Retail Shopping Center To Undergo Redesign

April 24, 2017
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The River Road shopping center, located in the heart of Fair Haven’s commercial district and dating back to the 1950s, will be getting an overhaul, as the site’s owners look to upgrade and renovate the property. Photo courtesy of Nikole J. Ghirardi

By John Burton |

FAIR HAVEN – The strip mall in the heart of the borough’s business district is getting a facelift.

Following a three-hour meeting Tuesday night, the borough Planning Board approved Fair Haven Retail, LLC’s plans for the River Road site. But that approval came with a condition concerning signage.

After considerable back and forth between planning board members and the applicant’s representatives, at the behest of attorney Michael Bruno, representing Fair Haven Retail, the board moved to sort of bifurcate the plan. The site plan and many of the variances requested for relief for pre-existing conditions were approved. The board will reconvene at a later date to consider the current signage plans and alternatives to be proposed for a final determination.

The vote to approve the application was 7-1. The lone no vote came from board member Alison Dale, who had concerns about signage. Board member Todd Lehder said he saw the sign positioning as a potential safety issue, but eventually agreed to support the plan.

With the conditional approval, the board will hold another public hearing on the matter on Thursday, April 27.

Fair Haven Retail, LLC, 560 River Road, is seeking variances that would allow for larger signs on the various store fronts. Smaller retail spaces could have 30-to-45- square-foot signs, while a larger, free-standing dual- faced sign would measure 66 square feet. The current maximum permitted signage size is 35 square feet.

Plans call for redoing the facade of the buildings in the River Road shopping center. The architectural rendering gives a sense of what it will look like in the near future. Photo courtesy of McGillin Architectural

The developer would like to have an internally illuminating sign, offering the names of the tenants. Project architect James McGillin, reminded the board, “This is a very unique site,” and given the perpendicular shape of the property there is 8,000 square feet of retail space not visible from River Road. Given those conditions, McGillin told the board, “The size of the sign is appropriate.”

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The purpose of the sign is to create awareness of the businesses in the shopping center.

Current tenants and possible future ones want visibility, said Daniel Hughes, principal in the project, who hinted about the prospect of attracting national chains to the location. “They want people to see their name.”

“This whole project, we’re going to spend a small fortune,” Hughes told the board. “So, we have to collect rent.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, when asked, Hughes declined to comment on how much the project was expected to cost.

This shopping center dates back to the 1950s, McGillin pointed out. It currently uses floodlights for its parking area. “You get a lot of glare,” from that type of lighting, project engineer Robert Freud told the board.

Engineer Robert Freud details some of the changes intended for the River Road shopping center in Fair Haven at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting. Photo by John Burton

The approximately 4 1/2 acre location is currently the longtime home of an Acme supermarket, a liquor store, traditional and independently-owned retail businesses, personal and financial services businesses. In addition, there is the community’s post office and coming soon, a Chase bank, with a drive-thru window, in the spot that had been a TD Bank.

The property owners plan to renovate the existing property with overall site improvements, which include building renovations, reworking the site’s driveways, additional parking and work to the parking lot, and landscaping, according to project’s file on record with borough offices.

Fair Haven Retail, LLC, had appeared before the planning board on March 23. They returned with a modified plan at the request of the board, improving some of the setbacks, which require variances, and additional landscaping.

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The site had been owned by Metro Commercial, a Mount Laurel real estate developer. According to the project’s public notice, a majority interest is now held by Fair Haven Retail, LLC, with Hughes, of Naples, Florida, Thomas E. Londres, Moorestown, and Paul Rumley, Haddonfield, holding a total 53.19 percent of the project, according to the borough disclosure filings. All three men are still involved with Metro Commercial, according to the company’s website.

This article was first published in the April 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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