Delayed, but moving forward

Mill Race Village redevelopment plan delayed, but moving forward

By Brian Woods, Staff Writer for the Burlington County Times

MOUNT HOLLY — Plans to revitalize an old water turbine manufacturing site among Mill Race Village's downtown shops hit a snag as the developer's bid for final site-plan approval was tabled last month.

The proposed redevelopment calls for transforming the 3.5-acre industrial complex at 30 Church St., which includes a 65,000-square-foot building, into a mix of apartments, shops, a distillery and even a theater company. Mill Race Inc., owned by the Winzinger family, which also owns several shops in Mill Race Village, bought the site three years ago and is working on the plan with Salt & Light Co., a nonprofit developer of affordable homes. 

"We are trying to do a project to expand Mill Race Village and revitalize a town," said Kent Pipes, president of Salt & Light. "We thought we were prepared with an application that was complete, but the Planning Board said there were some things that were needed and deemed it incomplete."

The village, which includes White, Church and Monroe streets, features boutique shops, art studios and the Robin's Nest restaurant. The 30 Church St. site is sandwiched between a couple of homes and across the street from an abandoned hardware store. It was the former T.H. Risdon Co., a manufacturer of water turbines in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

To go forward with the plans, three variances must be approved by the board, including for building height (it is three stories when 2.5 are permitted); for lot coverage (60 percent is allowed and 63.8 percent is proposed); and for parking spaces (about 305 spots are required but only 175 are proposed).

In March 2016, the developers were granted preliminary site-plan approval with some conditions, according to Township Manager Josh Brown. Not all of the conditions were met at last month's meeting.

The conditions included drainage calculations for stormwater runoff, signage, vegetation buffering, floor plans, and a plan to address vehicle delivery turning radius, according to Pipes.

The two companies are working to meet all the conditions and return to the Planning Board in June or July, he said.

The overall plan is to renovate the building and fill it with multi-use businesses that are allowed to operate in Mill Race Village.

It also calls for new shops as well as the expansion of current stores, and would allow the Robin's Nest to open a catering facility, expand the production of Village Idiot Brewing Co. on nearby High Street, and reopen the Mill Race Theatrical Company.

Pipes also said the developers envision a micro-distillery opening there.

In addition, the plan calls for six one-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors of the old warehouse.

"I believe the township is supportive of the current concept," Brown said.

One of the proposed occupants, the Mill Race Theatrical Company, has been using the building since last fall. In 2014, when Mill Race Inc. purchased the site, the theater company started cleaning up and renovating the inside and outside.

In October, it used a section of the building to put on its first play, "The Poe Project." Since then, the company has staged a couple of small productions, volunteered to help design mascots and decorations for town events, and offered classes.

"We build our talent pool by offering free performing arts classes. Those classes translate into real-world careers. This gives Mount Holly residents free access to education in fields such as technology, public speaking, lighting/sound production, carpentry, electronics, accounting, marketing and graphic design," said Tome Wilson, the lead producer of the company.

The company had to halt productions and cease using the building after the April Planning Board meeting because it was operating without a certificate of occupancy, according to Brown.

Wilson hopes the company can restart its activities, but will wait until Mill Race Inc. settles its site approval with the Planning Board. He said the company fully supports the development group and municipality as they work toward approving the redevelopment plan.

The township also seems to be in favor of the theatrical company making a speedy comeback.

"As it pertains to the theatrical company, the township views the talents of this creative group as a benefit. Providing such entertainment is a welcomed addition for which the township is fortunate that such passionate individuals chose Mount Holly," Brown said.

Although Mill Race Inc.'s plans still need final approval, the support is there. Brown said the municipality hopes the complex's future will help advance the arts and shopping atmosphere that is growing in the village.

This article originally appeared on the Burlington County Times website.