in the works

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Those developers are Sir Richard Branson, who aims to make thehotel/spa part of the Virgin Limited Edition luxury hotel portfoliowithin his Virgin Hotels Group, and local businessman RobertWojtowicz. The $90-million project will evolve in three phases,with the first slated to be ready in April.

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Focal point of the project is Natirar, a 40-room mansion datingback to 1912. It was named Natirar by original owners the Laddfamily, who reversed the spelling of the nearby Raritan River. Theproperty was later owned by the late King Hassan II of Morocco,whose estate sold the mansion and its surrounding 450 acres toSomerset County in 2003 for $23 million. The county subsequentlyleased it to the developers for 99 years.

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"There have been delays for a variety of reasons," Wojtowiczsays. "But we look forward rather than backwards."

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Those delays were related mostly to regulatory, permitting andplanning issues. One complicating factor has been that while thecore mansion is situated in this community, portions of thesprawling property spill over into neighboring Bedminster and FarHills.

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"The borough is delighted if not overjoyed that thegroundbreaking is taking places," says Peapack-Gladstone MayorWilliam Horton, in a statement. "We wish the spa the greatestsuccess."

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In the overview, the project calls for approximately 200,000 sfof hotel, spa, restaurant and related space. Phase one calls forconversion and expansion of a carriage house on the site into theCarriage House Culinary Center, a combination culinary school andrestaurant. Wojtowicz has set an April 1, 2009 goal forcompletion.

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Next up in phase two would be completion of the hostelry's25,000-sf spa complex, currently slated for completion by the endof 2009. The final phase would be renovation and expansion of themansion itself into a 76-room hotel, including conversion ofseveral existing smaller buildings around it into guest cottages.The property will also have a variety of recreational amenities,although much of the 450-acre site will be retained as openspace.

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