Redevelopment of Taunton-Tuckerton area sought by planning board approved

David DePetris of DePetris Family Associates made his family’s case before Medford Township Council Oct. 6 during a public hearing portion of a redevelopment ordinance for The Village at Taunton Forge, which his family owns. The developer has previously pled to the township’s planning board for approval of a Dunkin’ in the center, but after contested lawsuits, it was denied by the board. The family has sought to revitalize the shopping center to bring in ratables and anchors (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

Medford Township Council adopted an ordinance on Oct. 6 to establish a new redevelopment district in an area commonly known as one of the busiest in town.

A representative from Taylor Design Group, Vice President Scott Taylor, explained to  council the necessity of designating the Taunton Boulevard and Tuckerton Road intersection a non-commendation area in need of redevelopment or rehabilitation. The area includes The Village at Taunton Forge, a log cabin that was once a restaurant,   and the Cedarbrook building where a chiropractor’s office stands.

“The purpose of designating an area under the redevelopment and housing law is to arrest an area of deterioration, and encourage improvement and reinvestment that could not be accomplished privately and requiring public intervention,” Taylor stated.

The plan can be viewed by visiting MedfordTownship.com/PlanningBoard.

Some lots in the area will be removed, while others will be rezoned to fit the growth district and community commercial districts.

Planning board members favor the Taunton and Tuckerton Rehabilitation Area, given that heavy traffic flows through the intersection. Northwest drivers head to Medford’s Main Street and other areas; going southwest leads to Marlton; southeast traffic heads to Lake Pine and portions of Medford Lakes Borough; and a northeast route takes drivers further into Medford, Medford Lakes or Shamong Township.

Neither council nor any other entity in the township can exercise eminent domain on any property in the district. Taylor explained that rezoning allows for landowners or developers to expand or relocate their properties within the area. He reminded council a similar move was undertaken for the Pop Shop in 2013. The restaurant took the place of a bank that sat empty for several years, and the property was revived to improve downtown Medford.

Permitted uses in the ordinance include micro-breweries and restaurants that offer sit-down, carry-out and takeout options. Drive thru and fast food eateries are not permitted in the zoning district.

Developers James and David DePetris, of DePetris Family Associates, spoke during the ordinance’s public hearing and suggested council took a “1990s-centered approach” to redevelopment. David DePetris did acknowledge that township efforts to address stagnant economic growth in the district, but are not adaptable to the 21st century.

Eateries such as Panera Bread added drive-thrus to restaurants in prime locations, something not widely done in 2008 or 2014, when the township adopted and revised its master plan.

“In our industry, in the mid ’90s, you had a different set of developers to come around and say, ‘Let’s build big-box retail out on the highways,'” he said. “That was called ‘destination retail’ and a lot was focused on that.”

Destination retailers include IKEA, Target and certain grocery stores who enter a shopping plaza with main stores, then lease several offices or square footage within to keep shoppers in one area.

Medford’s only examples of that are the Acme in Sharps Run Plaza and the ShopRite off Route 70, approaching Medford Leas. Target and Walmart are in neighboring localities.

James DePetris said he had hoped to change frontage in The Village at Taunton Forge, which his family’s company owns, to attract more customers. Prior to that, DePetris Family Associates proposed a Dunkin’ on the eastern side of the property as an anchor, a move the planning board struck down.

“In order to accomplish these goals, we believed it would be paramount for there to be zoning relief to allow certain uses to come into the intersection,” James DePetris said. “We were disappointed to hear zoning relief was not going to happen,” he added. “The reason, we believe, is (that) Medford does not recognize the Taunton-Tuckerton intersection is one of the busiest commercial arteries in the township and should be allowed uses that are in other busy intersections.”

Other popular intersections the two brothers referenced included Dixontown and Stokes, site of a McDonald’s and Republic Bank; Route 70, Main Street and Medford-Mount Holly Road, where the town’s downtown artery begins; and Route 70 and Hartford Road, where CVS Pharmacy and Popeye’s restaurant reside.

David DePetris noted only the two Route 70 intersections surpass the traffic volume at Taunton Boulevard and Tuckerton Road.

“When we heard the word hamlet used, we believe it is mischaracterized,” he added. “We don’t believe it leads Medford to properly addressing the solution for the township.

“We’re seeing how important that intersection is to the township.”

There were no comments from council following the hearing. The new rehabilitation plan was later unanimously adopted. Council’s next meeting is Oct. 20 at 7 p.m., at 91 Union Street.