Twenty years after Wegmans purchased 30 acres of land in Washington Township (Gloucester County, NJ) for a supermarket which was never built, today plans are being considered to develop a 400,000 sq ft warehouse plus affordable housing on the same property.
From Wegmans to Warehouse. We do not have details on a possible tenant. Many of these warehouses in South Jersey are being proposed without signed tenants.
I am used “considered” in the title… but the word “proposed” is used by the development team in a letter to the County for an initial sketch review.
That being said while they have not officially presented before the Planning Boards, the Developers have put in significant effort and investment into the project already.
Of course I’ll rundown all of the details I have, which are somewhat significant and very telling.
The warehouse developer does have a Pending Sale Agreement with Wegmans.
The developers have discussed the project informally with the Gloucester County Land Use Board as well as Washington Township officials.
They have submitted a preliminary “sketch” review to the County Land Use Board. I have those plans.
The earliest evidence I have of the planned project is the LLC formation documents of “300 Watson Drive Partners, LLC” on December 14, 2021.
And while I understand the project status could change any day, the most recent evidence of project activity is a dead restriction change between Lowe’s and Wegmans dated just 40 days ago on July 29, 2022.
Word of the project must be getting out as we chatted with 2 area business persons who own property or are moving into the immediate area of Watson Drive, and they both volunteered to me “Hey did you hear about the warehouse?”. One small business owner was looking to sign a lease in the area and the landlord used the warehouse plans as a selling feature related to the workers and trucks coming into the area.
This is another area warehouse project by Blackwood’s AP Construction, who are also looking to develop warehouses at Gloucester Township’s former Freeway Golf Course. We covered that story 3 weeks ago and for that other Gloucester Township project then are scheduled to appear at the September 14th Zoning Board meeting.
For AP Construction and the Washington Township Warehouse Project, on August 5th I emailed several principals of the company for comment, and they have not replied.
Wegmans Property – Washington Township
To further clarify the location, the 30 acres are situated behind the Lowe’s Home Improvement store on the Black Horse Pike in Washington Township NJ (Gloucester County).
If you aren’t aware over 20 years ago Wegmans Supermarkets wanted to build a store in Washington Township. It is one of the most talked about “not developed” stories in the 42 Freeway core region.
In articles that I’ve seen from the time, it appears they were looking to open in Washington Township before the Cherry Hill location opened!
So intent was Wegmans on opening in “Township” that they purchased 30 acres of land on Watson Drive behind the Lowe’s Home Improvement store for a whopping $4.6 million.
And then nothing. As Cherry Hill and Mt Laurel Wegmans locations opened, the Washington Township location never came to be.
Rumors fly as to why, but no solid information has been released.
So while there is no supermarket on the property, it 100% is still owned by Wegmans.
So the property location is close to the Black Horse Pike but sits behind the large Lowe’s store and parking lot. That very large and dense wooded area.
The property follows along the long curved road of Watson Drive and connects with Fries Mill Road.
A small portion of the property is bordered by Fries Mill Road, and the remaining is bordered by businesses.
Warehouse and Affordable Housing Plans
As mentioned the first date I can put on official movement on this project is when a representative of AP Construction was approved on December 14, 2021 for the LLC business name of “300 Watson Drive Partners”. The address given is the AP Construction offices in Blackwood.
Creating a new LLC is a common practice in business development for accounting and tax purposes, to separate from the core business.
The name 300 Watson Drive partners carries through the documents we acquired.
Gloucester County Land Use Sketch Review
In June of 2022 the Gloucester County Land Development Review committee examined the “sketch” application for the proposed development. The committee gives approval on projects which will sit on County roads.
When formally submitted to the County its a somewhat intensive process in that the County wants all details presented, from accessing County Roads for driveways, to business type, number of employees and traffic load, and interior property site plans.
So every town and County will talk to developers in advance of the formal presentation. If you’ve sat in any Town Planning Board meeting it’s very clear the developer has been working with town planners and other entities for months in advance. Even the MUA and Fire departments get a look at the projects before the formal presentation,
In the case of the Gloucester County Land Development Review team, they offer a “sketch” review where developers can have an informal discussion with the County, and receive feedback.
