By Jenna O’Donnell
LITTLE SILVER – Plans to turn the borough’s dated Acme-anchored shopping center into a more modern and pedestrian-friendly downtown hub will soon be under way with a major makeover this summer.
The busy plaza sees a steady stream of cars on a regular business day, but its meandering parking lot, subdued lighting and limited sidewalks aren’t currently optimal for pedestrians or cyclists looking to move between its shops. The parking lot is a key item that Ben Lucarelli hopes to change. Lucarelli is Fair Haven’s mayor, as well as a principle in Markham Prospect Associates, LLC, the company that owns the complex. He said the current look and layout had been largely unchanged since the shopping center was built in the late 1950s, and it shows.
“We want to make the property more open and inviting for people to stay and congregate,” Lucarelli said. “We are really looking forward to turning this into a focal point for the community.”
Plans for shopping center at 507 Prospect Ave. include updates to the façade of the buildings, a major reconfiguring of the parking lot, and landscaping work. The application seeks a number of variances to allow for a larger LED-illuminated sign to replace the current freestanding sign, and changes to the parking lot layout, as well as increasing the number of parking spaces from 169 to 195. The renovation plans incorporate both sides of Prospect Avenue with design elements intended to tie the two separate shopping areas together.
“What we’re shooting for has a Jersey Shore feel.” Lucarelli said. “We’ll soften up some of the hard spots and make more soft spaces.”
Small business owners at the plaza said they were looking forward to the update.
“I’m excited about the new look,” said John Sommers, owner of Olivia’s Trattoria & Artisan Pizza. He hoped that more pedestrians and cyclists at the shopping center would mean more hungry people stopping in for a slice or a sandwich. “I think it’s going to be good for my business,” he added.
A few doors down, Craig Smith, who owns Pet’s General Store with his wife Kathleen, said he was happy with Lucarelli’s plans.
“It definitely needs an update,” Smith said. “So we’re looking forward to it. It’ll be very nice when it’s done.”
Little Silver Mayor Robert Neff said planners were supportive of the improvements being made in such a visible part of town.
“We are really happy with the owners,” Neff said.
Lucarelli presented plans to the Little Silver Planning Board in April and will seek final approval at the May 18 meeting. Once approved, Lucarelli said work should start within the next four weeks and be finished in time for Labor Day.
“Hopefully on a nice, hot summer night kids will ride their bikes into town, get an ice cream or some dinner and then ride back home,” Lucarelli said. “The idea is to create a clean, inviting and well-lit place for people to congregate.”
Correction: This story was updated on May 16. Under the proposal, the number of proposed parking spaces will increase, not decrease. Presently there are 169, and the applicant would like to create 195.
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