Developer Brian O'Neill and local officials are discussing alternate sites for an addiction treatment center he has proposed near Haddonfield Memorial High School.
With public opposition deepening by the day, the borough hopes to figure out how to buy the 19-acre property where O'Neill wants to build from Bancroft, a private school for special-needs students.
I'm told the Camden County Improvement Authority has identified several potential sites elsewhere in the county.
"I can't say a lot, but I can confirm that we're trying to find a solution that is good for everyone," Haddonfield Mayor Jeff Kasko said Friday. "We hope to find [O'Neill] a good location, a better location."
"They're trying to solve a problem, and I'm always open to solving problems," O'Neill said. "We've had good conversations. But I will also tell you that we intend to apply for a [zoning] variance on Monday. We are proceeding as if there is no solution."
The developer has an agreement of sale with Bancroft; in March, the school received preliminary approval to build a new campus on 80 acres in Mount Laurel.
"While Bancroft is not a direct party to the discussions between the borough and Brian J. O'Neill, we certainly have an interest in the outcome," president and CEO Toni Pergolin said Friday in a written statement.
She added: "Bancroft, and certainly everyone involved, wishes for a speedy conclusion to the process with a favorable outcome for all involved."
As a rehab graduate myself - gratefully sober eight years now, one day at a time - I'm a big fan of favorable outcomes.
The notion that a rehab will somehow desecrate Haddonfield is ridiculous; treatment works, and it needs to be more, not less, available - although I'm not convinced lavish amenities like those O'Neill envisions are a prerequisite for recovery.
Nor am I convinced Bancroft is a good site for a rehab. This beautiful piece of ground instead should be set aside for expansion of the high school's facilities, with the remainder as open space. And if that's not financially feasible, housing development on part of the property would seem to make sense.
On Wednesday, 300 people - many skeptical, some derisive or hostile - attended O'Neill's public presentation about the proposal.
The 160-bed inpatient and outpatient facility would treat only adults, at least initially. It would be built across Hopkins Lane from Haddonfield Memorial High School and two blocks from Tatem Elementary School.
A successful commercial real estate developer with offices in King of Prussia, O'Neill plans to open a regional chain of rehabs called Recovery Centers of America (RCA), including in Haddonfield and in Blackwood, Camden County.
At the presentation, and again during our conversation Friday, O'Neill insisted that his Haddonfield facility would be state-of-the-art and pose no risk to students or to anyone else.
But many around town are unconvinced.
"I cannot imagine a worse site than right next to a high school," former Mayor Jack Tarditi said Friday. "What [O'Neill] wants to do in terms of developing facilities is a noble enterprise. We can help him find a better location for it."
Tarditi also said developers were interested in building housing, targeted at people 55 and older, on 13 acres of the Bancroft site near the Cooper River.
But Haddonfield has long been unable to agree on what - if anything - ought to be built at Bancroft.
Some residents want virtually the entire site preserved as open space. Others are suspicious of any proposal that might involve or somehow lead to the construction of affordable housing, perhaps the only thing some in Haddonfield would find scarier as a neighbor than a rehab.
Such fears were a factor in the failure of a contentious 2013 referendum that would have enabled the school district to buy the site for $12.5 million. A portion would have been used to expand athletic and other facilities at the high school.
Now, with a clear civic consensus against the rehab, what's unclear is how, or how much, the borough would pay for the property.
Four appraisals made since 2005 for various potential uses (open space, institutional development) involving all or part of the property ranged from $6.9 million to $15.1 million.
"I'm really hopeful we'll find a solution," Kasko said. "It would be a win for Bancroft, for RCA, and for the residents of Haddonfield. That's what we're working on."