By Briana Vannozzi
In Evesham, retail dead zones are a thorn in the side of both township officials and residents alike. What to do with them has been an unsolved problem for several years. Most prominently, the Tri-Towne Plaza along Route 70.
“Something has to be done. The property just can not sit here vacant like this,” said Evesham Township resident Mike Giordano.
But it has, since around 2007. And now, there’s finally movement. But it’s taking a civil suit to get there. The township is suing three property owners, claiming the blighted areas should be designated as “redevelopment zones” that would fall under township control.
“The redevelopment plan encompasses multiple sites in town of Evesham. This being one of them and Olga’s and G Boys being another,” said Mayor Randy Brown.
Olga’s is the once iconic, now dilapidated Marlton Diner that sits on the circle of Routes 70 and 73. G Boys, a former nursery, has been vacant and overgrown for the last two years. Evesham Mayor Brown says coming to an agreement with the properties’ owners on the future use of the sites has been stalled.
“What we’ve decided as a council is let’s move forward, let’s try help you out with a pilot, try to help you out with a redevelopment plan, because in a redevelopment plan you can change zoning you can change planning, you can change setbacks. There’s so much you can do,” Brown said.
PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, is typically a five-year program, and the incentives can be fairly decent. Last year Evesham offered one to the developer renovating the site of the old municipal building. Savings was about $500,000 on a $6 million property.
The owner of the Tri-Towne Plaza property, RD Management, says the company has submitted plans to pump $6 million into renovating and updating the center. Plans, it says, have been pushed off by the township. In a letter dated July 21, 2014, the company’s President Richard Birdoff writes, “We remain ready, willing and able to redevelop Tri-Towne Plaza without the threat of condemnation against us or the continuing cloud of litigation. We request the township representatives allows us to do so rather than expend taxpayer monies to litigate.”
Reached by phone and email, Birdoff said tenants have already signed leases for portions of the property. Renderings show before and after plans. He said the companies’ hands were tied until the lease was up for the anchor tenant and even offered $1 million to buy them out.
For his part, Mayor Brown says the plans are being considered. A mixed use retail space seems to be a shared vision.
“We’re going to have to pull back as a council, decide where we’re going to go, the landowners have to decide where they wanna go and the residents have to decide where they wanna go. And I think when you put all three of them together because at the end of the day I won’t wanna be sitting in front of an empty storefront next year when we do another report on this,” said Brown.
Next up, face-to-face meetings with the Evesham Township administration and RD Management owners, planned for this weekend.