BRICK – The legal wrangling over the former Foodtown site could soon be coming to an end since the trial has started between the township and M&M Realty, with whom there was a redevelopment agreement.
There has been little to report since September 2014, when Mayor John G. Ducey sent a Notice of Default to the redeveloper after they didn’t meet their deadlines and obligations, which was the first required step to terminate the redevelopment agreement.
M&M then sued the township to have the agreement for the site reinstated.
The bench trial (a trial by a judge instead of a jury) started before Superior Court Judge Craig L. Wellerson, who after hearing a full day of testimony decided to have an adjournment ‑‑ or a postponement of the rest of the trial ‑‑ and he asked the parties to meet and try to settle the case before testimony continues, said Ducey.
“So we started the trial, started the testimony…we probably have at least another two or three days at least to complete it, but the judge did want the parties to speak and see if something could be settled in between,” said Ducey, who is an attorney.
As part of the redevelopment terms, M&M was supposed to build a hotel and banquet hall on the site, but in January 2013, they asked for an amended plan that did not include either. They said they hired an independent consultant who said that a hotel was not economically feasible for the site.
Instead, M&M proposed the construction of 192 condos and 19,000 feet of retail space (with 72 apartments above the stores) for the site.
At the time Ducey said the redeveloper’s plan was unacceptable, which brought any progress at the site to a grinding halt. While it has been stalled, the township has been paying debt service on the property and has been losing money on ratables there.
Ducey said the administration had lost faith in the redeveloper and was turning the matter over to the township’s redevelopment attorney, Joseph P. Baumann, Jr.
Baumann said M&M was given the opportunity to walk away from the deal amicably, and construct an agreement, but the redeveloper said they didn’t think they could do that.
The 11-acre site was purchased by the township in 2003 to halt the development of a home improvement warehouse store.
Ducey said he would like to see a privately-built and privately-owned sports dome at the site that would not increase taxes but create jobs and offer activities to kids and seniors.
“We would not responsible for building it, and it’s a great use; it’s going to help our township out tremendously,” he said. “Hopefully that could happen.”
The mayor said there would probably be some kind of retail component at the front of the sports dome.
“But definitely no residential at all; as everybody knows we actually barred residential from occurring at that site,” Ducey said. “We specifically excluded it from the redevelopment plan.”
A small area of the lot is being used by vehicles that are contracted by JCP&L who are doing tree maintenance work within the township, so they were permitted to utilize the lot as shared service, said township business administrator Joanne Bergin.
JCP&L were required to provide hold harmless agreement and proof of insurance, she added.