While it isn’t the official final review, it is on an application marked as sketch. Professionally prepared documents are submitted and a formal response from the County is provided back.
So finally on to some details!
The proposal includes a large warehouse utilizing most of the 30 acre property, and a smaller section of 34 affordable housing units at the corner of Watson Drive and Fries Mill Road.
The warehouse considered for Washington Township is 406,560 sq feet. The dimensions are 330′ x 1232′ feet.
The warehouse is a long rectangle and positioned to maximize the space in the property. One end is at the Lowe’s side and the other would be closer to Fries Mill Road.
It appears the warehouse garage bays would be positioned facing Watson Drive.
There are buffer areas around the property due to the curvature of the road and the flat back side of the warehouse.. but the significant amount of that land is designated as Stormwater Manangement.
There are 4 entrances noted into the warehouse portion of the property, with one off of Fries Mill Road.
Based on site plan markings, the Fries Mill entrance leads to “Main Parking” which I assume to be for warehouse employees, and the three Watson Drive entrances would be for tractor trailer traffic.
All told they indicated on the plans 295 parking spaces, 70 loading spaces (bays) and 85 trailer parking spaces.
Proximity to Highways
The location for the proposed warehouse is in a commercial and residential area, but not exactly situated directly on a major highway.
Looking at Google maps there is 2.5 miles of heavily traveled Black Horse Pike to reach the highway portion of Route 42.
To access the AC Expressway at the closest exit (Cross Keys Rd) that is 2.65 miles and requires trucks to travel along both the heavily traveled Black Horse Pike AND Berlin Cross Keys Roads.
Affordable Housing Component
As mentioned the affordable housing will be positioned at the corner of Watson Drive and Fries Mill Road.
This would be directly across from the PNC Bank Buildng.
The housing is planned to be one building with 34 units.
I do not know the targeted “category” of the affordable housing units. Normally I would guess over-55 Senior Housing, but the plans do note a “Play Area” with a slide icon. This could simply just be a placeholder for a general small park area.
The plan indicates 66 parking spaces.
There will be two driveway entrances, one on Watson Drive and another on Fries Mill Rd.
Deed Restriction Change and Pending Sale Agreement
I mentioned that Wegmans purchased 30 acres of land behind Lowe’s Home Improvement.
What I didn’t clarify in this article yet is that Lowe’s initially owned the entire parcel including the Wegmans land.
Wegmans purchased the property from Lowe’s.
But back in 2002 when the land was sold to Wegmans, Lowe’s wanted to make sure that the land they sold would not be used in a manner that would later compete with the Lowe’s business model.
So the contract and property deed included usage restrictions for the 300 Watson Drive property.
Twenty years later, to be certain that the new proposed use of “Warehouse and Residential” was not impactful in deed for the project, a change to the “Restrictive Covenants and Restrictive Agreement” was completed and filed with the county.
That deed was filed on July 29, 2022. Just 41 days ago.
And in that document change clearly states.
WHERAS, 300 Watson Drive Partners, LLC (“300 Watson”) has entered into an agreement of sale with Wegmans to acquire the Wegmans Property, as may be amended or restated from time to time (the “Pending Sale Agreement”) for warehouse and residential development300 Watson Drive Property Restrictive Covenant Amendment – Filed with Gloucester County July 29th
So again, this warehouse project has not been officially presented to the Planning/Zoning Boards of Washington Township…
Consider that there is a Pending Agreement of Sale to the warehouse developer.
And also this document was signed by Wegmans Director of Real Estate and a Lowe’s Vice President.
Even putting aside the attorney fees to work this out, I don’t think you put the time and effort into having two executives of companies with combined yearly sales of $110 billion… discuss, agree and sign a legal document related to the warehouse project…
… unless you were very certain you were going to move forward with it.
So again there has been no formal presentation yet asking for approvals.
I am not clear on the zoning of the property, if it will support a warehouse as an allowed use.
But you know I’ll let you all know!