By LINDA MOSS
ShopRite may be coming to Lackawanna Plaza as an anchor tenant, but the township won’t be moving its municipal complex and police headquarters to the property.
At her Fourth Ward meeting Tuesday night, Councilwoman Renée Baskerville and Jason DeSalvo, vice chair of the Township Planning Board, said that the developers who own the property on Bloomfield Avenue, former site of a Pathmark grocery store, are in talks with ShopRite to open a state-of-the-art supermarket there.
“They have an idea that they’re going to be able to bring ShopRite, a very wonderful large ShopRite, to this location,” Baskerville told an audience of more than 40 people at the township Fire Department Headquarters on Pine Street.
DeSalvo added, “To get a great quality grocery store, they [ShopRite] want 50,000 … 60,000 square feet.”
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Residents, including William Scott, used the meeting as a forum to voice their frustration over the redevelopment of the property, which includes a Popeye’s and several other businesses, dragging on so long. That area of the municipality has been without a grocery store since Pathmark closed in fall 2015. Township officials said they expect it to take several years for the Lackawanna redevelopment to take shape and be completed. Other meeting attendees were concerned about how an influx of residents on the property would burden municipal services and mass transit, particularly NJ Transit trains.
Baskerville also said that although the Township Council had considered relocating the municipal offices from Claremont Avenue and the police headquarters from Bloomfield Avenue to Lackawanna Plaza, a two-block area in need of redevelopment, it had finally decided not to make that move. On Wednesday, Mayor Robert Jackson confirmed that the town had decided not to relocate its offices.
“We took a lot of time to try to flesh that out … to see if we could actually make that work,” Baskerville told residents. “And it was not until very recently that the Finance Committee finally resolved that we would not be able to put the municipal complex there. But we will continue to look for other options. So now we can really get back to what can we put there.”
At the meeting Baskerville brought renderings of the proposed development that Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown had submitted for Lackawanna Plaza.
“We looked at it and said it’s a starting point,” Baskerville said.
Officials at Pinnacle, Hampshire and ShopRite couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.
On the west side of Lackawanna Plaza, with the shopping center where Pathmark was, there will be a four-story structure with ShopRite on the ground level, 200 residential units above it and 340 parking spaces.
The east parcel of the property, on the other side of Grove Street, will have 150 residential units, retail space, and potentially a swimming pool and gym, according to Baskerville.
In the past two years there have been several meetings where the community offered input on how it would like to see Lackawanna Plaza redeveloped.
But Baskerville and DeSalvo said such projects take a long time and that the township has no sway in making the developer move quickly. There hasn’t even been a redevelopment plan drawn up for the property yet.
“It’s a very frustrating process. … Unfortunately, we don’t own the land so we don’t get to say, ‘Build it now or else,’” DeSalvo said.
The parties involved also had to learn if the township in fact planned to move its complex to Lackawanna, which has slowed down the process, according to DeSalvo.
“We had to wait until the council finalized its deliberations … as to whether it would move city hall to this location,” DeSalvo said. “Now we know the property can be developed without placing that restriction on it.”
After the meeting, Baskerville said that the township’s decision regarding Lackawanna Plaza had been made last Friday.
At the meeting resident Haywood Woods tried to get clarification on whether ShopRite had definitely committed to coming to Lackawanna Plaza.
DeSalvo said that he believed that township officials had also been directly in contact with ShopRite,
“I think it’s been corroborated,” he said. “This is not just the developer saying, ‘We’re going to do this.’”
DeSalvo appeared optimistic about the prospect of a new Lackawanna Plaza supemarket.
“I think our cornerstone is going to be a ShopRite,” DeSalvo said. “It would be a big ShopRite, a state-of-the-art ShopRite, 60,000 square feet, the only one like it in New Jersey. It would be a great place for us in town to have versus the Pathmark, which was never a great facility, and now we don’t even have that.”
But he added a caveat.
“Clearly we need that resource [a supermarket] in this location,” DeSalvo said. “The issue then becomes can the property owner deliver on it and can they make it work economically.”
At the meeting officials said that the Lackawanna Plaza ShopRite would rival the one that opened in Cedar Knolls in Morris County in 2013, which has 10 food stations and six hot food bars. Montclair has a ShopRite in next-door Bloomfield, and there is one in nearby West Orange. Residents are also served by a Whole Foods Market, a Kings Food Market and an Acme.
Architect Ira Smith, a township consultant, said that the Lackwanna Plaza redevelopment would include a drop-off for patrons arriving by taxi or Uber. In the late 19th century Lackawanna Plaza was the primary terminus of a train line, according to Smith.
At the meeting Baskerville said she was concerned about the development slated for the township, which includes nearly 1,000 units on Bloomfeld Avenue alone. People of all socioeconomic levels should be able to afford to stay in the municipality, according to Baskerville.
“We have to make sure that we don’t run people out of town,” she said.
DeSalvo described the the proposed Lackawanna Plaza plan as “relatively dense, but not obscenely so,” in terms of its residential units. And, he said, it is low-rise, in keeping with the planning board’s recent decision to limit the height of buildings on the Bloomfield Avenue corridor to four, not six, stories.