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Cherry Hill asks, Is there blight at the end of the tunnel?

9/6/2013 | Real Estate Blog

It is time, according to Cherry Hill Township, to put 10 acres of prime real estate to good use. The developer who purchased what had been the Garden State Park racetrack originally had plans to turn it into an off-track betting establishment. That was more than five years ago, though. With the project stalled, local officials, weary of watching the grass grow on the vacant lot, have decided to take matters into their own hands.

The Township Council has authorized the Planning Board to study whether the property can be designated an “area in need of redevelopment,” the technical term for a blighted property. The study, which will include an adjacent 35-acre parcel, should be completed in the next couple of months.

Once the study is complete, the findings and recommendations will go to the Council for review and a final decision. If the decision favors redevelopment, the township will likely condemn the property and entertain proposals for the site. Mayor Chuck Cahn believes the site’s location — he called it the Gateway to Cherry Hill — is perfect for a corporate campus or similar high-end development.

According to local media reports, the property owner plans to fight the blight designation. At the same time, a representative of the company said it would protect its interest in the land as the process moves forward.

An expert in redevelopment and New Jersey’s state laws says the township has its work cut out for it. The burden of proof lies with the town, and the law sets the bar fairly high. The process, after all, involves taking over private land.

For example, the town must prove that the redevelopment serves the public interest in a significant way. A blighted property must have a negative impact on the surrounding area; it must pose a risk to public health and safety. It is not enough, the expert said, that a building is rundown or a lawn is badly in need of mowing.

Source: CBS Philly, “Cherry Hill Twp. Eyeing Piece Of Underdeveloped Prime Real Estate,” Cherri Gregg, Aug. 31, 2013