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Another Somerset project long in the making gets local approval

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Ralph Zucker’s patience has paid off for the second time in a week, now that local officials in Aberdeen have approved plans to redevelop the site of a former glass factory.

The final site plan approval on Wednesday allows Zucker’s firm, Somerset Development, to move ahead on a mixed-use, downtown-style project nine years after acquiring the 50-acre site. And it comes just eight days after Holmdel’s planning board approved Somerset’s longtime vision for reawakening the former Bell Labs complex.

The firm’s plans for the Aberdeen site, once used by the Anchor Glass Container Corp., include 500 rental and for-sale residential units, 75,000 square feet of retail and a 110-room hotel that would be visible from the Garden State Parkway, Zucker said. He estimated construction would start around 18 months after the Lakewood-based firm completes predevelopment, permitting and other steps.

The progress comes a decade after Somerset purchased the blighted site. Since then, it has worked on “getting the community to buy in,” grappling with the real estate downturn and scaling down the project from a “much denser” version, Zucker said.

“In a way, we’re happy,” he said. “The timing now for us is perfect ... The rental market is strong, the for-sale market is getting stronger by the day, and we’re walking right into it. So it’s a great time to have that product in that part of New Jersey.”

The project would require demolition of the glass maker’s complex, though roughly 600,000 square feet is still used for warehousing, Zucker said. Once the entire complex is ready to come down, Somerset is hoping to keep a set of smokestacks that it will incorporate into its Glassworks Park as a nod to the site’s past.

“The only way the smokestacks have to come down is if we cannot demonstrate to the governing body that they are safe, sound and secure — and that we have a plan in place to keep it that way,” he said. “But we’re excited about keeping them, because they provide a sense of history.”

The resuse of the Bell Labs complex has been a hot story for almost a decade. Somerset’s plans for the 2 million-square-foot site, about 10 miles from Aberdeen, were approved July 30 after seven years of discussions and community outreach. The project calls for preserving the iconic structure while redeveloping it with a mix of uses, anchored by 400,000 square feet of medical office and wellness space.

Reporter Joshua Burd is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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