By Jay Cook
MIDDLETOWN – If the contentious Village 35 project is ultimately approved, one of the region’s largest grocers – Wegmans Food Market – will definitely have a home there.
That is the most recent development in the Village 35 proposal, which will finally be heard on May 17 after no hearings with the Middletown Planning Board since Feb. 15. It will be the next of many planned meetings specific to the project.
Wegmans spokeswoman Valerie Fox told The Two River Times on Tuesday that a lease was signed last month for a 130,000-square-foot store in the heart of the proposed Shoppes at Middletown complex on Route 35 North in Middletown. The entire development is pending approval from the planning board.
Fox said Wegmans employs between 500 and 600 full- and part-time workers at its larger stores. Founded in 1916 and based in near Rochester, New York, the supermarket chain has grown to 92 stores across six states on the east coast. It opens three or four new locations each year.
The grocery store chain uses three criteria when choosing a new location: adequate space for a 75,000-to- 140,000-square-foot store with parking; a densely populated area; and a great regional location that is easy to find and easy to get to. Wegmans, said Fox, “is a destination.”
There are currently seven Wegmans locations in New Jersey, with the three closest to the Two River area in Ocean Township, Woodbridge and Manalapan. Fox said new stores in Hanover and Montvale will open later this year.
The Shoppes at Middletown project, proposed by Village 35 L.P. of Purchase, New York, will span approximately 119 acres behind a nearly half mile of roadway along Route 35. It would stretch from Kanes Lane, where the township recycling center and residential homes are located, to Kings Highway East, a historical road with ties to the Revolutionary War.
One of the biggest dilemmas for the developer and its application to Middletown will be the size of this Wegmans supermarket. On July 1, 2015, a resolution from the planning board stated that no single store larger than 45,000 square feet will exist on the site.
Opposing the project is the residents’ group, LLC., which believes the complex will only add to the congestion along Route 35.
“The Wegmans will take what is an already intense utilization of the property, and create more traffic and environmental problems,” said Ron Gasiorowski, the attorney retained by Minding Middletown.
Wegmans joins one retailer with space at The Shoppes at Middletown. CMX Cinema, a subsidiary of the Mexican-based cinema chain Cinemex, will occupy a 420-seat, 26,536- square-foot freestanding building on the property.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a Pet Supplies Plus store, as well as a Spirits Unlimited, rounded out the other stores with space planned in the shopping center. But on Tuesday evening those stores were removed from the tenant list on National Realty & Development Corp. (NRDC)’s website, the developer of the commercial aspect of the project.
The layout of the center has also changed since NRDC added Wegmans as a tenant. The building housing the supermarket shifted 180 degrees, also changing the parking layout for that area, which sits on the Kanes Lane end of the property.
Approximately 200,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurant pads and one smaller, 5,000-square- foot retail store, remain open for leasing on the site.
If eventually approved in Middletown, Wegmans would join a well-stocked grocery store market along Route 35. Less than 2 miles south of the Village 35 proposal is a Whole Foods Market; right across the street from the project is Super Stop & Shop; and a large ShopRite store is the anchor of Middletown Plaza less than 2 miles north.
A Livoti’s Old World Market is currently under construction for a nearly 14,000-square-foot store at The Marketplace of Middletown, which is undergoing a major facelift.
Heading north out of Middletown, shoppers can also find Dearborn Market in Holmdel, and in Hazlet, a Costco, Aldi and Lidl, a German-supermarket, planned for the previous Red Oak Diner location.
It’s also worth noting that the owners of the Village 35 property, Mountain Hill, LLC – a partnership between the local Azzolina and Scaduto families – own area Foodtown supermarkets. It consists of 66 independently-owned stores throughout New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, according to Foodtown.
At the Feb. 15 planning board meeting, the board unanimously voted to dismiss the residential portion of the development.
The residential complex, which was to be developed by Toll Brothers and named “Oaks at Middletown,” is currently no longer part of the Village 35 application.
According to changes on NRDC’s website, the land behind the commercial aspect now appears undevel- oped. That differs from previous illustrations showing a fully developed residential complex.
Designed to be spread across approximately 66 acres, 350 residential town- house units and a clubhouse were envisioned for the back end of the property. Seventy of those units within three apartment buildings would have been dedicated to affordable housing.
“At the appropriate time, Toll Brothers will resubmit our application for review and consideration by the Board,” Toll Brothers said in a statement to The Two River Times on Wednesday. “Separating Toll Brothers’ residential application from the commercial application will permit the review process to flow smoother, allowing the Board and its professionals the opportunity to focus on the details relating to the respective portions of the development.”
In a notice of public hearing for the May 17 planning board meeting, Marc D. Policastro, the attorney for Village 35, L.P., states the applicant wishes to subdivide the 52 acres of commercial property from the remaining 66 acres designated as residential.
Regardless, an interconnector road running between the residential and commercial parcels, spanning from Kings Highway East to Kanes Lane, is necessary for the site. Whichever development company breaks ground first must construct the road.
This article was first published in the May 4-11, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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