BRICK – “What’s going on with the former Foodtown site?”
During his monthly Facebook live sessions, Mayor John G. Ducey said this is one of the most frequently asked questions from residents.
Redevelopment of the 11-acre site of the former Foodtown on Route 70 has hit another delay before construction could begin there on a sports dome and a mixed-use retail complex.
“We are through with the hardest part, which is the CAFRA (Coastal Area Facility Review Act) permit,” the mayor said. “That was a huge step – we got that approval in November 2020, and we thought it was smooth sailing, and then the County Planning Board got involved, as they should.”
CAFRA is overseen by the State Department of Environmental Protection. It governs construction near bodies of water to protect waterways from pollution.
The project had been approved by the DOT (Department of Transportation), who needed multiple traffic studies, and the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) CAFRA permits, who required additional traffic studies before going to the County Planning Board level, who are requiring further traffic studies, he said.
“So we had to re-hire our traffic engineer for another $7,500, that we have to pay to that firm for the County Planning Board to look at things that were already looked at by the DEP, which is a state agency, but even more importantly, to the DOT that’s a state agency in charge of traffic for the entire state,” the mayor said.
Once the County Planning Board approves the application, it comes back to Brick, when the project should move along quickly, he said.
“Another visit with the [township] Planning Board, and our council has to vote on the closing on the contract, and…the contractor will start building,” Mayor Ducey said.
Ocean County Administrator Carl Block said the application first came before the County Planning Board in June 2020 when they asked for a traffic study. In January they received a revised set of plans, he said.
“It was submitted to the DOT, which sent a Letter of No Interest,” Block said in a recent phone call.
While the project fronts Route 70, a state road, it is located adjacent to the intersection of Brick Boulevard, which is a county road. Existing access to the site is available via driveways present along Brick Boulevard, which is why the project cannot proceed until it is reviewed by the county.
“We want to see if any improvements are needed to manage the flow of traffic,” Block said. “Is a deceleration lane needed? Is an acceleration lane needed? Show us the traffic counts and how they’ll work the traffic. We need to document it.”
Once the County Planning Board has the documentation, Block said they would review it and there would be a quick turnaround.
“It’s no reflection on the [Brick Democratic] mayor,” said Block, who has been an influential Ocean County Republican for decades. “It’s a jurisdictional issue. We’ll cooperate 100 percent.”
This is just the latest delay for the project that has been mired in legal wrangling and litigation for years.
The township purchased the parcel in 2003 for $6.1 million to halt the development of a home improvement warehouse store. The Foodtown building was demolished in September 2009 by M&M Realty Partners, who signed a redevelopment deal with the township to build a hotel and banquet hall on the site.
In January 2013, M&M asked for an amended plan that did not include either since an independent consultant said that a hotel was not economically feasible for the site. Instead, they proposed the construction of 192 condos and 19,000 square feet of retail space with 72 apartments above the stores.
Mayor Ducey said that the new plan was unacceptable, which brought progress at the site to a halt. Meanwhile, the township has been paying debt service on the property and has been losing money on ratables for the site.
By 2014, the condo plan was the only plan that had been submitted for the site, so the administration put M&M on notice that the contract would be terminated in 90 days.
The termination became effective in December 2014, and in January 2015 the township was sued by M&M to have the agreement reinstated. The following month, the council passed an amended ordinance that residential would be a prohibited use at the site.
M&M received a Notice of Default, which was the first step in terminating the redevelopment agreement. After one day of testimony, Superior Court Judge Craig L. Wellerson asked the parties to meet and try to settle the case.
In May 2017 the township has reached a settlement with M&M: the land would pass from township ownership to two developers who would divide the parcel for two separate projects,
The township would receive $5 million for the split parcel ($2.5 million from each developer) which had an assessed value of $4.8 million.
A new privately-owned and privately-run sports dome, to be developed by HFZ Brick LLC, is planned for the back 6.05 acres of the property, and M&M is going to build three retail buildings in the front.