EAST BRUNSWICK – The first part of Route 18’s ambitious redevelopment plan has come to fruition with the $7.5 million purchase of the property formerly home to Gap and The Wiz.
Redevelopment planner EB Urban Renewal, a joint venture of River Development Equities and Russo Development, is giving the East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency the money to buy the property from Zakon before the property is turned over to EB Urban Renewal, Mayor Brad Cohen said.
There will be no cost to the taxpayer, the mayor said.
“This is ground zero for Phase 1 of the project,” said Cohen. “It’s also the first lot purchased as part of the Route 18 redevelopment plan. This is the largest lot in the first phase. It’s significant because it sets the price for what you’re paying for the other lots will.”
The purchase comes after the municipality reached an agreement with Zakon, who are suing the municipality for designating the property as a redevelopment area.
The settlement also resolved Zakon’s tax complaint against the municipality.
Three remaining large lots in the area, also part of Phase I, are slated for purchase soon, the mayor said.
Demolition of the properties is expected this summer, Cohen said.
A formal application is expected to be submitted to the community planning committee this summer, he said.
“We expect that if all goes well, we’ll start construction by the end of the year or definitely early next year,” the mayor said. “A slightly more northerly property on Route 18 are Phases 2 and 3 of the project.”
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The properties on the west side of Route 18 and north of Ferris Street are part of the community’s $500 million Route 18 mixed-use redevelopment project.
“This is a degraded site that is clearly in need of rehabilitation,” said Cohen.
The project includes a transportation center, mixed-use buildings, a hotel, a technology center and a medical supply office. The plan also includes alfresco dining, shops, pedestrian walkways, bike paths, water features, a central public plaza, several open public green spaces and an outdoor amphitheater to encourage outdoor gatherings and community events, and an indoor and outdoor pet facility.
“The project that is being developed is a high-end product and not what most people across the state have seen in mixed-use community redevelopment,” said Cohen. “It’s uniquely different. He makes a much higher quality product with much higher quality amenities.”
Cohen said what held up the process was that the owners of many properties took the community to court to challenge the redevelopment designation, Cohen said.
However, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Daniel McCloskey upheld a 2017 local council order that found the lots met the requirements of a redevelopment area under the New Jersey Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.
The judgment allowed the municipality to acquire the lands through their powers as Eminent Domain.
Cohen said the judge’s decision reaffirmed the community’s right to determine its future.
“Judge McCloskey clearly stated that we followed the process to the letter, and we did not do so in a way that was whimsical or arbitrary toward the owners of the businesses in this area,” he said.
“The other thing he has commented on in our favor is that if you’re a company or two that have been fortunate enough to survive in an area that is clearly derelict and underutilized, you don’t have the right have to stop the process individually,” he said.
Cohen said after the ruling that all property owners are cooperating with the remediation company and acting in good faith.
Susan Loyer covers Middlesex County and more for MyCentralJersey.com. To get unlimited access to her work, subscribe or activate your digital account today.