No hotel on 73, for now

By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Voorhees Sun

A recent ruling by the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division upheld a 2006 ordinance that does not allow a local developer to construct a hotel complex on the east side of Route 73.

However it may change in the future, as, according to Voorhees representatives, the township Planning Board is now considering an amendment to the master plan to allow for hotels on both sides of Route 73.

On April 14, 2008, Mori Properties LLC submitted an application for a use and height variance to the Township Zoning Board to construct a hotel, restaurant, and banquet center on the old Diamond Diner property with frontage on Route. 73.

The use variance was required because in 2006 the township Committee approved an ordinance that disallowed the construction of hotels on the east side of the roadway.

However, when Mori Properties LLC first acquired the property on May 30, 2006, the township’s master plan allowed for hotels on both sides of Rt. 73. In July of 2006, the township Committee passed an ordinance disallowing hotels on the east side of Route 73, which, according to the Appellate Division’s ruling, was in response to concerns about a large scale development raised by the Sturbridge Lakes residential community.

Sturbridge Lakes is located just half a mile away from the proposed hotel development site.

The township Zoning Board unanimously accepted the use and height variance from Mori Properties LLC, citing that the company had demonstrated that there were special reasons for the variances, as the hotel would promoted general welfare and was needed because of the Virtua Hospital project.

However, Mayor Michael Mignogna said Riddhi Siddhi Associates, LLC and Bart Khatiwala, who own a hotel in the township, filed an appeal with the Appellate Division to uphold the original ordinance and disallow any hotels on the east side of Route 73.

The Appellate Division ruled in favor of the Riddhi Siddhi Associates, LLC and Bart Khatiwala, but Mignogna said the Planning Board is currently looking at amending the master plan to allow for a hotel because of the new hospital being constructed by Virtua Health.

“This case was an application to the Zoning Board for a use variance by a proposed hotel operator to redevelop the former Diamond Diner site into a banquet facility and hotel since hotels were not permitted on that side of Route 73 under our Zoning Code,” Mignogna said.

“The granting of the variance was challenged by another hotel operator in Voorhees who was a competitor of the applicant and the Appellate Division reversed the decision of the Zoning Board.”

Mignogna went on to say that the new hospital would most likely create a large demand for another hotel in the township. Township Administrator Larry Spellman also said that the hospital project would provide a new massive sewer linkup that the hotel could hook into.

The planning board and township Committee will continue to review the master plan and decide if it would be appropriate to allow for a hotel on the east side of the roadway, Mignogna said.

“Due to the development and construction of the Virtua Medical Campus on Route 73, the Planning Board is considering whether to allow hotels on the applicant’s side of Route 73 due to needs and demands generated by the Virtua project while, at the same time, protecting residential areas through the use of large setbacks and natural buffers from any such development,” he said.

“The Planning Board will be balancing the need for commercial ratables to help with long-term tax stability while ensuring that residential developments are protected.”

Khatiwala could not be reached for comment.