The town council passed a resolution at its meeting on September 5 designating the former Pathmark site as a redevelopment zone, based on the planning board’s recommendation. The council did not authorize use of eminent domain condemnation in this matter.

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Benecke Economics, a redevelopment and land use consulting firm, was contracted by the town in early 2018 to evaluate two sites in Lake Hopatcong: the former Pathmark location (757 Route 15 South) as well as the Jefferson Diner property, which includes an adjoining strip mall (Bowling Green Parkway). Robert Benecke presented his company’s proposed redevelopment plan for both sites at the council meeting.

Benecke hopes to establish the former Pathmark property as a medical center, which could take the form of an urgent care, MRI facility, or something similar. He said that a gas station and convenience store could potentially be established adjacent to that facility to offset the costs of the medical building and produce additional profit.

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While Benecke qualified the addition a gas station and convenience store by stating that they would cater to the employees and patrons of the medical center, council member Kim Finnegan observed that there are already three gas stations with conjoining convenience stores on Route 15 within a relatively small radius. She challenged Benecke regarding the immediate need for an additional station. In fact, there are six gas stations – five with convenience stores – within a four-mile radius on Route15 South. Another is located on Route 15 North within the same radius.

During the primary mayoral campaign, at the candidates’ forum held at Camp Jefferson on May 17, Mayor Russell Felter announced that the township had received a signed letter of intent to develop the property as a medical center. At that time, Felter also stated that the property could not be developed as a gas station/convenience store, as it is prohibited by ordinance. These issues were not addressed during the council meeting.

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The Lakeside Shopping Center, pictured, a neighbor to the former Fresh Imperium and Pathmark property. (Photo: April Leaver)

The other property in question is commonly known as the Jefferson Diner lot. The Seretis family owns the diner space as well as the adjoining strip mall. The property has already been designated a redevelopment zone through 2058. Benecke stated that refurbishment and other work can continue until the expiration of the designation. He proposed to make this property an active redevelopment zone and begin plans to renovate and repurpose the unused office space above Adam’s Bagels.

That area could be transformed into apartments, he said, marketed to single families and reconstructed to fit a high-scale aesthetic. Although Benecke’s presentation was upbeat, council members expressed concern with plumbing problems at the site, pointing out that the property already has sewage management issues. Discussion included the possibility that adding housing within the complex would increase these challenges and cause odors, which are occasionally present, to worsen.

As the discussion drew to a close, the council stressed to the audience that these are two separate redevelopment zones. Both need to be tackled in order to generate tax revenue, improve the township, and benefit the residents.

The Jefferson Chronicle contributing writer April Leaver contributed to this story.

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