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Delanco Saves - A Timless Treasure on the Delaware - The Zurbrugg Mansion

Kate Fitzpatrick
By Kate Fitzpatrick
Mayor, Delanco Township

The “Zurbrugg Mansion,” also sometimes called “The Columns” due to the large granite Italian-imported columns that front the building from ground to roof, was built along the Delaware River in Delanco Township at the turn of the 20th Century.

 

Today the mansion is the site of a significant redevelopment partnership involving private, local, county and state investment, including aspects of affordable housing and open space preservation.

While the watchmaker only enjoyed his Mansion for a short period before his death, the import of the structure on the township remains, and is as promising to the township and its residents as ever. We are looking forward to the completion of this unique project and welcome the new residents to Delanco, A Timeless Treasure.

The classical revival mansion was designed by Frank Furness, a noted Philadelphia architect of the time. It is believed to be one of his last commissions and one of his few residential commissions remaining. He was also the architect of the University of Pennsylvania Library and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Credited for breaking from European influence and combining many styles and building materials, Furness fell out of favor following his death, but his work is now gaining recognition and influence.

Over the years, the property was converted from a personal residence, to the initial location of the Zurbrugg Hospital, to a home for the elderly and thereafter sat vacant for the better part of a decade. In 2005, concerned about the potential for undesirable institutional-type uses in an otherwise vibrant and purely residential neighborhood, the Township purchased the property, which included the mansion, a carriage house and its accompanying lots along the waterfront. Various public uses for the property were initially considered, but the costs of improving and maintaining the building, as well as its configuration, negated the long-term viability of such uses.

As with many beautiful and historic structures, the Zurbrugg mansion raised concerns about expenses and functional obsolescence for the Township and its residents. Despite these concerns, the township Committee and its professional staff were determined to bring life back to the mansion. To succeed they sought to preserve the mansion through redevelopment.

The township and its Planning Board thereafter declared the property an area in need of redevelopment, and sought proposals from potential redevelopers with regard to proposed uses. After extensive negotiations, the township entered into a Redevelopment Agreement with Zurbrugg Partnership, LLC headed by Randy Cherkas of Grapevine Development, LLC in Moorestown. The proposal provided for the addition of eight townhouses along the outskirts of the 2.5 acre property, as well as the historic restoration of the mansion and the carriage house. The mansion will be converted into 25 separate affordable housing units, which will be age restricted for seniors. The affordable housing units help the township comply with its COAH mandates and provide funding the redeveloper.

At a groundbreaking ceremony in December of 2009, the State Department of Community Affairs announced approximately $2,050,000 in funding for the project from the Balanced Housing Fund. This fund is generated by the state from the Realty Transfer Tax, and is aimed at providing viable neighborhoods for individuals and families with low and moderate incomes. In addition, the county provided a $500,000 construction loan from its HOME program, and the township also contributed approximately $114,000 from its Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This fund is collected from market rate developments in accord with COAH’s rules and regulations.

The redevelopment of the mansion and conversion of the property to age-restricted affordable units is projected to cost the redeveloper approximately $4.4 million. We expect the project to take approximately nine months, and we hope to see occupancy by the end of this year.

In addition, the township was able to keep the vacant waterfront lots separating the Delaware River from Delaware Avenue as open space. We applied for and obtained approval from the State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection—Green Acres Program, as well as from the Burlington County Open Space Program. The land will provide an enjoyable spot for Delanco residents to experience the Delaware River waterfront for generations to come.

Delanco Township sits at the connection of the Delaware River and the Rancocas Creek in Burlington County. Despite the township’s location on the Delaware, there are few points of public access. This new township park will meet a longstanding township goal to give citizens a chance to enjoy our unique and scenic location.

Our township logo bears the words “Timeless Treasure” and we enjoy a quiet spot close to Philadelphia with safe neighborhoods and friendly people.
The Zurbrugg Mansion project, so vital to Delanco Township, has been the culmination of efforts on the part of the Township Committee and its professional staff for over five years. It also required contributions from the private sector, the county and the state. Zurbrugg Partnership, LLC, a private redevelopment partnership comprised of local developers, sought and obtained contributions to help realize conversion of the mansion to affordable housing units. The state and county provided resources for affordable housing and for open space preservation.

The township tapped redevelopment laws, complied with COAH mandates, preserved open space, and restored properties to its tax rolls. And, most importantly, gave this beautiful and locally significant building a restoration that will serve its residents and benefit the community at large for decades to come

 


This article appeared in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 87, Number 3, March 2010

 

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