For close to two decades what had been the Harris & Mallow Clock Factory at the intersection of Route 9 and Georgia Tavern Rd. has sat empty while time and drivers on the major roadway passed it by.
On Thursday crews were on the site tearing the building down in a move that was hailed as a step in the right direction by the township's administration. "This is one of the administration's initiatives to clean up neighborhoods and clean up blighted areas," said Councilman Robert Nicastro. "We understand that it makes the community more attractive and marketable when there's less blight."
Nicastro said the council and the administration worked closely with the building's owners to finally bring down the building. He said the original plan had been for the owner to sell the building but eventually it was realized that "the building was an unsafe building and a blighted building."
Mayor Robert Walsh said there had been several conversations about what could be done as the building continued to be empty. "It was either take it down or we were going to have to step up code enforcement, bring in the DEP, the whole ball of wax," he said. "So he agreed to do it."
The property, which the councilman said was a little over three acres in size could make for an attractive piece of real estate for a variety of businesses as it sits right off Route 9 and just before the entrance to Route 195.
Calling the removal of the building a, "great day in Howell Township," Walsh said he believed a newer more modern building would be a "step in the right direction," from the abandoned structure that is being taken down piece by piece. He said even an empty lot would be better while they wait for something new to be built.
Walsh said that while the building was unoccupied for many years there was very little the township could do about the situation. "They were paying their taxes," he said. "When someone's paying their taxes you don't just have the right to walk in and tell somebody to take down a building."
The clock factory, Nicastro said is just one example of the township working to clean up different areas especially along the commercial corridors like Route 9. Other older, smaller buildings near KFC and Twin Pond Farms have also been demolished with the properties put up for sale. "We're happy that our property maintenance is now kicking in," he said.
By clearing up the corridors Nicastro said it benefits everyone in the town. "It becomes a joint initiative with the whole community where the whole community embraces it and makes Howell more economically viable and livable."
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sue Dominguez said her group is also excited to see the site redeveloped once the building is torn down and the property is cleared. "I know it has been an eye sore in Howell for many years for anyone traveling down Route 9 South," she said. "The Chamber is very happy to see the area cleared and hopefully a good business ratable will go in its place."