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LA Fitness planning board approval extended

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The LA Fitness Center, planned for the site of the former Huffman Koos furniture store at the Lawrence Shopping Center, will be opening at the shopping center – but just not yet.

The Lawrence Township Planning Board approved a four-month extension to Oct. 15 for final site plan approval for the fitness center, which was granted to Lawrence Shopping Center Associates LLC in September 2018.

The resolution, which was approved by the Lawrence Township Planning Board at its June 21 meeting, states that “the applicant has been unable to begin construction on the LA Fitness Center as a result of delays due to the declared state and local emergency arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Site plan approvals are valid for three years, but state law also allows for an extension of the initial site plan approval – which is exactly what the Lawrence Township Planning Board did. The approval for an extension can be granted “for good cause shown.”

The plan calls for constructing a 34,000-square-foot fitness center. LA Fitness representatives told the Planning Board that this club would be a “signature club,” which offers amenities not found in a standard LA Fitness gym.

In addition to the usual fitness center facilities such as a weight room, group fitness room, cardio room and personal training room, the LA Fitness Signature Club would offer a hot yoga room and a high intensity training room, company representatives told the Planning Board in 2018.

The Huffman Koos furniture store building, which had been vacant for several years, was demolished in 2020 and the parking lot was paved in anticipation of construction work on the fitness center.

The LA Fitness Center is part of the effort to turn around the Lawrence Shopping Center by JJ Operating Inc. The New York City-based company bought the Lawrence Shopping Center  in December 2016.

The Lawrence Shopping Center is located at 2495 Brunswick Pike, in the southern end of the township. It is bordered by Texas Avenue, Brunswick Pike, Princeton Pike and a small stream.

Since the new owners acquired the 393,430-square-foot shopping center, it has been undergoing a slow revitalization process. The German-based Lidl grocery store opened its doors earlier this month in some of the space formerly occupied by the ACME grocery store.

Several new stores also have opened at the shopping center, from Plato’s Closet, which sells trendy, gently-used clothing, to the Cafe du Pain bakery, Bury the Hatchet and City Electric Supply Co.

Auto Zone and the Dollar Tree discount stores have opened for business, and Five Below is poised to join them. National Pools and Spa occupies space in the shopping center, which still has a few vacant storefronts.

The Lawrence Shopping Center, which opened in 1960, was the first major shopping center in Lawrence Township. It consisted of 150,000 square feet and 13 stores. It underwent expansions and renovations several times between 1966 and 1997.

Among the original stores at the Lawrence Shopping Center were the Pantry Pride grocery store; W.T. Grant, which was a 5- and 10-cent store; Dunham’s department store; and Lawrence Liquors, according to records on file at the Lawrence Township Tax Assessor’s Office.

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