HAZLET – Since the former Kmart shopping plaza at Route 35 and Bethany Road was sold in 2016, residents have been wondering what’s next for the prime location.
Big improvements, says the developer, which hopes to transform the 1970 shopping center on 20 acres at 3010-3054 Route 35 into an attractive destination to shop, dine and gas-up.
It is proposing a repositioned modern center with varying facades in natural tones finished with stucco, cultured stone, wood and metal panels and glass. The sea of grey asphalt would be dotted with 1500 green plantings. The free-for-all parking lot, with its odd angled parking and one-way lanes, would be brought to discipline. And there will be stormwater management detention pond where one did not exist before.
“The Aldi’s is open. It’s new. It’s fresh. It has a new look. We hope to carry that general look throughout the entire center,” the developer’s attorney, Steven Nehmed, told the Land Use Board members at the July 11 meeting to hear OASG Hazlet, LLC’s amended site plan.
Nehmad said his client’s plan conforms to the 2017 Hazlet Town Center Redevelopment Plan and amendment, a blueprint by town officials to guide development for the Hazlet Town Center. They believe their plan requires no variances.
The basic store layout remains the same. But alongside Route 35, there will be the addition of a second restaurant with outdoor seating next to TGI Fridays. A ten-foot high sound absorbing fence will be installed in the rear, to mitigate truck and trash compactor noise for neighbors. There is also a freestanding Wawa store and a canopied gas station.
The fuel station is one of two new Wawa stations coming to Hazlet. The other Wawa, previously approved in 2018 under a separate application, is currently under construction on Route 36 and Florence Avenue.
The owners of the nearby Exxon and Gulf gas stations are not happy with the Wawa station included in the concept and have hired attorney Edward Liston Jr. of Toms River to represent their interests as objectors.
In opening remarks, Nehmed characterized the objectors as anti-competitive. Competition, particularly in fueling, is a good thing, he said. “Enhanced competition is very much in the public interest.”
Liston interjected on behalf of the two Hazlet business owners. “While competition is good, our position is based on the history of Wawa, that they come in and crush all the local competition and put everyone else out of business. They hurt the local community.”
The objectors will have the opportunity to speak at future meeting. At Thursday night’s three-hour long hearing, the board only had time to hear testimony from the plan’s engineer, architect and traffic expert. The hearing will be continued on Sept. 5.
Onyx Equities of Woodbridge purchased the center in 2016 for $26 million. There are seven suites available, ranging from 1,000 to 90,469 square feet, and a restaurant pad of 5,585 feet that can be built to suit, according to its online site. The Goldstein Group of Paramus is the retail broker.