Wal-Mart plan for Echelon scrapped The owner is expected to propose a mix of stores and apartments.

Posted: September 13, 2005

The proposed big-box store at Echelon Mall is out.

A town center with smaller stores and upscale apartments is in.

Plans for the redevelopment of the ailing Voorhees mall took a turn yesterday when township officials announced that the application to build a Wal-Mart there had been withdrawn.

The mall's owner, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, is instead following the lead of residents seeking a Main Street-style town center.

The new, mixed-use proposal, though not officially filed with the township, is expected to be introduced when the planning board meets at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the municipal building.

Part of the mall, including the former Sears portion, would be demolished for a wide boulevard lined by a supermarket and apartments above shops.

The rest of the mall - including two department stores and a food court - would remain. The plan also calls for underground parking, fountains, and the preservation of trees.

"We're certainly anxious to see what their thoughts are conceptually," said Mayor Michael Mignogna, a member of the planning board. "We want what's in the best interest of the township. . . .

"PREIT has obviously listened to concerns of residents and has an alternative concept."

Joe Coradino, retail president of the trust, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

In recent months, hundreds of residents attended rallies and signed a petition opposing the Wal-Mart proposal. Smart Action for Voorhees and Echelon (SAVE) and the Voorhees Environmental and Recreational Alliance (VERA) cited traffic and noise, harm to area businesses, and the loss of trees.

They presented a town-center concept at a July meeting on the township's proposed master plan. It called for a Main Street with a hotel, a new municipal building, shops, offices, and housing.

Yesterday, the Wal-Mart opponents praised the new vision for the mall.

Marylee Margolis, cochair of SAVE, said she had been given a preview during a meeting last week between residents and trust representatives.

"Personally, I'm thrilled - just with the fact that Wal-Mart is not coming," she said. "This plan shows more creativity and vision, and is much more community-friendly."

Lori Volpe, president of VERA, a nonprofit environmental group, said the mixed-use plan "is consistent with the principles of smart growth and can do a lot to revitalize the mall. It beats a big box and is much more in scale with the neighborhood. I hope it will help revitalize the entire area.

"I don't know how many people have been successful in chasing Wal-Mart away, but PREIT deserves some credit for changing their minds about what would work there and responding to public sentiment."

Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com. To comment, or to ask a question, go to http://go.philly.com/askcolimore.

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