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Cherry Hill Twp. Eyeing Piece Of Underdeveloped Prime Real Estate

By Cherri Gregg

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CBS) - Cherry Hill Township is studying whether a ten-acre piece of prime real estate on Route 70 should be deemed a "blighted" area in need of redevelopment. The site was purchased nearly a decade ago to be turned into an off track betting site and the owners vow to fight.

Cherry Hill Yownship Mayor Chuck Cahn has called the ten-acre plot the "gateway to Cherry Hill" because of its highly visible location. The parcel used to be part of Garden State Park, a thoroughbred racetrack that opened in the 1940s.

The track was demolished in 2005. Owners GS Park Racing then received permits to build an off-tracking betting site in 2007.

"There's been a little frustration, I think in the fact that nothing has been done with the property," says Brigett Palmer, spokesperson for Cherry Hill township. "It's been vacant and underutilized for the last 10 years now....the grass has gotten high."

Palmer says the township ordered a study of the GS Park property and an adjacent 35-acre plot in June, and it could take several months before the planning board comes back with a recommendation.

"Our vision for both sites, because of proximity to transportation and retail, is they would really make for corporate campus type setting," says Palmer, who notes the redevelopment study is step two in a three step process.

Representatives for GS Park would not speak with KYW Newsradio on tape, but say they want to keep the property and will fight efforts to condemn the land or label it blighted under the New Jersey's redevelopment statute.

Dave Roberts, a planner with Maser Consulting in Redbank, New Jersey co-wrote The Redevelopment Handbook, which was updated in 2011. He says it'll be an uphill battle for Cherry Hill if the ten-acre GS Park parcel is deemed "blighted."

"Sometimes the interests of the overall community comes in conflict with the interest of one or two private property owners," says Roberts. "But there needs to be a real community or public interest at stake for a property be redeveloped."

Roberts says the township will need to prove that the property is blighted. He says it's not enough that the property is old, underutilized or a building is not in great shape.

"There needs to be a negative impact that is being felt in the neighborhood and on adjacent properties because of the blighted property," he says, "It must invite crime, be a health hazard, fire hazard or something that is being felt by nearby properties."

Roberts says owners and advocates can slow the redevelopment process by challenging a finding that a property is blighted under the New Jersey redevelopment statute.

Christopher McErlean, a representative for GS Park responded to KYW Newsradio's request for comment in an email, saying "The Township brought for the items and started this process and we are just responding as we feel is appropriate to protect our interests in the property."

Palmer says the idea that there is a dispute is premature.

"It's in the hands of the planning board," she says, "we'll just wait and see what it says."

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