CLARK, NJ — The Township Council has passed a redevelopment study for the former A&P supermarket and the Rice Bowl restaurant properties on Westfield Avenue, the first step in clearing the way for potential Mount Laurel housing.
The council’s action instructed the Clark Planning Board to investigate the sites at 52 and 81 Westfield Ave. for possible condemnation.
“These are two areas that have now gone well beyond the patience of this community,” Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso said at the Feb. 20 council meeting.
“We have given the owners time to repair and fix what is there,” but there has been little success, he said.
The A&P site has been abandoned since its closure in 2006, and Bonaccorso told the council the township has tried to negotiate with the property owner for more than 10 years.
“The property is currently in disarray and has not been properly maintained,” Dean Russo, a Clark resident and the owner of Personally Yours Gift Basket, said of the A&P property.
“It is used as an overnight truck stop and is just an eyesore to the community,” he told LocalSource in a Feb. 22 phone interview.
Russo stressed that he fully supports the mayor and council’s position on the property, and said redevelopment of the site would revitalize Westfield Avenue.
“It is time we take action,” Bonaccorso told the council. “It is time we take this to the planning board and hopefully they will come back to the council and we will begin proceedings.”
The two properties in the study area have been zoned for apartment complexes with parking or commercial retail space on the first floor.
Towns are required to zone for low-income housing according to the Mount Laurel edict of 1975, which ordered all municipalities in the state to zone for their “fair share” of housing to all “economic strata, including low and moderate income.”
The “builder’s remedy” was later devised to coerce towns into meeting the court’s demand.
The former supermarket has been designated for a 52-unit apartment complex with nine affordable units, John Laezza, the Clark business administrator, told LocalSource on Feb. 22.
This is part of an agreement between Clark and low-income housing advocates that was settled last year and approved by the court.
The settlement calls for the township to zone for 263 “affordable” housing units through 2025.
According to Anthony Campisi, spokesman for the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit affordable housing advocacy group based in Cherry Hill, 180 New Jersey towns have reached agreements on their fair housing obligations, with some municipalities having signed settlements addressing obligations greater than 1,000 units.
While a general plan for the supermarket site has been established, there is no similar strategy for the the Rice Bowl property, Laezza said.
At the council meeting, council President Bill Smith asked how long the entire process will take to acquire the two properties and questioned whether the acquisition would be litigious.
“Could be,” Bonaccorso answered. “But that’s depending on the owner of the properties and how hard they want to fight. We are not looking to steal the property from anyone. We are looking for fair market value, and we will get that value back when it goes out to the developers.”
Letters to the owners notifying them of this undertaking already have been sent, he added.
“They know the intention, and we have not heard word from them at this time, but we are moving full steam ahead,” Bonaccorso said. “After the township buys the properties, the council will send out proposals to developers.”
“The best project will win, plain and simple,” the mayor added.