The Beachwood Shopping Center - long a blight on Route 9 South - may soon be a thing of the past.
State Planning Commission members today voted unanimously to approve the first portion of the township's plan.
The vote paves the way for the demolition and eventual redevelopment of the dilapidated, decaying shopping center that more than one mayor has dubbed an embarrassment.
"We have been approved!" a jubilant Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. said late this afternoon.
Amato, Township Council President and Township Councilman John Bacchione traveled to Trenton today to read their comments on the plan into the record.
"Through plan endorsement, Berkeley Township will be able to redevelop stagnant and declining commercial areas in the township; create a vibrant new Berkeley Town Center; bring new jobs and ratables to the township; provide needed shopping and services for our residents and improve traffic flow along the Route 9 corridor and throughout the township," Amato said in his remarks to the Commission.
Amato - a former two-term Ward 2 Township Councilman - was sworn into his first mayoral term on New Year's Day. He said his primary goal was bringing more ratables to retail-poor Berkeley.
"The immediate challenge is to get some economic growth in the township," he said in a February interview in his office at Town Hall.
The is an old one. It began during the administration of former longtime .
But the redevelopment was stalled by the lack of state approval, the number of state permits needed and the contamination on the site.
"After ten years of work with contributions by scores of professionals and volunteers, countless meetings and collaboration between the township, Ocean County and a variety of state agencies, I am thrilled that all of our planning has been officially endorsed and that our Town Center is part of the state plan," Varano said Friday.
Varano also praised members of the Planning Board and the Endorsement Advisory Committee for their guidance during the early stages of the plan process.
"I am very happy for our community and hopeful that we will stay committed to following through with taking our Town Center from a vision to a reality," Varano said.
The decaying buildings in the shopping center and roughly 150 acres of property have been owned by the Johnson family for decades. Brothers J and Eugene Johnson have died. The Johnson family does have a very interested buyer - well-known developer D.J. Donofrio.
The Planning Commission approval increases the amount of impervious coverage on the site that can be developed from 30 percent to 70 percent.
But the site comes with other problems. The Johnson family's former asphalt plant behind the shopping center is contaminated by piles of coal tar illegally dumped years ago. The tar has to be removed and the soil remediated.
Donofrio and the Johnson family have worked out a settlement for clean-up costs of the asphalt plant property. The contamination does not extend to the shopping mall section, Amato said.
Amato earlier this year had invited Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno to visit the site. Although Guadagno never came, in April. The township got a boost in June when the State Implementation Committee recommended the Planning Commissio approve the plan.
The Beachwood Shopping Center - dubbed Town Center 1 - is just one component or "node" in the township's massive redevelopment plan. The Berkeley Plaza shopping center, which has ShopRite as the anchor store, and the land around Frederick Drive and the Shar-A-Dee apartments is designated as Town Center 2.
The third portion of the redevelopment plan is the 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.
Berkeley Patch will continue to follow this developing story and what it means to Berkeley Township.