LAKEWOOD, NJ-Somerset Development LLC, a locally based group headed by Ralph Zucker, rolled out a master plan for a $200-million mixed-use project covering some 200 city-owned acres surrounding FirstEnergy Park here. The latter is the home field of the Lakewood BlueClaws, a minor league baseball team.

According to a published report, Somerset’s plan is ambitious, encompassing everything from a big-box retail lifestyle center, to a youth baseball complex, a theater complex and close to 800 residential units. There’s one small hitch: this city is already under contract with the locally based Cedarbridge Development Corp. for the latter to develop the largely vacant tract as a corporate park.

The plan for Cedarbridge Corporate Park, as the project would be called, was rolled out four years ago. It encompasses some 1.5 million sf of office space, and while site and infrastructure work is under way, Cedarbridge Development has yet to sign an anchor office tenant to begin actual building construction. Observers say the weak office market is the major reason for that.

The Cedarbridge deal has drawn some criticism, especially relating to the 35-year tax break the company would get once the land is turned over by the city to the developer. And Zucker has said publicly that his proposal is not a criticism of Cedarbridge’s plan, but simply an alternative.

All sides agree that this city’s contract with Cedarbridge is binding. According to local officials, if the deal is breached by the city without cause, the city would be required to begin an RFP process to get the tract developed. Development officials from both sides could not be reached for comment.

Somerset Development’s plan, which was unveiled yesterday, would radiate outward from the ballpark. The retail component would be directly behind the stadium, and the other uses would flare out from there.

The plan itself was put together by the Maryland-based Ripken Management & Design, a firm founded by former Baltimore Orioles’ hall-of-fame third baseman Cal Ripken. His firm has already designed a similar project surrounding a minor league ballpark in Aberdeen, MD.

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