By Ron Leir
If all goes well, Kearny can expect to see a new big box retailer along its slowly evolving Passaic Ave. shopping district.
BJ’s Wholesale Club, an East Coast warehouse retailer, will be the anchor tenant for a shopping mall planned by DVL Kearny Holdings LLC for the east side of Passaic Ave., at Bergen Ave.
At a lengthy public hearing held last Wednesday, Dec. 4, the Kearny Planning Board voted 8-1, with certain conditions, to approve an amended site plan filed by DVL that will allow the developer to change the dimensions of two of the six retail buildings for which the company got board approvals five years ago.
One of those buildings, originally designed to accommodate 104,000 square feet of retail spread over two floors, is now being cast as a single level, 87,778 square foot space to be occupied by BJ’s, according to testimony by DVL representatives.
Also, a second building that was approved for a 4,000 square foot single retail tenant is now reconfigured for 17,000 square feet to handle up to five smaller retailers. No tenants, other than BJ’s, are committed.
By and large, the board had no major problems with those changes but it had some concerns about how the proposed layout of one of the new retail buildings would shrink an existing 50-foot easement (between the north end of ShopRite and the old Congoleum factory building) shared by the town and the neighboring Tully ShopRite down to 20 feet, and, at its narrowest point, to just 18 feet.
The developer also figures that six surface parking spaces will be lost, along with a retaining wall, to help facilitate the maneuvering of the 18-wheeler trucks, according to testimony by a DVL engineer.
Still, the board wondered whether that would leave sufficient access for town fire rigs – and for delivery trucks to back in and pull out.
DVL’s traffic expert, Gary Dean, offered the board some perspective, saying that, “Fifty feet is a four-lane road – that’s a lot of blacktop.” And he claimed that there would be enough room – even with just 20 feet – to “accommodate BJ’s delivery trucks, which are the biggest on the road.”
When several board members, including Mayor Alberto Santos and Town Administrator Michael Martello, advised that DVL first check with ShopRite to make sure the store can live with the easement change. And the mayor said he would ask the Fire Department as well.
That implication of delayed action on the developer’s application, pending a resolution of these questions, prompted DVL President Alan Casnoff to inform the board that, although the project site has been dormant for the past five years, thanks to the national recession, time is now of the essence because DVL expected to sign a lease deal with BJ’s by this week.
But at this point in the process, Casnoff said, the board’s failure to act could kill the project. “No preliminary approvals, no signed lease,” he cautioned. DVL is also seeking several land use variances for single retail maximum square footage, minimum setback for internal driveway and parking, along with a few design standard waivers, including parking lot light pole height, sidewalk width and street tree size.
In the end, the board agreed – with Ann Farrell dissenting on traffic-related worries – to grant “conditional approval” to the application – to be memorialized at the Jan. 8 meeting – pending successful resolution of the easement issue, sharing of façade drawings and revised parking plans.
BJ’s Pat Smith, assistant vice president/manager of site acquisition, who attended Wednesday’s board meeting, said he anticipated the signing of a 20-year lease with DVL with options for renewal.
“We’ve been looking for sites in Kearny for the past six to eight years,” he said. “We can better serve our members and expand our membership base. Kearny is a great solid neighborhood and it’s in a more urban location than our typical BJ’s location.”
Smith said the Kearny store — which will have a tire center but no liquor – will feature “the typical BS’s assortment, including fresh deli and expanded organic and fresh produce.” It will employ about 50 full-time workers and about 50 part-time, he said. “We’ll be putting an emphasis on hiring local.”
The K-mart and Modell’s on the site will remain but tenants currently in the old Congoleum factory building will be given six months notice to vacate before the building is demolished, Casnoff said.
Because of the site’s sloped topography, Casnoff said, “we are going to spend more than $1 million to raise the front [off Passaic Ave.] or lower the back of the site.” At this point, he said, the more likely outcome will be “to lower the back but, you get two feet down, you’re digging into rocks. We will probably spend $5 million alone for site work.”
Casnoff declined to project the overall development cost for the project.
Demolition could begin by May 2014. “We’re hoping to turn over a building to [BJ’s] by August 2015,” Casnoff said.