Demo nearly complete at snuff mill property

Developer expected to seek final approval from boro next month


HELMETTA – Seven buildings down, two more to go.

Most of the demolition has been completed on the 32-acre former Helme Tobacco Co. site since the work began last year, according to Mayor Nancy Martin.

The nine-building demolition is being completed by Kaplan Cos., which plans to soon begin building Heritage at Helmetta on the property. The plans call for an agerestricted community of 225 condominiums and two-bedroom flats, along with 10,000 square feet of retail space, and a civic center building to be donated to the borough. The $70 million project is scheduled for completion within the next few years.

Some of the buildings are historically significant and date back to when George W. Helme founded the snuff company in the 1880s. The snuff mill closed in 1993 and the property has since been vacant.

With the exception of two large, historic snuff mill buildings lining Main Street that will be rehabilitated, Martin said the remaining buildings are expected to be demolished soon.

“There are two remaining buildings left to demolish” Martin said. “… We are hoping that by November all demolition will be complete.”

An old water tower on the site will also be taken down, likely in the next two weeks, after JCP&L relocates electrical utilities from that area.

Workers struggled to locate one of the old water feeds to the water tower, but workers successfully shut it off recently so demolition can take place, Martin said. The feed was difficult to find, since records were poor at the time that it was first installed.

Martin said Kaplan Cos., which is based in Highland Park, has applied for Middlesex County approval for construction on parcel four, which is still in the demolition stages.

Michael Kaplan, former president of Kaplan Cos., wrote in a letter to Martin recently that significant progress has been made in advancing Heritage at Helmetta. He said the firm is currently at work on the entitlements process and preparing the northern component of the redevelopment area for site work.

The developer has received several approvals for the construction from Middlesex County, the Freehold Soil Conservation District and the federal Emergency Management Agency, which issued a Letter of Map Revision for the Helme mill complex.

The first development phase will be the stacked, two-story flats, according to Michael Kaplan.

It is possible that some of the housing will not be age restricted, Martin said, since a state ruling may require that affordable housing units be included in the development. Martin said that if these units are included, they would likely be located above the bottom-floor commercial properties on parcel five.

Jason Kaplan, president of Kaplan Cos., said the developer will seek final approval from the borough Planning Board next month, and he hopes to have some of the age-restricted housing constructed by early next year. Depending on the market, he said, residents might get to move into those units by the middle of next year.

“The town and the mayor have been overly cooperative, and it’s been a real pleasure working with the town,” he said. “Hopefully construction will go ahead smoothly.”

Kaplan purchased the property from Helmetta Lenape LLC, of Bridgewater, for $3.4 million in 2006 after settling a lawsuit from the latter over the borough’s choice of Kaplan as redeveloper.