Hurry up and wait.
That sums up township officials' take on whether the state Planning Commission and other state agencies will approve Berkeley's multi-faceted redevelopment plan designed to curb residential development and boost commercial ratables.
"It's a long saga," Township Planner David G. Roberts said in a recent interview. "If we don't keep pushing, it will never happen. I feel like I've been pushing a car uphill, by myself."
The ambitious, four-pronged Town Center plan has been in the works for years. Township Council members signed a memorandum of understanding with the state Office of Smart Growth in September 2009 that calls for four redevelopment zones and the purchase of transfer development rights for a number of parcels of land.
"We think we are basically through," Roberts said at the Dec. 15 Township Council meeting. "Everything is riding on getting the DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) to approve our center. "The Township Council can't move forward without it. We need the state to tell us when the plan endorsement is going to happen. We're kind of at a critical juncture to get some feedback."
Motorists who drive by the dilapidated Beachwood Mall shopping center off Route 9 South may wonder why the property has remained an eyesore for so long.
"There was always a determination to see the Beachwood Mall redeveloped, because it was an embarrassment tor the town," Roberts said.
The shopping center - which is located in Berkeley Township, not Beachwood - is ground zero in the Town Center redevelopment plan. The trees growing out of the loading docks in the back of the complex are testament to just how long it's been since the mall was a viable resource.
But the redevelopment has been stalled by the lack of state approval, the number of state permits needed and the contamination on the site.
The decaying buildings and roughly 150 acres of property have been owned by the Johnson family for decades. Brothers James "Jimmy" Johnson and Eugene Johnson have died. The Johnson family does have a very interested buyer - well-known developer D.J. Donofrio.
But Donofrio, who would assume the cleanup costs of the mall property and the Johnson's defunct asphalt plant behind it - won't sign until the state approves the redevelopment plan and the remediation costs are determined, Roberts said.
The former asphalt plant is contaminated by piles of coal tar illegally dumped that have to be removed.
"We're not even sure what's buried there," he said.
And what's underneath the concrete parking lot in the Beachwood Mall remains a mystery.There could even be an airplane or a train car stored there, Roberts said.
"It's rumored there's an underground vault," he said. "Apparently there's a big basement under there."
Mayor Jason J. Varano and other township officials are hoping Gov. Chris Christie's administration will move forward on the plan.
"We do think this administration will be more proactive to what we have here," Mayor Jason J. Varano said at the council meeting.
A key part in the redevelopment plan is the transfer of development rights program (TDR). Buying development rights will boost the allowed amount of impervious coverage allowed by the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act (CAFRA) from 30 percent to 70 percent, which gives developers more land to use, Roberts said.
"It basically gives these developers the ability to basically use twice as much property as they can use today," he said.
The shopping center area is part of the Town Center 1 receiving area, and runs along the highway from the township line near Mizzen Avenue in Beachwood to the C.B. Huntington restaurant, according to a real estate market analysis by Philadelphia-based Urban Partners submitted to the township earlier this year.
The Town Center 1 plan calls for the first phase to have a "Main Street" feel, with several big box stores that "won't look like other towns," Roberts said.
Some of the anchor stores interested in locating in the Beachwood Mall include Lowes and Target. If the state approves the plan, Route 9 would be widened in the area and some traffic signals moved, he said.
"On one end, we are looking to stop residential development and putting more towards business development," Council President Carmen Amato said at the council meeting. "By no means is this going to happen tomorrow. "But we are almost at the finish line. It's important we get the plan endorsed and get phase 1 going."
The Town Center 2 portion of the plan includes the Shop-Rite shopping center and the Shar-a-Dee apartment complex.
"They will put a full traffic signal there and redevelop the entire shopping center," Roberts said at the council meeting. "Right now, it's very hazardous in that area."
The third portion of the project is an extension of a light industrial area along Hickory Lane. The fourth section involves more intensive mixed use development of 73 parcels along Route 9 near Harbor Inn Road, according to the report.
Berkeley-NJ Patch will take a closer look at the other three redevelopment areas in future articles.
For more information on the plan, go to www.twp.berkeley.nj.us/