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Brick Foodtown Saga Continues: Community Center or Private Development?

The former Foodtown site off Route 70 in Brick. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The former Foodtown site off Route 70 in Brick. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The former Foodtown property on Route 70 remains in litigation, though action on the dueling lawsuits between Brick Township and developer Jack Morris is expected in the coming months.

Brick terminated a redevelopment agreement with Morris’ company after, officials said, Morris failed to meet deadlines after years of waiting for a project to be formally proposed. When the company did propose a project, it was a residential condominium and mixed retail plan, which was rejected by the township council. Ever since, the future of the plot of land, which is still township-owned, has been the subject of a lawsuit filed by Morris and a countersuit filed by the township.

Discovery in the case ends June 30, after which a trial date would be set or one or both parties can move for summary judgment or negotiate a settlement. When the legal dust settles, Brick will likely find itself back to the drawing board, owning an undeveloped plot of land on a highway.

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“Maybe you can work something out with Jack Morris,” said Walter Campbell, a township resident who has pushed for the construction of a community center on the parcel for years. “Work something out, pay him off, do what you have to do.”

Dating back to 2007, there has been talk of constructing a community center that would include an aquatic center in addition to meeting space and other features. At one point, the township hired KBA Architecture, a Millville firm, which concluded such a plan would be “operationally solvent for many years to come.” A community center was discussed as a development option for the plot behind the township post office (now under construction as a mixed-use condominium and retail site), the Foodtown lot and – most controversially – the Ocean Ice Palace hockey rink, which the administration of former Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis had sought to purchase until residents drew up a ballot initiative to block the plan.

“Unfortunately, the political groups were at each others’ throats and it went by the wayside through a petition,” Campbell said. “We’ve been doing this for years, and there’s always something. Every group that comes in here puts a sign up, or something like that, and nothing ever materializes.”

“There is no place for people to meet as a community,” said Nan Coll, a regular at township council meetings who said a community center would be beneficial for residents of numerous age groups.

Campbell, at Tuesday night’s council meeting, lobbied for officials to consider a public-private partnership that would include therapy pools. Previously, he said, Meridian Health System was interested in building such a facility.

Ducey, however, has held strong against the township wading into business ventures and land purchases in light of the Foodtown debacle and the expenses associated with developing Traders Cove Marina and Park. He wants to see the plot of land eventually end up back on the tax rolls with a private owner.

“We’re looking at a number of different options, and we’ve reached out to a number of businesses,” said Ducey, who added a “privately owned” facility should open up for business at the site.

For his part, Ducey said he favors an indoor sports facility as a good match for the parcel. Such a business might resemble Goodsports in Wall Township, where teams play soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, football and basketball in their facility year-round.

A publicly-run community center – even beyond the initial cost of construction – could turn out to be very expensive to operate, Ducey said.

“In Woodbridge, they have this awesome community center, but they have 300 employees there,” the mayor said. “And Woodbridge is smaller than us in terms of residents.”

Another group in town, Friends of Forge Pond, have argued that whatever development plan is decided upon for the site, open space should be a part of it. Ducey said he is not interested in spending taxpayer money to buy additional land surrounding Forge Pond or developing a new park in town.

“We already have so much open space, more than Toms River, Lakewood and Wall together,” he said.

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