"We can do better than this," Paul Stridick declares, standing at the edge of a weedy expanse of vacant ground along Route 70 in Cherry Hill.

"This site," adds Stridick, the township's community development director, "is not living up to anywhere near its potential."

I find it difficult to disagree with his assessment of the area near 70 and Harvard Avenue that once was occupied by a miniature golf course, where a lime-green sculpture nicknamed "Danny the Dinosaur" long graced a gateway to South Jersey's signature suburb.

Despite this and other scattered sites of commercial blight, Mayor Chuck Cahn's redevelopment strategies, largely focused on the township's older portions west of I-295, have angered some residents.

Earlier this year, fierce opposition deflated the administration's trial balloons for erecting a new town hall on Kings Highway and for encouraging high-density residential development near Park Boulevard.

And in July, after unanimous township council approval of a zoning code amendment that will permit gas stations as part of redevelopment projects on six west side tracts, some opponents shouted "shame" in the packed council chamber.

The parcels affected by the gas-station amendment include the defunct mini-golf site and a proposed Costco site within the Garden State Park complex.

"Chuck Cahn's vision is different from most of us," says Philip Guerrieri, a former Republican mayoral candidate and a supporter of Cherry Hill United.

He suggests that the township engage the public in helping develop an entirely new plan for the proposed Costco site and other empty acreage.

Meanwhile, Cherry Hill United's lively Facebook page has quickly become a watchdog and a forum focused on a Democrat-controlled municipal government that critics characterize as serving the needs of developers and chasing commercial tax ratables at the expense of residential neighborhoods.

"Any notion that the township, any of our elected officials, or any staff would favor the interests of a developer over those of our residents is simply untrue," Cahn says in a statement.

Cherry Hill seeks "to encourage economic development, and reinvestment in properties that are already developed but no longer live up to their full potential," he continues.

Cahn also notes that commercial projects "generate revenue that helps to offset residential taxes," and adds that the township works to encourage development without "adversely impacting residential neighborhoods."

The township council's unanimity in the face of public outcry about the zoning amendment seems to have astonished some residents.

"There was big opposition to the Costco thing, and they just voted yes across the board," says Susanne Bromke who lives in the township's venerable, but often congested, Erlton section.

Speaking as a private citizen, not as the president of the Erlton South Civic Association, Bromke adds: "I've lived here for 15 years, and there's always been 100 percent one-party representation [on the council]. It feels to me like when they vote, it's already a done deal."

Rena Margulis, who lives near Park Boulevard and is active with Cherry Hill United, says the township does not provide enough advance information to residents, particularly to those likely to be affected by pending matters before the planning and zoning boards, as well as the township council.

I heard concerns like these when I began writing about the township nearly 40 years ago.

Back in the late 1970s, the postwar boom that transformed a farming community into a stylish suburb - one defined by its mall, enormous entertainment attractions, and quality, middle-class housing - was a memory.

The Garden State Park racetrack had burned down, the Latin Casino would soon close, and Cherry Hill agonized before shutting three elementary schools due to enrollment declines.

But Cherry Hill has continued to thrive. As the economy continues to recover from the 2008 crash, development activity has picked up.

"The game has changed," notes Stridick.

In recent years the construction of a super Wawa in the Colwick section, the prospect of a large apartment complex on Brace Road, and the slow but increasingly steady redevelopment of Garden State Park have become lightning rods for some west siders.

"Let's update the master plan," longtime Barclay resident Bob Shinn says.

Stridick notes that the preliminaries have begun and "there will be public interface throughout the entire process."

That's good news.

It will be even better if the interface becomes a broader and continuing conversation between town hall and the community about what Cherry Hill's future ought to be.

856-779-3845@inqkriordan