FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Four years after an Aldi supermarket on Route 9 was approved by the Freehold Township Planning Board, but never constructed, the supermarket chain has received approval again for a plan that is expected to bring the store to the community.
In 2017, the entity that owned the Freehold Mall on Route 9 North (not to be confused with the Freehold Raceway Mall on Route 9 South) declined to make improvements to a shopping center that is showing signs of age after a half-century of operation. The Aldi plan was subsequently withdrawn.
In 2021, Aspen Route 9, the new entity that owns the Freehold Mall, has agreed to place a new facade on the shopping center that includes a Burlington store, the Freehold Farmers Market, a Firestone vehicle repair center and Terrace Bagels, and will welcome Aldi.
The application of Aldi supermarket and improvements planned by Aspen Route 9 was before the Planning Board on Aug. 5. The applicant was represented by attorney Salvatore Alfieri.
Alfieri said Aldi will take over the space at the shopping center that was occupied by the Freehold Music Center for many years. The proposal is for about 21,000 square feet of space. He said facade improvements proposed by the shopping center’s owner will give the site an updated appearance.
Other improvements will include centralized locations for garbage bins at the rear of the shopping center, with each area enclosed by a chain link fence with a gate; Americans with Disabilities Act access improvements; and cart corrals to be placed in the parking lot for use by the supermarket’s customers.
The hours of operation for Aldi will be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
At this time, no upgrades or changes are being proposed to two other buildings at the Freehold Mall property; one building houses Jersey Strong Gym and Personal Training (and was previously a movie theater) and the second building houses the Vitamin Shoppe.
According to testimony presented by representatives of the applicant, improvements and/or changes to those buildings will be proposed when there is a change of use at those locations.
The applicant was represented at the hearing by Derek Pierce, director of real estate, Aldi Inc., engineer Christopher Bednarski and architect Charles Dietz. The property’s owner, Aspen Route 9, was represented by Philip Proetto. All four men discussed various aspects of the Freehold Mall plan.
Richard Gatto, the board’s chairman, said, “What (the applicant) has done (with the current proposal) is a major milestone from 2017. The shopping center has been in disarray for many years, not through the fault of the current owner.”
Part of the applicant’s presentation and a discussion between the board members and the applicant’s representatives focused on the applicant’s proposal to close access points around the shopping center property from Euretta Avenue, East Barbara Drive and West Barbara Drive.
Residents who live behind the Freehold Mall also offered their comments and concerns.
Comments by all of the parties indicated the access points at Euretta Avenue, East Barbara Drive and West Barbara Drive are used by people going to and from the shopping center, some of whom may not have a vehicle and some of whom may be going to and from their jobs at the site.
Several residents of the neighborhood behind the Freehold Mall made the board members aware of issues that are being caused by individuals who are walking through their properties to reach the shopping center, but were generally sympathetic for people who need to go to and from the shopping center on foot.
Board member Margaret Jahn expressed concern that closing the access points at Euretta Avenue, East Barbara Drive and West Barbara Drive could cause some individuals who go to and from the shopping center to walk along Route 9 to reach the site and asked if there is an access the township could provide.
As the parties continued to discuss that issue, Mayor Thomas Cook, who sits on the board, said, “The applicant wants to close (the access points). Let’s move forward … we can have the township engineer look at the situation and see if there is a way to find access” to the shopping center for pedestrians.
The board reserved the right to revisit the access issue in the future. A motion was made to approve the Aldi/Aspen Route 9 application. In a voice vote, the board members gave their unanimous approval to the proposed improvements.