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XXX Store is Huge Community Issue

Cherry Hill, NJ- Most don’t dispute that parts of a three-block stretch of Route 70 the township is now eyeing for its latest redevelopment project have seen better days.

Lou Napolitano is the first to admit Lou & Ann’s Deli, the business his parents founded in 1959, is “the oldest, beat-up building on the strip.”

Elizabeth Zanghi says Blossoms of Cherry Hill, her florist shop, is due a new coat of paint.

And Jacqueline Clark, an agent at Granite Insurance, laments the vacant storefronts and overall lack of change.

But make no mistake, say people in the proposed redevelopment area about the township’s motivation.

It’s all about the porn.

“Some of my customers are council people and they tell me things,” Napolitano said. “They’re running out of ideas on how to block this thing. This is their latest idea. But are we going to have to suffer because of it?”

Jim Restaino, a Union County accountant, wants to convert the vacant building at Route 70 and Kenwood Drive into an adult video and sex toy shop similar to the one he owns on Route 73 in Mount Laurel. He’s suing the township, which denied the application, in state Superior Court on the grounds that Cherry Hill’s zoning laws severely restrict sexually oriented businesses and violate his First Amendment rights.

The legal fight has exploded into a huge community issue because of the location’s proximity to neighborhoods.

The council has directed the township’s planning board to study the properties to determine if they need redevelopment. The section under review runs along the south side of Route 70 between Brace and Sawmill roads and includes such businesses as National Wholesale Liquidators, Georgia’s Furs, Keswick Cycle Co. and Wachovia Bank.

Cherry Hill’s planning staff will do the investigation and probably offer a recommendation to the council within several weeks, said David Benedetti, who directs the Community Development Department.

“It’s not a complex area to analyze,” said Benedetti, who noted the township is at the second step of a comprehensive process that will involve at least two public hearings.

If the council votes to designate the properties a redevelopment zone, it would give the township more tools to improve the area and control over what goes there. Redevelopment would make it easier for the township to condemn the properties or acquire one or more of them through eminent domain, the power of the government to take private property for a public use provided it pay fair compensation. The township could then turn the property over to a private redeveloper.

That’s what worries Napolitano, who saw his front parking lot disappear — along with an estimated 30 percent of his customers — when the state Department of Transportation took some of his property several years ago to widen Route 70.

“That hurt us and I think this could hurt us more,” he said.

Mayor Bernie Platt and council members aren’t saying much about the proposed redevelopment zone other than it’s a good way for Cherry Hill to revitalize a part of town that’s not performing up to its full potential.

They say the township’s seven other redevelopment areas have helped bring in new businesses, retain companies and create jobs.

For example, Mercedes-Benz of Cherry Hill opened a showroom on a Route 70 redevelopment property across from Garden State Park, council Vice President Frank Falcone said.

Also, the formerly blighted Cherry Hill Apartments on Route 38 have been completely renovated into Cherry Hill Towers, a luxury apartment complex.

When asked about how the proposed redevelopment affects the porn store plan, the township’s elected officials declined to comment.

“I will not comment on the proposed zone until the planning board does a thorough investigation of the site and gives a recommendation back to me and members of council,” the mayor said.

Contacted about the redevelopment and the possibility of eminent domain, Restaino’s attorney, Dennis Oury, said he would have someone look into it, but doubted it would affect his client.

Zanghi, however, hopes it does. After all, a porn store on her business block scares her more than redevelopment.

Brian Hackford, who opened Keswick Cycle in July, also tends to support the township’s redevelopment proposal, but not because of the adult video store, which he’s neutral about. Rather, he wants something done about the “horrible” condition of some of the buildings.

“The area is old and it’s not really appealing. We pumped a lot of money into our building to give it a complete face-lift,” Hackford said. “If they are going to insist the business owners and landlords actually clean up the properties and make their storefronts more pleasing, I can’t see a downside to it.”

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