Brick Township’s attorney says word on the future of the former Foodtown site on Route 70 may come soon, as the leader of a group advocating for the protection of Forge Pond near the site says the matter is now in the hands of the township council as his group waits for news.
“We are dealing with it, and I would expect within the next 30 days there will be some public statement or discussion on the property,” township attorney Kevin Starkey said at a council meeting last week after a resident voiced concern over a lack of updates on the 10-acre site.
“Both the mayor and the council share your concerns,” he said.
There has been scant news on the site’s future since M&M Realty Partners, led by developer Jack Morris, asked the township council in Jan. 2013 for permission to change a redevelopment agreement to allow his company to build a 192 unit condominium complex, approximately 19,000 square feet of commercial space and 72 rental units over top the commercial space at the site. The council never agreed to change the plan, which currently only permits the construction of a full service hotel at the site. Some members of the governing body openly voiced disagreement with the plan to build condos after it was proposed.
Since then, members of the public have been largely left guessing as township officials have repeatedly said they were unable to comment on the situation, citing attorney-client privilege and confidentiality rules that bar discussions and negotiations with redevelopers from being made public.
“Since our last meeting, we filed another [Open Public Records Act] request with Brick Township to find out what’s going on because nobody is telling us much,” said John Zingis, one of the founders of Friends of Forge Pond, a group that has pushed for protection of the waterway during the site’s eventual construction, and for public access to be included in any future redevelopment plans.
The group, he said, invited Mayor John Ducey and Council President Susan Lydecker to an open meeting they held in August, but received a letter back from the township’s redevelopment attorney saying it would not be a good idea for township officials to attend meetings or hear outside proposals for the site.
Zingis said he ultimately called Morris’s office and received a call back from Mark Mauriello, a former Department of Environmental Protection commissioner who now works as a consultant for the redeveloper.
“We just had an honest discussion,” said Zingis, who reiterated the group’s preference for passive public access and the protection of the pond – perhaps just removing some old pavement and planting shrubs and trees to create a walking path.
Now, he said, the group is in a “holding pattern” until more news emerges.
“I think the ball is in the council’s court,” said Zingis. “We made a real good, strong effort to educate the council and community on smart growth development. The last thing we would ever want to see built there is what’s being built behind Shop Rite.”
The development being built behind the Shop Rite store on Ovation Way contains 214 housing units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. A separate apartment development off Brick Boulevard will include 120 units. The construction of those two developments have been cited by some officials who came out against the M&M proposal last year.
Brick bought the site, which was home to Foodtown and a Bradlees store, in 2003 for $6.1 million after Foodtown closed. M&M, under the agreement, will pay Brick $7.5 million for the site when they receive final approvals to build there. To date, M&M has paid for the demolition of the old Foodtown building but has not paid the township for the property, which remains under municipal ownership.