EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Township planners recently gave initial approvals to a 206,471-square-foot shopping center at Ocean Heights and English Creek avenues, and an adjacent 92-unit mobile home park.
The overall 28-acre project would replace the Ocean Heights Mobile Home Park. That park has been largely emptied of tenants in recent years, as owners have prepared for development.
The proposed shopping center includes about 196,000 square feet of leasable space, including space for seven stores between 13,000 and 50,000 square feet, five restaurants between 1,600 and 7,500 square feet, a 4,000-square-foot bank and six 1,600-square-foot shops. It would include 972 parking spaces.
By comparison, the Hamilton Commons shopping center off the Black Horse Pike has almost 400,000 square feet of leasable space.
The plans do not identify which tenants would occupy the buildings, or what the timeline of development would be. Brian Brangan, the principal of the Pineville, Pa.-based Brangan Group, did not return a call seeking comment.
The township Zoning Board also granted preliminary approval to a separate development that would essentially use the shopping center's mobile home permits to expand the nearby 151-unit Oak Forest Mobile Home Park, which was developed in the late 1980s.
Ralph Clayton owns the existing Oak Forest park. It and the planned 39 acres for the new mobile homes share common roads, but, Clayton said, state officials previously required the two mobile home parks be separate. Clayton said he believes he will break ground on the new yet-to-be-named park in about two years.
The linked shopping center and mobile home projects have been in the works since 2006, with Clayton essentially trading land for the right to use the mobile-home permits.
But they have been delayed in part because of litigation between Brangan and Clayton over the use of one of Clayton's parcels. Clayton said the litigation has been resolved.
The township also ruled last year that Brangan's application was incomplete, because it had a gap in the middle of the proposal, where Walt Gauta owned a 3-acre tract.
Gauta is the founder and owner of the local Walt's Original Primo Pizza chain, which has a branch near the property. Records show he bought the tract in January 2006 for $635,000. He said he bought the parcel because he too wanted to build a small shopping center.
Now, Gauta said, he is under contract to sell to the developers. The current filing uses Gauta's land.
"I hope it gets built," Gauta said. "The project itself is really wonderful for the area and would be a real asset."
The delays nearly ended the project. Clayton said the developers faced a July 31 deadline to get their township approvals or risk not being able to connect to sewer service. Missing the deadline could have killed the project, because it is far too large for septic tank service.
The mobile home project got preliminary Zoning Board approval July 29. The shopping center got preliminary Planning Board approval July 31. The application files show both approvals were subject to lists of conditions that will have to be taken care of before the township boards grant final approval.
On Monday, weeds grew chest-high at the former Ocean Heights Mobile Home Park. A 20-foot high patch of bamboo concealed the last remaining home in the park. That belongs to Dan Cole, 48, who said he was the manager and caretaker.
He has lived there for about 20 years, he said. Over the last few years he and his family have been the only residents on the property.
"It's great. Peaceful. It's been a good park to live in," Cole said. "I'm, as they say, the last man standing."
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