Public input needed for Route 18 redevelopment in East Brunswick

The redevelopment of the Route 18 corridor was the topic of discussion when East Brusnwick Mayor Brad Cohen recently addressed residents to reveal plans by municipal officials.

More than 95 residents listened to Cohen speak about plans to revitalize properties along Route 18 during an event sponsored by the East Brunswick Jewish Center Sisterhood and Men’s Club on Jan. 5 at the synagogue.

“This is the point where we as a township need to be putting together our ideas for the best use of all of this property and what we want redevelopment to look like. We need to provide the developers who [we] are asking to do this with our best picture of all of the things we would want,” Cohen said.

The mayor said officials are concentrating on redeveloping areas that include properties between Eggers and Ruth streets; Loehmann’s Plaza; an abandoned shopping center on Route 18 south, which once housed a GAP and other stores; and the area behind the East Brunswick Shopping Center where a Wonder Bread factory was previously located.

“Those are the areas with the largest amount of vacant commercial space that we are concentrating on in our initial stab at redevelopment,” Cohen said. “Those are the areas that are closest to the New Jersey Turnpike, the areas that are geographically the most desirable [and] the areas that are closest to public transportation. These are the areas that, if developed correctly, could be a very exciting, innovative, attractive, transit-oriented community.”

One builder owns Loehmann’s Plaza; however, there are small individual businesses in the area near that shopping center, according to the mayor.

“We will have to deal with them to see which ones would really fit into the project and which ones we would have to talk to about maybe doing something different or relocating,” Cohen said.

The East Brunswick Economic Development Advisory Council will hold a redevelopment public strategy session at 7 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the Community Arts Center, 721 Cranbury Road. The strategy session will be open to public.

“We want (people) to come in and see the tables we will have set up, with pictures and renderings of what we are thinking about for the area. We want them to think about it. They can write down their thoughts about what they would like to see in this community,” Cohen said.

The mayor said officials must start to decide what types of architecture, commercial properties, residential properties and services might be developed in the targeted areas.

“We need to put our wish list together so that we are ready to sit down with developers and have everything we would like them to consider building in that area,” Cohen said.

The mayor said before East Brunswick’s representatives can sit down and negotiate with developers, they must determine what can actually be accomplished and which projects are affordable.

Cohen said the final plan that will be presented to developers will include input from East Brunswick’s redevelopment agency, administration, professionals and residents.

“At the end of the day, we have to sort out that package we bring to the table and say, ‘We have placed this all out, we know it is doable and this is what we have all come up with as the ideal for these redevelopment areas. Now let’s start negotiating what can and can’t be done.’

“We will never get all of what we want, but to know everything we want requires that we get input from as many people as possible and that is what we are doing,” Cohen said.

He said officials have received some initial renderings of what can be developed on certain properties and is beginning to determine the cost of the projects.

“Once we have hammered out what we would like in all of these areas and how it is going to be structured … then at that point you go through the planning and approval process and it gets started, but because we are at the beginning of it this is the time where the public is going to have an input [and] this is when it is going to be valued the most,” Cohen said. “Once we have agreed on what the end product is going to be and we have negotiated it out there is less opportunity to add (items) later.”

Any group that would like to host a member of the redevelopment agency or the mayor to discuss plans for Route 18 may call 732-390-6810.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.