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COURT HOUSE - Middle Township’s use of state rehabilitation and redevelopment land-use statutes may soon result in active development of long-dormant sites adjacent to township business districts.

The municipality recently entered into exclusive negotiations with a potential developer of a large tract off of Indian Trail Road.

Mayor Timothy Donohue also reported during his recent State of the Township address that preliminary discussions were had concerning a potential hotel development near Exit 10 of the Garden State Parkway.

Yet another site was the subject of discussion April 15 when Tom Juliano of Delco Land Development made a presentation at a township committee work session concerning conceptual plans for a townhome and high-end apartment complex on the 22-acre site of the former concrete plant in Rio Grande.

Delco Development is the company that owns the Rio Grande Shopping Center complex which houses a number of national retail stores, including the recently expanded Walmart. The property Delco is considering for the residential complex lies behind the south end of the shopping center abutting Route 47 and running along Railroad Avenue near the site of the soon-to-be-built Rio Grande Park.

Juliano said that market analysis led the company to believe that a high amenity apartment complex would flourish in the area. Juliano pointed to Delco’s success with a similar development in Pennsauken, the Haddon Point Luxury Apartment Complex, which is situated on the site of the former Pennsauken Mart.

When a member of the Delco team responded to a question by giving a potential rough range of rents, from $1,200 to $1,500 a month, some expressed skepticism that the area could support the complex. Delco has dealt with that skepticism before.

At an earlier presentation of this potential development complex sponsored by the township’s Economic Development Commission, Juliano pointed to the number of people who told him that national retailers would not survive in a community so heavily tethered to a seasonal economy. Those individuals were proven wrong with the expansion of Walmart as the most recent evidence of retail success in the Rio Grande Shopping Center.

The fact that the area being considered for the townhome and apartment complex has been designated a redevelopment zone gives the township flexibility to encourage investment through the use of tax abatements and other incentives. Donohue made clear his intention to involve the public in any tax incentives that may arise out of the negotiations.

Juliano never referred directly to tax abatements but he said that the fact that the area has been designated for redevelopment allows Delco to invest more money in amenities. The added investments he discussed sounded like expected savings on property taxes.

The amenities were not spelled out but several types were referenced, including a clubhouse, Wi-Fi, nature walks, a resident use only dog park, and pool.

The township currently has secured temporary immunity from affordable housing lawsuits and is seeking court approval of a settlement adopting a plan for affordable housing obligations that would provide permanent immunity until 2025.

The nature of that process and existing ordinances adopted to aid in reaching that settlement would most probably require that any townhome and apartment complex on the Rio Grande site would have a 20% set aside toward the township’s affordable housing obligations.

The most recent numbers regarding the potential size of the proposed development were provided by Donohue during his State of the Township address. At that time, he said the site might contain 75 townhomes for sale and a 144-unit rental apartment complex.

The initial concept drawings showed the main entrance and exit for the proposed complex on Railroad Avenue. This prompted concern about whether or not that road and its intersection with Route 47 could handle the extra traffic, especially in the summer.

The township’s special land use counsel, James Maley, assured the public that all the normal processes for site approval before the Planning Board would have to take place for any development of the site. “Issues like parking and traffic flow would all have to be resolved through the existing processes,” he said.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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