HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — South Jersey Gas employees Jonathan Oliva, 24, and John Eichinger, 34, had expanded options for lunch Thursday after meeting with Hamilton Mall officials about relocating utility lines for future development there.

The Hammonton residents chose the LongHorn Steakhouse, which opened this month at the mall, along with a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, as part of a resurgence of development along Mays Landing’s Black Horse Pike commercial corridor, restarting what had been a long-term trend that went into a lull during the recession.

Inside the Hamilton Mall, the clothing stores Forever 21 and H&M are expected to open in early summer as part of a 63,000-square-foot expansion, mall General Manager Bill Schu said.

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He said work will soon begin on the “streetscape” of the smaller stores that will accompany what are considered “mini-anchors,” placed adjacent to the food court in the center of the mall. The expansion work also includes repairs and upgrades to the stormwater basins, which have had flooding problems.

In all, the development continues Atlantic County’s trend of commercial properties moving farther west and away from older, established facilities. As a result, the value of commercial properties in Hamilton Township over the past 10 years has grown 57 percent, from $316.1 million in 2002 to $494.8 million in 2012, a $178.7 million jump. During that time Hamilton Township passed Egg Harbor Township as the Atlantic County municipality with the second-most commercial properties, behind Atlantic City.

Owing in part to the decline of the Cardiff Power Center and Shore Mall, Egg Harbor Township’s commercial ratables grew by only 8 percent during that time, to $430.7 million, a $30.8 million increase.

The expanding development in Mays Landing “more reflects the shopping habits around here than anything else,” said Richard Perniciaro, the dean of facilities, planning and research for Atlantic Cape Community College.

He described the region as “a doughnut hole” in terms of retail. Retail development is based on housing and other demographics, but locally that growth is blocked from significant expansion to the east by the ocean and the west and north by state Pinelands regulations.

Perniciaro said there is a need to build a critical mass of housing to attract retailers.

Phil Sartorio, Hamilton Township’s community development director, pointed to several properties along the Black Horse Pike that have either opened or undergone renovations in recent years.

An expansion of the nearby Wal-Mart discount store in the fall expanded that facility from 122,000 to 181,000 square feet, allowing it to open while other proposed Wal-Mart stores in Little Egg Harbor Township and Egg Harbor Township struggle with legal challenges.

While there has been development, a real test of the region’s economic recovery may come in the coming years as developers consider their options on several previously approved projects that could add several hundred thousand square feet of retail space to the region.

Sartorio said one approved project west of the Wal-Mart includes approvals for a hotel and office complex. West of there is a smaller shopping center near the Cologne Avenue intersection, approved for years, that includes traffic upgrades to the intersection.

“Like everything else, it’s timing,” Sartorio said, saying the projects were approved just prior to the recession. “Everyone is trying to come out of it.”

The biggest possible development is across the street from Hamilton Commons. There, an open 48-acre tract stretches about a third of a mile along the roadway to Wrangleboro Road.

Benderson Development Co. has proposed Gravelly Run Square for the site, which would include 295,000 square feet of retail along the Black Horse Pike across from Hamilton Commons shopping center, Sartorio said. The project, which takes its name from a nearby stream, got its final township approvals in December 2010, Sartorio said.

In March 2012, the state Economic Development Authority approved the development for an $11.4 million Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant.  The grant would allow the developer to apply as much as 20 years of state taxes to the cost of development, which the state has projected would create 199 construction jobs and 310 permanent job.

Benderson previously built the, larger, 398,578-square-foot Hamilton Commons and 841,161-square-foot Consumer Square shopping centers without similar tax grants. The centers are now managed by the national retail management company DDR.

It is unclear when construction might begin on Gravelly Run Square. Calls were directed to Stuart Wainberg, owner of Wainco Realty and the project principal, who did not return calls seeking comment.

The township is also looking forward to the project because part of the development includes road improvements designed to reduce congestion on the Black Horse Pike.

If built, the project would extend Wrangleboro Road by about 1,000 feet to Volunteer Way, enabling drivers going to McKee Avenue to bypass Black Horse Pike traffic lights, reducing overall congestion.

“We’re anxious for them to get moving, because a significant part of it is the traffic improvement,” Sartorio said.

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