by Phil Stilton
BRICK – Bob Smith, attorney for M&M Realty Partners, LLC of Piscataway presented the newest plans during Tuesday night’s township council meeting for the redevelopment of The Marketplace at Forge Pond at the site of the former Foodtown plaza on Route 70, here.
The 14-acre site at the intersection of Brick Boulevard and Route 70, which was most recently used as a post-Hurricane Sandy debris removal site by FEMA and Ash Britt is shaping up to be a complex with striking similarity to the Pier Village in Long Branch.
Previously, the builder and the township envisioned a hotel and conference center at the location, but Mr. Smith said that based on M&M’s own feasibility study and one done by Brick Township, it was not economically feasible to build such a project at that location.
The new plan calls for 31,268 square feet of retail space, topped off by 72 apartments in a three-story building at the front of the property along Route 70. To the rear of the property, the site will consist of 192 condominiums.
Mr. Smith identified one problem in the project – a three-acre easement at the front of the property, owned by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). In many commercial developments along the state highway, the NJDOT has sold back this easement to developers, but in this case, the attorney said the DOT had rejected the builder’s initial request.
He and M&M Realty requested the township council modify the redevelopment agreement in place for the site and assist the developer in obtaining the easement from the NJDOT in a cooperative effort since the project will create jobs, housing and ratables for the township. It was also requested that the township consider the newly proposed redevelopment over the earlier hotel and conference center one.
The site was designated by the township council as in need for redevelopment and described as blighted. In the fall of 2010, M&M Realty demolished the former buildings on the site at a cost of $1 million at the request of the council.
If the developer is unable to acquire the easement from the NJDOT, the plans for the project will have to be modified, to allow room for parking, said Mr. Smith, adding that those modifications would be in the form of the elimination of 38 apartments and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space, an option he noted the builder does not want to proceed with, but could be faced with under the current circumstances.
“We have been trying our darndest to get NJDOT to do the right thing at this site. The front of the property is owned by NJ DOT,” the attorney said. “While we can do a good project without that strip of property, we can do an even better project with it. We have gone to the DOT with the township to try to get them to move on it, we have not been successful in doing that.”
Richard Redding, a leading fiscal impact expert in New Jersey, prepared a fiscal impact statement for the township, which Smith referred to, stating, “No matter which way you do this, the positive fiscal impact to the three levels of government, school, county and municipal, ranges between $400,000 and $490,000 in the plus. This is a great project that will provide good housing and good retail for Brick Township – this can be a positive development for the town.”
The 192 condominiums in the rear of the development would consist of one and two bedroom units ranging between 900 to 1,200 square feet each. Ron Allenbach, Director of Engineering for Edgewood Properties, a subcontractor of M&M Realty, described the condominiums as a gated community and a “Class A” project.
“It’s not going to be a project where we build apartments with white formica cabinets and countertops,” he said. ”This is not something that is going to be slapped up and rented out for $800 per month. We’re in this for the long haul.”
Edgewood was the builder of the Market Place at Brick on Route 70, home to Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods and The Christmas Tree Shops.
“We’re ready to start now,” Mr. Allenbach said. “We’re ready to start getting our approvals, the principal is ready for shovels in the ground as soon as we get approvals. It’s not Brick Township that is holding us up, but state government always can manage to get in the way.”|
Prior to construction, the site needs to be raised to a recommended elevation increase of five feet to be brought into compliance with the new FEMA flood zone maps. The engineering director said the builder was willing to begin bringing in fill to raise the elevation of the property prior to approvals.
Residents who questioned the loss of the hotel claimed the site is big enough for a hotel. Mr. Smith explained that the site is more than big enough for the hotel and conference center, but two financial consultants’ feasibility studies showed that there is not enough business in the area to support such an entity at the location. That study is available for review at the township clerk’s office and could soon be available on the township website.
Mike Tulane, a former Brick Township councilman and township municipal utilities authority commissioner said that the township council should remain steadfast behind the redevelopment plan to build a hotel and banquet facility and criticized the study, citing other area regional hotels being built.
Mr. Smith reiterated to the council that not only did the builder conduct a feasibility study, but the council also conducted their own.
“Prior to M&M saying they didn’t think a hotel conference center would work [and] had their commercial department solicit all the major hotel chains in the country whether or not they would be interested in the site,” he said. ”No one was interested in the site.”