] taste. It’s about preserving character. Haddonfield has a distinctive character: Traditional, tree-lined neighborhoods with compatible streetscapes.”
Perceptions of Haddonfield used to be such that discussion of preserving the borough’s character would summon up images of bluebloods fussing over what constitutes an authentic Colonial-era shutter hinge.
Many in town vividly — and some, fondly — recall the fierce preservationist Joan Aiken (may she rest in peace), whose epic 1990s battle against a violet-hued Kings Highway house is the stuff of local legend. Deservedly so.
But as Siciliano and others pointed out, Haddonfield has changed in recent decades. Not only its past but also its present is worth preserving and protecting.
And what better way to do that than to ensure that the borough remains attractive to young families and others who want to be able to have their kids walk to school?
“I don’t mind [the new houses] at all,” said Elaine Zafiriadis, who moved to Longwood Road in the Fargo section 18 years ago.
“We were the youngest on the street when we got here,” she said. “Now almost everybody is younger than us.”
Macnamara, who remembers when Fargo was nothing but orchards with a spring in the center, said: “We moved here as a young couple, and there were a lot of older people.
“Now we’re the old people. Younger people are moving in. And after them, someone else is going to come in, and they’ll make changes, too.”