by Robert Holt
WOOLWICH TWP. — The Woolwich Township Joint Land Use Board voted on Sept. 18 to recommend the redevelopment plan for the Woolwich Regional Center at their meeting. The Woolwich Township Committee approved a resolution in May that authorized the Joint Land Use Board to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether the properties are in need of revitalization.
The Regional Center, which has been in the works since 2008, would be located along Kings Highway, Route 322, and the New Jersey Turnpike. Kernan Consulting Engineers conducted the investigation. Director of Special Projects Pam Pellegrini presented Kernan’s findings.
Pellegrini pointed out that New Jersey Turnpike Exit 2 was the only undeveloped turnpike interchange left in New Jersey, and offered significant opportunities for growth for the community. Route 322 is the only east-west corridor in New Jersey that can be easily reached from the Commodore Barry Bridge, Routes 95 and 295, Route 55, and the Turnpike and Route 55.
She explained that existing conditions have contributed to the lack of development of the land, and without redevelopment planning the land may not realize its full potential. About 93 percent of the study area is used for agricultural purposes.
Pellegrini listed five criteria that would determine that a property was in need of development. Criteria A was deterioration, where a building has fallen into a complete state of disrepair, and was considered unsafe.
Criteria B included abandoned and vacant buildings, while D was for properties that involved obsolete layout and design. The land included in criteria E was being under-utilized, while properties in criteria H had to represent smart growth for Woolwich Township.
Every parcel in the study area falls under criteria H.
“Each property only needed to meet one of the criteria to be included,” Board Planner J. Timothy Kernan explained. “The town and the developer can often work out a deal on taxes in the redevelopment.”
Joint Land Use Board Chairman Alan Schwager questioned why all of the individual parcels in the area had to be included in the redevelopment. Pellegrini said eminent domain would not be used in the process.
“People can be involved, but they are not being forced into it,” Pellegrini responded. “Development can bring people together and make things happen by making use of all the tools that are available.”
One of the residents of a Route 322 property took issue with the investigation. During the public portion of the meeting, Bob D’Auria related that people from AP Hospitality had been trying to buy his property for 25 years. AP Hospitality purchased vacant properties in the area after D’Auria and his neighbor refused to sell. D’Auria insisted that he wanted to live there.
“I would prefer to sell to someone who has a vision that is more than a bulldozer,” D’Auria commented. “I take exception that they have to assemble adjacent properties.”
Schwager told him any approval that the hotel received 25 years ago was no longer valid.
CPA George Donnelly, representing D’Auria’s neighbor Antonio Sidobi, asked about Sidobi’s access to sewer services. Schwager told him that zoning would not be affected in the redevelopment.
Land Use Board Solicitor Michael Aimino described the Board’s job as two parts: to decide whether or not they would accept the investigation’s findings, and whether to recommend the redevelopment.
The Board included a clause in their recommendation that eliminated eminent domain from the redevelopment plan. “The only downside for a landowner would be a condemnation clause,” commented Schwager. “Since that is off the table, there is no downside.”
Schwager called the redevelopment plan a phenomenal program, and said he’d supported it for years. He described the deal as a win-win-win for everyone involved. It’s a win for the landowner, it’s a win for the township, and it’s a win for the developer,” he explained. There’s just no downside here.”
“It allows a township and their Land Use Board to enter into a good relationship with a developer, and it allows the developer to get involved in a lot of state credits,” Schwager continued. “It’s a benefit to a landowner as well because it makes the land more valuable to a developer.”
Regarding farmland that would be affected by the development, the JLUB Chairman said that part of intersection area of 322 just to the east of Kings Highway is under a general development plan by Wolfson Development Group. The property controlled by the Wolfson group on the south side has received preliminary final approval from the Joint Land Use Board.
“Also, it’s my understanding that the township is in the final stages of securing sewer infrastructure for the corridor,” he added.
“Farmland is a very valuable resource, but the 322 corridor along Kings Highway is under the TDR receiving zone,” Schwager noted. “It’s slated for higher density residential growth.”