CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — On Monday, April 15, neighbors heard the most detail so far about plans to build apartments and town homes on a long-vacant stretch of land between Railroad Avenue and a shopping center on Route 9.
Delco Development LLC, which built and operates the shopping center, has been in negotiation with the township for more than a year on plans for the area, which Township Committee has declared in need of redevelopment. Mayor Timothy Donohue said the program focuses on areas in commercial zones that have been blighted or undeveloped for years.
“This property, which is an old concrete plant in Rio Grande, would be a perfect example of a property that we’d want to target with this type of initiative,” Donohue said.
At a workshop meeting preceding the regular Township Committee meeting, Delco Development President Tom Juliano outlined his plans for the almost-22-acre property, to include six apartment buildings with a total of 144 units and 77 town homes in nine blocks. Delco Development owns a portion of the site, and has an agreement to buy the rest, Juliano said.
Plans have not been formalized, but the cost for the market-rate apartments would be between $1,200 and $1,600 a month.
“We did a feasibility study and found out that there’s a real need for apartments in Middle Township,” Juliano said.
The proposal also calls for 40 affordable housing units. As presented, these would be in a single additional building. Attorney James Maley, who is advising the township on redevelopment issues, said the township ordinance requires affordable housing units be included in large scale residential development projects, typically making up 20 percent of the overall units developed.
Juliano and his staff said at Monday’s meeting that the proposal is only preliminary at this point, but he did show plans of a possible arrangement of the buildings on the site, with an entrance on Railroad Avenue and an emergency fire lane off Route 47.
Plans also include a jogging and walking path around the property, a dog park, a pool and a clubhouse that includes a gym for residents.
“This gym has everything you need. You wouldn’t have to join anywhere,” Juliano said. The company has launched a similar project in Pennsauken, Juliano said, adding that the Rio Grande project would have a similar design.
Several residents had questions about the project. The township is also in negotiation on potential incentives for work in the redevelopment zone, potentially including tax breaks under Payment in Lieu of Taxation agreement. Donohue said that discussion should take place way down the road.
“I don’t want to get into a philosophical debate about the PILOT,” Donohue said on Monday.
Even if the company reaches an agreement with the township, the plans must still come before the township Planning Board for site plan approval, said Planning Board Chairman Anthony Anzelone. As residents presented specific questions, he said the committee meeting was not a good forum for that discussion.
“Everybody in this room is going to have a bite at this apple when it comes before the Planning Board. I promise you that the board will diligently take all of your concerns into consideration,” Anzelone said.
There were other concerns raised as well. Trudy Trappler, on the board of the community association of the Gathering at Cape May development, alleged that Delco owes the community maintenance costs for an easement for an adjacent commercial development.
“My experience has not been good,” she said of dealings with the company.
Juliano said he has been in communication with the group and that Delco would meet its obligations, but he did not agree that there were any in this instance. He pointed out that the commercial property was now vacant, and the company continues to maintain it.
Committeeman Mike Clark supported the proposed residential development as presented Monday.
“I think it’s definitely something that’s needed here in Middle Township,” he said. “It’s better than a blighted concrete plant.”
The project could be part of the latest dramatic change for that area of Rio Grande. The township is working with Cape May County’s open space fund on plans to renovate a park across from the project area on Railroad Avenue.
Rio Grande has seen the most commercial development of any area in Cape May County over the past few decades. Delco development drove part of that change, building the extensive shopping center with Walmart, Lowes and other national stores. The company also owns the site of the large Wawa at Route 47 and Route 9.
Juliano described that project as a long process and said at the Monday meeting that his company has worked well with Middle Township.
“We’ve been in Rio Grande for almost 15 years now,” he said.