Plans Closer to Fruition
Redevelopment of the former Pathmark site on Route 15 was a hot discussion topic at the crowded town council meeting on January 16. Mayor Eric Wilsusen began his summary of the current status of the project by acknowledging that many residents hoped to have a supermarket back in the area. However, competition from nearby food stores and a new mega ShopRite being built in Sparta hampered Jefferson’s effort to secure one for this prime spot.
Robert Benecke of Benecke and Associates, who was contracted in September 2018 to create a redevelopment plan, presented a proposal to the council. ARCTRUST of Clifton, which currently owns the site, was represented in the audience by Marc Perel and Neil Doornheim.
Who Is Interested in the Site?
Wawa is the primary prospective tenant, according to Timothy Prime of Prime Law, counsel for ARCTRUST. Prime stated that Wawa is interested in building a combination convenience store and gas station on a portion of the land closest to Route 15 South. In addition, an unnamed medical center is interested in the land area where the former Pathmark building is situated. Prime has been working with the previous township administration since August 2017 to define “convenience store” within the project plan. The possible tenants are not happy with the current restrictions, and the owners are frustrated with the process delay. Prime told the council, “The restrictions included in the ordinance are not acceptable to Wawa. They will not develop based on the proposed plan.”
Problems with the Original Plan
Benecke explained that the original redevelopment plan excludes restaurants with table service based on feedback from local business owners concerned about possible diversion of customer traffic. Wawa would have a 20-year lease; because the company wishes to allow for future expansion, exclusion of table service would limit such a possibility. The current local ordinance also prohibits the installation of gas pumps within 2,000 feet of another station. However, Wawa does not want any restrictions on the site.
According to Benecke, the property is in a C-2 highway commercial zone, which essentially allows any type of business including restaurants and gas stations. According to the town council, however, while the current ordinance does permit a convenience store, the prohibition against gas pumps within 2,000 feet applies, and the adjacent BP station is within that distance.
A properly drafted redevelopment plan would supersede the current ordinance. Without an amended plan, ARCTRUST would be required to apply for a variance before the Board of Adjustment, further delaying the project.
Time Is of the Essence
Wilsusen reported that the unnamed owner of the proposed medical facility has a time constraint; Prime added that the owner has options for other locations that are time sensitive. If the project does not move forward, he said, ARCTRUST might demolish the building to lower taxes until the situation is resolved.
In addition, because new Wawa models typically have a convenience store and a gas station on site, Prime raised concerns that Wawa could walk away from the deal if alterations are not made to the plan.
Council Had a Decision to Make
Due to the introductory nature of the redevelopment plan, the council had a choice to amend the plan, walk away from it, or send it back to the Planning Board for revision. The council opted to amend the plan and remove restrictive language.
Wilsusen told The Jefferson Chronicle, “The council removed the restrictive definition of convenience store/restaurant because it is a permitted use under the current ordinance.” Language was also changed to allow gas pumps. The redevelopment plan will override the current ordinance restriction and can now move on to the Planning Board for further consideration, such as traffic issues. The Board of Adjustment does not have to review it because no variance is currently required.
Mixed Reactions from Residents
Based on past social media posts, some residents are excited about the prospect of a Wawa, but others are disappointed that a food store could not be attracted. In May 2018, American True Value Hardware owner Eric Schaberick told The Jefferson Chronicle that he looked forward to any tenant that would attract more traffic to the area. (See Pathmark Rx Hard to Swallow for Some.)
The Chronicle has followed the progress of the redevelopment project closely and will continue to monitor it through upcoming phases.