EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - A proposed local Super Walmart cleared significant challenges when a judge recently found overwhelmingly for the proposal.
Superior Court Judge Julio L. Mendez rejected claims that the tract was illegally zoned, the applicable ordinances invalid, the Planning Board approval improperly granted and that Peter Miller, Egg Harbor Township's administrator, wrongly involved himself with the application.
However, Mendez wrote that the changes the township made to its site-plan ordinances while the Walmart application was pending did not apply, which may require the developer to revise its stormwater management plans. Stephen Nehmad, attorney for Egg Harbor Associates, who have proposed the shopping center that would include the Walmart, was unavailable for comment.
Village Supermarkets Inc., which filed suit challenging the plans and is the parent company of the English Creek Shop-Rite, has until the middle of the month to appeal, township Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough said. Ronald S. Gasiorowski, attorney for the grocery-store chain, did not return a call seeking comment.
At issue are long-standing plans to build the Walmart store near Fire Road and the Black Horse Pike, at the 35-acre site of Atlantic City Electric's former headquarters. The township has long eyed this vacant tract for development, in part because it is a potentially valuable piece of property, but the current state utility taxing structure means the township receives no direct property tax revenue.
A fiscal analysis filed with the township in 2010 estimated the property value of the proposed Oak Tree Plaza at $33 million, with a 2010 total tax bill of $1.3 million.
The Egg Harbor Township Planning Board initially approved Walmart's application in November 2004.
Egg Harbor Associates, a subsidiary of the Philadelphia-area Wolfson Verrichia Group, refiled plans in August 2009. These called for an enlarged, 188,500-square-foot Super Walmart as part of a 244,600-square-foot Oak Tree Plaza Shopping Center.
The Planning Board granted unanimous approval in June 2011, following five hearings.
Village Supermarkets sued in June 2012. The company based in Springfield, Union County, owns and operates 29 Shop-Rites in New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Village Supermarket's suit claimed, among other things, that a planned access road was insufficient; the township Planning Board arbitrarily granted permission to not follow township standards for stormwater retention basins; and it was a conflict of interest for Miller to be both a member of the Planning Board and an administrative official.
Egg Harbor Township officials applauded the decision in which Mendez largely sided with the township and Walmart.
"I think it says to the public that our Planning Board and our administration acts properly for all developments," McCullough said.
McCullough said the store would bring construction and then retail jobs. He acknowledged that some businesses and individuals are concerned about the store's impact on local businesses. To the people who are concerned, McCullough said, "I would say this is America, and everybody, no matter how big or small, should have the opportunity to conduct business."
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