EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Harbor Square mall sold for $23.75 million last month to affiliates of U.S. Realty Financial Corp., in a deal that could also open the door to more than 100 homes on an adjacent tract, records show.
The price for the mall was about a third less than both what the previous owners paid for it in 2006 and what the township currently assesses it for.
As they sold the property formerly known as the Shore Mall, records filed with the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office show the previous owners of the shopping plaza agreed to lift a 42-year-old deed restriction on an adjacent 48-acre tract it owned on Broadway Avenue.
The area is part of the township’s regional growth zone, and lifting the restriction could allow for the new housing.
It is unclear what U.S. Realty’s intentions are. Neither Gerald J. Valerius, identified by township officials as a principal in the mall sale, nor David Braka, a U.S. Realty Financial Corp. vice president, could be reached for comment.
Township Administrator Peter Miller said he met with the new mall owners last week and said the Manhattan firm told him they were still contemplating their options. Miller said they were thinking of marketing the rear portion of the existing mall property to big-box retailers, but they hadn’t made any decisions.
The firm moved quickly on the property, Miller said, closing within 45 days of the initial offer, a remarkably fast turnaround for a property of that size.
The previous owners, Cedar Realty Trust, of Port Washington, N.Y., had bought what was then called the Shore Mall in 2006 for $36 million. That same year, related affiliates bought an adjacent 51-acre parcel on Broadway Avenue for $861,935.
The tract is densely wooded, with a small creek at the margin of the property. A June 1972 deed restriction shows it was originally supposed to be part of an eventual Shore Mall expansion.
In a document that references colonial-era deeds, the mall partners arranged to keep it open for development. They agreed “no building, structure obstruction or other physical barrier shall or will at any time be erected, placed or maintained upon any portion of the easement area” without the permission of the owners or the leaseholder of the long-gone Steinbach’s department store.
The expansion never happened, and as the township changed its zoning codes, it added the tract and its approximately 48 acres of buildable land, plus about 16.4 acres of the mall property along Broadway Avenue, to its Pinelands-mandated regional growth zone. Township code permits farming, parks or single-family homes in the RG-2 zone, at as many as two homes per acre.
Brenda Walker, vice president and chief operations officer for Cedar Realty Trust, signed paperwork last month ending the deed restriction the same day she formally signed over the deed to Harbor Square. She could not be reached for comment Friday.
Deeds show US Realty paid $23.75 million for the mall, and an additional $1.25 million for the one-time expansion tract on Broadway Avenue.
Cedar Realty may use the mall’s relative bargain price in its ongoing tax-appeal cases. The firm has appealed more than $2.5 million in property taxes it paid in 2012 and 2013 to Tax Court in Trenton. The township had assessed the property as high as $51.6 million, until Cedar Realty demolished the mall’s rear portion last year.
Miller said other developers over the years have had different plans for the Broadway Avenue tracts.
Cedar Realty had once considered it for an office park, Miller said, while an earlier owner had contemplated building a three-tier retirement community, each tier offering increasing levels of medical care for residents.
While it is zoned residentially, Miller said the township would work with developers and consider rezoning for appropriate projects.
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