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SOMERVILLE, NJ-The Downtown Somerville Shopping Center opened in the late 1970s as part of a major urban renewal project in this Somerset county seat, and it promptly sparked the return of retail to the once-downtrodden Main Street. The property itself has fallen on hard times. For one thing, besides a Blockbuster Video and a McDonald’s, most of the center’s storefronts have reverted to non-retail uses.

Sterling Properties, based in Livingston, NJ, wants to change that. Sterling principal Steven Katz last week unveiled a make-over plan before the Somerville planning board that would return some retail to the property while adding a large dose of residential.

Specifically, Katz proposes to covert the western side of the property, now occupied mostly by Blockbuster, to new ground-floor retail topped by 50 apartments on the top two floors. The east side of the property, anchored by McDonald’s, would be torn down and replaced by nearly 150 apartments in two, four-story luxury buildings. The proposal also entails a two-level parking garage with more than 400 spaces. It would also retain an existing Pathmark supermarket.

No project cost has been released. Planning board reaction was generally positive at the presentation, although concerns were expressed about the impact of new residents on schools, as well as building heights (most of Main Street is two and three floors, while a major part of the project would reach four floors).

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