GALLOWAY – The planning board gave Harvey Rosenblatt, a developer who hopes to turn around the deteriorating Smithville Town Center, approvals at a meeting March 17 for new signage and landscaping to grab travelers’ attention along Route 9 and create a clear sight line to the 107,943 square foot center soon to be called Smithville Square.
At first Rosenblatt, 31, of Ocean County, was seeking three signs. He, along with his experts and the planning board, settled on two. One of the signs would replace the bell tower at Route 9. The sign near the tower would be removed. The second sign would be installed at the shopping plaza entrance from Smithville Boulevard.
In addition to new signs, Rosenblatt’s engineer and architect told the board the improvements would be within the Planned Urban Development guidelines for Smithville, and will continue to maintain its rural, rustic feel. The materials used for the signs would be brick and wood. Metal signs are not allowed and neither is back lighting. Taking down vegetation, adding low lying landscaping, installing new lighting, adding curbing and sidewalks, increasing adding two parking spaces bringing it to 550 spaces, and beautifying the storefronts, were all topics of discussion at the meeting.
Tiffany Cuviello, the township’s planner, said all planning board approvals must also be reviewed by Smithville’s Architectural Review Committee, or ARC. She said the developer would have to work out other details with ARC such as the building colors and facades.
Rosenblatt also asked to remove portions of buffers and vegetation.
The board agreed and Rosenblatt’s experts said that replacement landscaping would be low lying, attractive and not obstruct the vision of the shopping center. Board members agreed with the developer and his experts that the site line has been a continual problem for the struggling center.
“We all know buffers and berms are a problem,” Cuviello said. “You will still have trees on Smithville Boulevard, but motorists will be able to see this. We were working on this in 10-year intervals and I think this is the most aggressive plan we have seen yet.”
Ken Sooy, planning board chairman said that when the center was built, he was also a member of the planning board.
“The past has failed so it is time to go to the future,” Sooy said in agreement that the center needs updating.
Jack Plackter, Rosenblatt’s attorney from Fox Rothchild in Atlantic City, told the board, “Harvey has a lot of energy and I think we all know that Smithville Square, which has been in the township for a long time, is failing or has failed. It is not productive and it needs help. It’s tired. It is not up to date. It needs a major makeover.”
Tom Roesch, Rosenblatt’s engineer made a presentation prior to planning board approval saying Rosenblatt is trying to create an attractive shopping center for its existing tenants, new tenants and patrons.
Rosenblatt has already removed and replaced lighting with new LED lighting to make it brighter and more attractive. While they are removing trees they are adding some including pear trees, Roesch said.
"We are removing some trees and adding some trees," Roesch said.
He said there are also grading plans to make sure the stormwater gets around the curbs
“We are going to cut down the berms and remove the vegetation as best as we can, but also add some attractive low lying landscaping,” Roesch added.
The shopping center is around 60 percent filled. Rosenblatt hopes for an anchor store- possibly another grocery store to move in.
“We only have a few tenants left, so we want to hold on to them and attract new ones,” Harry Harper, Rosenblatt’s architect told the board. He said that the renderings were not completed yet because there are several areas that he and Rosenblatt have to go over.
Harper said the large overhangs that hide the storefronts from view will be long gone with the new plans. An outside dining area at J.D.’s Pub – which has anchored the plaza in recent years, will also be a major feature.
“We are really close to getting something great. I think the most radical thing is getting rid of the covered walkway. It will have different colors, textures and feels,” Harper said. “We will be brand new. It won’t look like the same shopping center. It is time.”
When it came time for the public portion residents Anna Jezycki and Nick Russo said they have waited a long time to see improvements at that shopping center and Rosenblatt’s ideas are refreshing.
“Harvey, I can see he is genuinely passionate about this,” Jezycki said. “He’s putting all his efforts, his energy into trying to make it work. I really think this is good and long in the coming.”
Russo said the place has long been an eyesore and no prior owner appeared to show interest in investing in the property. He said Rosenblatt is working hard to improve the center. The lighting, he said is a major improvement.
Mayor Don Purdy, who sits on the planning board, said Rosenblatt is hardworking and energetic.
“I think people know this property is a very depressed property in a non-depressed area,” Purdy said.
He said other potential developers may have been scared off by the time-consuming process of approvals, but not Rosenblatt.
“We owe it to the residents of Smithville and Galloway to be able to have somebody with vision who wants to invest in the community. We have great residents who would thrive off of that and keep their money in Galloway,” Purdy said. “I thank you Harvey for the vision you have to keep Smithville lively.”
Rosenblatt said he is happy members of the planning board, other township officials – specifically the governing body - and members of the community who are supporting his plan to overhaul the shopping center.
He said, “I want to make all of the necessary steps to bring jobs, business and prosperity to Galloway.”
Email Madelaine Vitale at email@example.com. Call her at 609-601-5189.