The Mt. Ephraim Commissioners unanimously approved on December 3, 2020 two Ordinances that will give the go-head to acquire the former Emmaus Catholic Community/Sacred Heart properties.
The site is being eyed for a Lidl store.
Commissioner and former mayor, Joe Wolk, explained how the commissioners decided to quickly move to acquire this property: “We started out by having a property in Mt. Ephraim that is at the corner of one of the brightest spots in South Jersey. I went to Sacred Heart Church and I went to the school. We saw the [initial asking price] of $1,650,000. We had no control over who was going to be in there. We had no input on who could be there. And, as you may or may not know, the Diocese of Camden is now in bankruptcy.”
The price of the property dropped in the last thirty days to $700,000.
There were other bidders for the property, Commissioner Wolk said. “Mayor Tovinsky, Commissioner Gies, and myself decided to get into this because we want to be in control of what is going to go there. You have Lidl ready to buy the property for more than we want to buy it for. But the diocese, from my understanding, was that they want cash. They didn’t want to wait 18 months because Lidl wouldn’t put any money up. So, [this is] like Wawa, who had to go through all of the planning first before the property was bought at Degenhardt’s.”
Commissioner Wolk said, “This was an opportunity for us to get there quickly. So we moved quickly. Because our good judgment and our job as commissioners is [to look at the] big picture and to figure out the will of most of the people in the Borough of Mt. Ephraim. So to us, this was a no-brainer, but we didn’t have time to sit around and wait because if we weren’t at the table with the diocese with our money, there are other churches and organizations that had money because it was a “fire sale.”
Commissioner Wolk explained that the two ordinances give the authority to get the money to buy the property and be in control. “If Lidl doesn’t come, we have other developers that are very interested in that property – whether it is another grocery store, but it won’t be a church because we need to bring in revenue. We need to bring in jobs.”
There are a lot of aspects to this, he said. “I understand everyone’s concerns, but this is going to be a Planning Board issue and we have the Land Use Board that the mayor sits on with town residents. You can come to the meetings, and there will be several, as the process gets started. You will all have an opportunity to have your questions answered.”
Mayor Mike “Traz” Tovinsky was asked about a timeline for the project.
The mayor responded: “We’ve been told anywhere from nine to 18 months this whole thing is going to take, but it depends how everything goes. We need a couple of things done from the State. The town has some stuff to do and also the county because [Kings Highway and the Black Horse Pike] are county and state roads.”
The mayor added: “We are trying to settle on the property before the first of the year. We had to make a quick decision. That’s the main reason why we did this. We want to bring in tax revenue for the town and jobs.”
Church, School & Rectory Will Be Demolished
Mayor Tovinsky stated that the whole Sacred Heart property – the rectory, the school, and the church will all be torn down. Right now, they are in the process of making an offer on the corner property – where Tony Roni’s is, he said. “They are trying to settle with them and make a deal with them so they can have the whole corner there.”
Homes Acquired for the Project
Mayor Tovinsky stated that on Kings Highway, Lidl is also looking to purchase that first house right next to Sacred Heart. “They have made an offer to the owner and they are waiting to hear back. They also made offers for three houses on Buckingham to purchase them as well. So that’s all in the works,” he said.
Wait… Did Someone Say Starbucks?
One resident asked if there were “any takers” for the closed Speedway gas station at the corner of the Black Horse Pike and Kings Highway.
Mayor Tovinsky responded: “Yes, that is being looked at too. We were told that property may be purchased as well and the rumor was that there may be a Starbucks there, but we are not sure. And, maybe Toni Roni’s would move over there. It all depends on the sale — if the corner property would be sold.”
Tax Rateable & Jobs
Mayor Tovinsky said that presently, they are meeting with developers who would take over the note and the town would not be charged with anything. “We bought this property with plans on selling it to a developer and then the taxpayers would be scot-free and it wouldn’t cost us anything.”
Mayor Tovinsky was asked: “Will this generate tax revenue to the town? Was there a tax incentive for them to come into town?”
The mayor responded: “The original plan that we had with Lidl stated $130,000 in taxes and between 20-40 jobs.” Mt. Ephraim residents would get preference for those jobs.
Mayor Tovinsky added: “Lidl doesn’t want any tax abatement. They are going to pay their fair share of taxes — $130,000 a year.”
How Will This Project Impact Property Values?
A Buckingham Avenue resident raised a question about how this project will impact property values.
“I am worried about the back [of the store]. I look directly at the church now. Am I going to be looking at the back of the building — looking at a loading dock where the trash bins are? Will there be a green space between us? I just worry about not only my quality of life here, but property value. I have been here over 20 years.”
Mayor Tovinsky said that the plans are being made up now and that everyone will have the opportunity to be shown the plans.
As far as property values, Mayor Tovinsky responded: “I saw today somebody posted where property values have gone up 34 percent around a Lidl store. We don’t have all of the facts on that yet. We are just getting started, but that was the first thing I heard about that.”
Questions About Traffic
Mayor Tovinsky said: “There will be no traffic going out of the grocery store onto Buckingham Avenue. All of the traffic will be heading out on Black Horse Pike and Kings Highway.”
Police Chief Brian Conte added: “All of the aprons and the driveways that enter off the Black Horse Pike will have to get state (New Jersey Department of Transportation) DOT approval before any of this will happen.”
He said: “Things will be looked at. The driveways will probably be further away from the corner of Kings Highway and the Black Horse Pike, even though there is an existing one there. It will probably have to get moved down and away from the traffic light. All of [this] will be addressed and it takes up to 18 months for DOT approval.”
Chief Conte also stated: “We will also be able to sit with Lidl like we did with Wawa and we will be able to address traffic concerns prior to the development along with the DOT and we may not let any left hand turns on the Black Horse Pike. We are still in the planning phases.”
Mayor Tovinsky added: “We have met with Assemblymen Bill Moen and he is on the DOT committee and he said he will do whatever it takes to help us out. That is a pretty big positive that we have him on our side.”
A resident asked: “What happens if this falls through? What if they don’t get the Toni Roni property? Are we on the hook for having this property and the deal falling through? Is there some kind of contingency that our investment is protected?”
The mayor responded: “We would have to sit down with our lawyers and see what our options would be. We haven’t gone far enough yet. We are still waiting for people who they made offers to, to get back to them. We are just in the beginning.”
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We’re proud of our humble beginnings. In 1973, the first modern Lidl store opened in Ludwigshafen, Germany. With only three employees and about 500 products, this small store became the foundation of Lidl’s far-reaching expansion.
During the 1990s, we began opening stores outside of Germany and within a few years, we had stores all across Europe.
We now operate around 11,200 stores and are active in 32 countries, employing more than 310,000 people globally. Our mission is to offer customers the highest quality fresh produce, meat, baked goods and household products at the lowest possible prices.
In June 2015, we established our U.S. headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Today we sell our award-winning products in more than 100 stores in nine states across the East Coast.
In our area, Lidl stores are located at:
- 400 Route 38, Cherry Hill.
- 1107 W. 1107 W Landis Ave, Vineland.
- A new Lidl store to be located on the Black Horse Pike in Blackwood was recently approved. (See the story on 42 Freeway).