BRICK – The long and winding story of the former Foodtown site on Route 70 is finally ending as the township has reached a settlement with Jack Morris, whose company M&M Development LLC purchased the 11-acre lot in 2003.
The final piece of paper was signed to finalize plans for the site, which would pass from township ownership to two developers who have divided the parcel for two separate projects, said Mayor John G. Ducey during the most recent council meeting.
“This is a historic night in Brick Township. We’re finally getting the Foodtown property underway,” he said.
Ducey said the number one question he gets from Brick residents is about the empty property on Route 70.
The township is getting $5 million for the split parcel ($2.5 million from each developer), which has an assessed value of $4.8 million. A new privately-owned and privately-run recreation center 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.
Plans for the recreation center include fields for lacrosse, football, soccer and softball, basketball courts, party rooms, and maybe even a flowrider for indoor surfing, Ducey said.
The retail area would have three pad sites, which Morris has said would be “top-of-the-line filled businesses,” Ducey said. “M&M has an awesome reputation in New Jersey. They have the shopping centers with filled plazas, like the Costco shopping center they built here in Brick.”
One of the pads would be a restaurant, another is for a planned 20,000 square-foot market, and the third pad is for a retail building that has not been named, although Ducey told the developer that everyone wants a Trader Joe’s in town.
The timeline for the former Foodtown site started in 2003, when the township purchased the property for $6.1 million to stop a Home Depot that was planned for the site, Ducey said. “But they opened a half mile down the road anyway,” he added.
In 2009, the township entered into a development deal with M&M Development to build a hotel and banquet hall at the site.
Shortly afterwards, Morris said M&M had hired an independent consultant who said that a hotel was not economically feasible for the former Foodtown lot, and in 2012, he presented a new plan to the council that included 192 condominiums, 19,000 feet of retail space and 72 apartments above the stores.
“The governing body thought was a terrible idea so that didn’t go anywhere,” Ducey said.
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, said Ducey, who is an attorney.
The termination became effective in December 2014, and in January 2015 the township was sued by M&M to have the agreement reinstated.
In February 2015, the council passed an amended ordinance that residential would be a prohibited use at the site.
Finally, in 2016, there were pretrial hearings, settling and management conferences before a judge, and in January 2017 the trial began. After one day of testimony Superior Court Judge Craig L. Wellerson postponed the rest of the trial to ask the parties to meet and try to settle the case before testimony continued.
“Our legal advisors said a trial could last a few months,” Ducey said. “We were going to win, but the developer was going to appeal,” he said, and the appeals process could have taken up to five years.
Since 2003, when the township purchased the property, the principal and interest payments have totaled $9.3 million, plus lost tax revenue of $1.6 million. The township would have a total loss of about $7 million, Ducey said.
“With this settlement that number stopped, the lawsuit stops, the costs associated with the lawsuit stops, the threat of residential stops, and that’s huge,” Ducey said. “We’re putting a 13-year ordeal behind us.”
Not everyone was pleased with Ducey’s announcement. During public comment, resident Walter Campbell said that Jack Morris’s M&M Development should not be allowed to develop the site.
“The Costco Plaza has three vacant stores,” Campbell said. “He screwed you over so many times,” he said.
“The bottom line is we’ve tried for years here to get a multiple-type recreation center for everybody…we put proposals forth…and you’re not doing it. All you’re trying to do is put something together for election time,” Campbell said.
Resident Christine Goski said she was concerned that a new recreation center, restaurant and retail stores would create too much traffic at the “already stressed” intersection of Route 70 and Chambers Bridge Road.
“I imagine there would need to be some type of redesign for the traffic to be eased, and who exactly is going to pay for that?” she asked. “Would it be the developers? Because that wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Goski said.
Ducey said the redevelopment plan would have to go through a board process and traffic studies by engineers.
“The developers are responsible for the costs. There would be a percentage split between [the two developers] but zero cost for the township,” Ducey said.
The next council meeting will be on Tuesday June 13 at 7 p.m.