CLARK, NJ — Mayor Sal Bonaccorso said the A&P site on Westfield Avenue, which has been abandoned since it closed in 2006, has been purchased by a developer.
Bonaccorso said he hopes this will be the beginning of the end of a long and frustrating chapter for the township, which has tried to negotiate with the property owner for more than 10 years.
“All I can tell you now is that it’s at the beginning stage,” Bonaccorso said at the July 2 council meeting. “I talked to the developer today. He said he would rather not answer any questions. But it is under contract and it’s at the beginning phase. It’s gonna go. I’m very trustworthy it’s going to go. We’re going to be having a couple of stores down there, restaurants, whatever, with apartments above.”
The news was well received by the council; one councilman was heard to blurt out, “nice” while another council member applauded.
When asked at the meeting to reveal the name of the developer and the purchase price for the property, the mayor refused to do so.
In February, the council authorized an “in need redevelopment” study for the lot at 52 Westfield Ave. The site at 81 Westfield Ave., once home to the Rice Bowl restaurant and subsequently abandoned, was also included in the study.
The mayor and council hoped the study would be the first step in clearing the way for potential Mount Laurel housing.
The council’s action at the Feb. 20 council meeting instructed the Clark Planning Board to investigate the Westfield Avenue sites for possible condemnation.
Bonaccorso said the study, and the possibility of having the site condemned, seemed to spur the owner to sell the property.
Towns are required to zone for low-income housing, according to the 1975 state Supreme Court “Mount Laurel” decision, 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 by real estate developers to coerce towns into building large multifamily housing complexes that meet the court’s affordable housing demands.
The former A&P supermarket site is slated to hold a 52-unit apartment complex with nine affordable units, John Laezza, the Clark business administrator, told LocalSource.
This is part of an agreement between Clark and low-income housing advocates settled last year and approved by the court.
The settlement calls for the township to zone for 263 affordable housing units through 2025.
While a general plan for the supermarket site has been established, there is no similar strategy for the Rice Bowl property, Laezza said.
According to Bonaccorso, the former Rice Bowl building has been razed and that he hopes the owners will soon sell the property to a developer. The township is “pulling back” from its efforts to have the property condemned, he said.