To the first resident of Collingswood's newest development, living is easy. The dry cleaner downstairs knows her name, the guy at the salad place remembers her dressing, and to get a pedicure "I don't even have to put on my shoes."
To the proprietor of the first-floor jewelry shop, the LumberYard development represents what's great about Collingswood's progressive approach to economic revitalization.
"City living in the suburbs," she calls it.
But to the lifelong Collingswood man who lives several blocks away, the problems are that his taxes are propping up a development that could fail, the rest of the town has been forsaken for the Haddon Avenue commercial corridor, and the mayor is "the sugar daddy for everybody" but those who already live there.
The views of store owner Lynda Kane and her upstairs neighbor Rose Hinrichs contrast sharply with those of resident Joe Dinella, who is irate over a $1.5 million loan that the borough made to continue construction of the LumberYard Condominiums.
Together, they tell the story of how a longtime mayor and an expert on redevelopment, Jim Maley, has used innovative - Dinella would say overly aggressive - means to turn a tiny, dry town next to Camden into a South Jersey hot spot.
"Is it unusual? You bet," said Maley, mayor for 20 years and up for reelection.
He has led the borough's two commissioners through the purchase and redevelopment of several properties during his tenure, but the LumberYard development is the boldest.
Set for completion in 2010, the former Peter Lumber site - next to the PATCO High-Speed Line into Philadelphia - is planned as 121 residential and 21 commercial units in three buildings. So far, all of the 40 available condos and 12 stores are filled. More are under contract.
"We're interested in creating a community there for the next 75 to 100 years," Maley said.
The borough took the initiative on LumberYard because private developers wanted to make more profit by constructing a tall building on quaint Haddon Avenue, "and we just didn't think that fit," he said.
Over eight years, Collingswood already had invested about $11 million in LumberYard, which is being constructed by Costanza Builders, of Cherry Hill.
The money, Maley said, will come back to the town as the units sell, for between $275,000 and $450,000 each. And in the long term, the tax revenue and commercial business generated by increased foot traffic will expand Collingswood's coffers, he said.
An additional $4 million or so is being used to construct a garage with 130 public spaces, sorely needed in a place where businesses and restaurants rely on street parking.
"There's a more critical mass of people shopping and walking downtown," Commissioner Joan Leonard said. "And we're not building on the green space. We're building where it's supposed to be built."
But when the economic downturn hit last year, it became apparent that $11 million wouldn't be enough to complete the third of four construction phases. With credit tight, Maley said, banks refused money to proceed until half the units in that phase were sold.
Last month, when Maley and the commissioners approved a $1.5 million "bridge loan" financed by the borough, his opponents were given new ammunition.
"Why is the town of Collingswood a bank?" asked resident John Staley, who went to last Monday's meeting to object to the deal. "I understand we put up our money to start the project, but why do we have to spend our money to finish the project?"
Staley, an electrician, said he was watching his colleagues get laid off while construction workers at the LumberYard were publicly subsidized.
Resident Mike Halpern questioned the return on taxpayers' investment.
"I don't see us getting the benefit, and I don't see our kids getting the benefit," he said.
"We go along thinking everything is good, and then all of a sudden we loan the developer $1.5 million."
Maley said he didn't expect to float another loan for the last phase of the project.
He said that he had a mandate, and that his opponents were few.
"People have given up" opposing the mayor, Dinella said.
If that's true, it could be because Maley is a convincing salesman.
"The gentlemen that are complaining, their property values have greatly increased because of what we've been doing over the past 20 years," he said.
Maley pointed out that the recent loan is from $4 million in profit on an $8 million investment the borough made in the 1990s by buying, renovating and selling the rundown Parkview apartments.
What didn't go to the LumberYard came back to taxpayers in an abatement.
Use that money to reduce taxes and fix problems elsewhere in town, critics say.
For the first five years, the condo's residents pay a PILOT - payment in lieu of taxes - that will allow the borough to pay down debt on the project.
It does not go toward Collingswood's schools, which bothers opponents.
"I'm going to ask for your resignation for the lack of transparency, for bulldozing ahead with this ridiculous project while ignoring everything else on either side of Haddon Avenue," Dinella told Maley at the meeting Monday.
Dinella also slammed the mayor, a lawyer who works with other New Jersey towns on redevelopment, for using Collingswood to build his "brand."
Maley is the redevelopment counsel for Glassboro, and he has become a darling of proponents of "smart growth."
New Jersey Future, a group that advocates for the construction of mixed-use buildings near public transit, gave the LumberYard its 2007 award for best "mixed-use downtown design."
"It's a great example of exactly the kind of projects that are needed throughout New Jersey," said Peter Kasabach, executive director. "It lends itself to creating a walkable community where people can get to work, they can buy the things they need."
Kasabach said this approach could generate "push-back," especially for its use of public funds. But in the long term, he said, it makes sense.
"These types of projects are unique. . . . It's not like finding a farm field and plopping 50 houses on it," he said. "This is the future of development in New Jersey."
Hinrichs understands why. Since moving to LumberYard from Marlton in 2007, the Iowa native has felt like she's in an "old-timey" community again.
Single and 62, she said last week that she was "basically booked for the weekend in going to dinner downstairs and down the street."
"I hope I never have to move again. I love the convenience of everything so compact, and I don't have to pay a million dollars," she said, "which I would in Philadelphia."
Hinrichs has had concerns, such as the sound of the train and a leaky roof. But they're surmountable, she said.
"I really feel like I live in a neighborhood," she said. "It's a rare time you go for a haircut when you don't see someone from the building. I like that a lot."
Only LumberYard's first phase is open. On the ground floor, commercial properties such as a pottery studio and a hot-dog shop are up and running.
Kane said her Aenigma jewelry boutique was doing much better on newly constructed Powell Lane, just off Haddon Avenue, than the shop she had in Old City.
"Just seven miles away and over the bridge, but it makes a big difference," she said. She considered Collingswood 10 years ago, she said, but it wasn't ready. "Everything has its due time."
There happen to be no children now in the condo units - and therefore no strain on schools, Maley noted. There are empty-nesters and young professionals with jobs in Philadelphia, ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s.
The centerpiece of LumberYard will be a town square, next to the garage, with space for the community events for which Collingswood has become known.
Next up for Maley? A planned "transit village" down the block, where buyers would be lured by PATCO access from Philadelphia, tony shops and BYOBs.
This time, Collingswood won't spend its own money, Maley promised. But he can expect opposition.
"I can't afford to eat at any of these restaurants," Staley said. "They're attracting people out of town, but what about the people in town?"