Ever since Saks Fifth Avenue moved its location on the border of Springfield and Millburn Townships to The Mall at Short Hills in 1994, the department store’s former home has continued to sit vacant just a few blocks from some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States. Now, after years of a supermarket being proposed for the property, a new plan calls for tearing down the longstanding building in order to construct a new complex.
A company established last month called Springfield 92 Millburn Avenue Urban Renewal, LLC has filed an application with the Springfield Township Planning Board in connection with their plan to bring a total of 270 residential units to the premises. A public notice shows that the firm is scheduled to seek Preliminary and Final Site Plan approval from the board during its meeting on September 12 in order to build at the roughly nine-acre location.
Springfield 92 Millburn Avenue Urban Renewal’s proposal would involve constructing a structure with 223 apartments along with 47 townhomes, “a small amount of first floor streetscape retail,” and parking. All of the residential units would be rentals, according to the notice. Some of the apartments would be designated as “affordable housing,” but the exact number is not yet clear.
The news of the developer’s planning board application comes within a year of the properties being officially designated as areas in need of redevelopment. In addition, a redevelopment plan for the premises was adopted in May and renderings related to the plan were released. Last month, the Springfield Township Committee conditionally designated Springfield 92 Millburn Avenue Urban Renewal as the redeveloper of the tract and a conditional redevelopment agreement was executed, according to the notice.
The site largely lies within Union County’s Springfield Township, but a small portion near the front of the building stretches into the Short Hills section of Essex County’s Millburn Township. This division contributed to the longtime vacancy of the former Saks Fifth Avenue store despite its prominent location and rear access to busy Morris Avenue.
Unlike other vacant properties that are either municipally owned or in the hands of companies that intend to flip tracts for a profit, these lots were acquired over 20 years ago by the parent company of Stop & Shop with the intent to open a supermarket there. However, the proposed grocery store was at the center of controversy from the moment it was proposed in the mid-1990s to as recently as the last few years.
At first, Stop & Shop sought approvals from the Springfield Township Zoning Board of Adjustment, but the chain’s application was denied in 1996. This denial was the first of many that Stop & Shop would receive from officials, leading to lawsuits and eventually an approval of the project’s site plan from the Springfield Township Zoning Board of Adjustment in 2006. However, fears of traffic resulting from the proposed supermarket continued, particularly in Millburn, leading to more denials that prevented the project from moving forward. At one point, the Millburn Free Public Library’s Board of Trustees even considered working with the Township of Springfield to create a joint public library at the site, but those plans never advanced and the site continued to remain vacant.
Plans for the Stop & Shop finally came to an end last year after a lawsuit filed by an affiliate of the grocery chain against the Township of Millburn was reportedly dismissed by a New Jersey Superior Court judge. It is not yet clear if Stop & Shop has any involvement in the proposed residential development, or if the chain’s parent company will be selling the site to a developer. Property records do not yet indicate a change in ownership of the tracts.
Note to readers: The dates that applications are scheduled to be heard by the Springfield Township Planning Board and other commissions are subject to change.