A new town center with residential and commercial properties could be built on the stagnant Wayne Hills Mall site in the coming years while officials discuss sweeping changes to the Master Plan to foster development in the township.
A Master Plan is a long-term planning document that establishes the rules and goals that govern development within a municipality. The state requires municipal officials to re-examine their Master Plan at least every 10 years. The Planning Board last examined the Master Plan in 2010.
Town Planner John Szabo discussed the proposed changes with the Planning Board Monday.
“The goal is to be promote growth in order to stimulate the township’s economy and restore its shrinking tax base while preserving the character of our community,” Szabo said. “We’re trying to balance everything out.”
The proposed changes include:
- Creating a formal, central business district with residential and commercial properties on the Wayne Hills Mall property. The 180-acre district could contain a promenade-style layout, with walkways or residences placed above retailers.
“A design would cater more to the residents of Wayne and make it a more valuable piece of land to the township,” Szabo said.
- Creating a transit village with 100 residential units and retail properties in the Mountainview section of town.
- Encouraging the construction of 15 to 18 residential units on the Toshiba and Peykar property on Totowa Road by re-designating the land to allow multi-family dwellings. The Milkyway Education Center, a private school, will be located on the former BAE Systems property.
“These recommendations aren’t coming out of a vacuum,” Szabo said.
Several properties in town have been undeveloped or underdeveloped for years.
The former State Farm building on Route 23, the Wayne Hills Mall, and the Dodge dealership on Route 23, are just some of them. Others, like the former Hostess Bakery, the Bayer building, and the Van Pennen's property that recently became, or will become, vacant soon.
The town’s population grew by only 1.2 percent, or about 650 people, between 2000 and 2010, Census data shows. Less than 600 housing units were built in that same time.
The Planning Board has approved nearly 900,000 square feet of new commercial construction projects in the past nine years. Most of those projects have been less than 20,000 feet.
The lack of growth has meant the town’s tax base has stayed the same for much of the past decade. However, the town did lose $21 million in tax ratables last year.
Mayor Chris Vergano, who serves on the Planning Board, expressed a sense of urgency to approve the changes.
“Quite frankly, if we don’t do something now, none of us will be able to afford to live here anymore,” Vergano said at the meeting. “It’s all these properties that are vacant. They need to be developed.”
Officials expressed their support for the project.
"I've seen this town when it was all farmland," said Planning Board Chairman Frank Ranalletti. "It's a great plan. It's what we need."