LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Plans remain stalled for a Walmart Supercenter — first unveiled seven years ago — that has been tied up in litigation and red tape.
Now, as the township faces what could be a devastating loss of ratables due to damage from Hurricane Sandy, impatience is mounting among local officials.
By the end of this month, the township must submit a list to Ocean County of the number of ratables it stands to lose following the storm, Deputy Mayor Raymond Gormley said.
Gormley said he is confident that once Walmart opens, other businesses would feed off its customer base.
“Obviously, it’s a great ratable, but I believe that Walmart itself won’t be the overall ratable compared to the impact it stands to bring to the community once it’s built. Once it becomes the centerpiece, all the vacant land around it will become huge ratables. Once they break ground, just watch — our Planning Board will be jammed,” Gormley said.
The Walmart was proposed for a 161,000-square-foot site on Route 9 at Otis Bog Road. The surrounding area prime for development once Walmart comes to town includes from Route 9 at McDonald’s, south to Mathistown Road and farther south to the edge of New Gretna, he said.
For the past seven years, large businesses and restaurant chains interested in coming to the township have patiently waited to see what Walmart was going to do, Gormley said.
“The first words out of (a) potential business’ mouth have always been, ‘When is Walmart going to be built?’” he said.
The township has seen interest among restaurant chains, including Outback Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse and Olive Garden, he said, adding he fully anticipates eventually seeing a Wendy’s and a Chili’s in the township as well.
“I think the one that will lead the way will be Olive Garden,” Gormley said. “The town has one liquor-consumption license left, and we’ve been holding that. Directly across the street from where Walmart would be, we own 5 acres, and we plan to package that with the license.”
But before such businesses roll in, Walmart must get through what many project to be the last leg of a long litigation battle that began in 2008. The lawsuit was filed by resident Melissa Maleshevitz and the Perlmutter Family ShopRite Stores opposed to the project.
There was hope that construction would start on the Walmart by the end of 2012, after Walmart’s site plan was approved by the Planning Board in June 2011. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Ron Gasiorowski, appealed the site plan in Ocean County Superior Court on the grounds of traffic and zoning, but the appeal was rejected after Ocean County Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso ruled it had no merit.
Gasiorowski did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
The plaintiffs then appealed that decision in the spring of 2012 at the Appellate Division, and plans have been at a standstill since then, Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz said.
Both sides filed legal briefs last year in response to the appeal and are waiting for a trial to be scheduled.
“From what I hear, they just keep appealing until Walmart shoves back. My own personal opinion (is), I don’t think Walmart is walking away at this point. I think they’re here to stay, and from my understanding they have about $6.5 million tied up in this,” Gormley said.
Walmart has secured the necessary permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the project and is continuing to work with the state Department of Transportation on finalizing remaining permits.
Mayor John Kehm echoed Gormley’s confidence that Walmart has enough invested to keep moving forward with the project in the face of what seems like unending litigation.
The positive impact the store would have on the township outweighs any concerns, 63-year-old township resident Skip Kiel said.
“It’s going to bring jobs in, other businesses and money into the town. It’s a win-win for the town. The people behind this lawsuit have deep pockets and good lawyers to keep dragging this on and on,” Kiel said.
Kiel said he and many other senior citizens are calling for the Walmart to be built as soon as possible, primarily because of the lack of choices in the area for shopping in close proximity to their homes.
“For groceries, (stores such as) Acme is nothing but high prices, no choices. They need to get this done so the people of this town can move on. We deserve this down here. This is a blue-collar community. We need some relief,” Kiel said.
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