What has been an eyesore for the township and a nuisance for both police and firefighters for the better part of a decade is about to become the site for a major home improvement shopping center. North Bergen officials announced Wednesday that the Lowe's Home Center Corporation had reached a lease agreement which will enable the national distributor to place its first store in northern New Jersey on the site of the vacant 140,000-square foot Evan-Picone property. According to North Bergen officials, Lowe's Real Estate Director Harold Nafash reached a deal with Larry Berger, the current owner of the property, on a long-term 30-year lease that will enable Lowe's to develop the site and turn it into a shopping center. The center will be open in time for the Christmas holiday shopping rush. "North Bergen is proud to welcome the first Lowe's store in northern New Jersey to our thriving community," Mayor Nicholas Sacco said. "This is a prestigious and major new ratable which will certainly stimulate further business investment in and around our redevelopment area." The 12-acre site is the most northern portion of land, between 69th and 80th Streets, that was designated as an area in need of redevelopment by Sacco and his Board of Commissioners last October. The township had been negotiating a formal redevelopment agreement with Forrest City Ratner-TREECO, a developer who was chosen after requests for proposals were returned last summer. The township has had a solid working relationship with Forrest City Ratner-TREECO, as evidenced by the vast and successful Columbia Park redevelopment project. The continued negotiations with Forrest City Ratner-TREECO will be affected by the approval of the Lowe's project. "The TREECO team has already demonstrated their commitment to North Bergen," said township administrator Joseph Auriemma. "The township remains very interested in their ideas for the rest of the redevelopment area." Sacco said that the township stands to gain at least $120,000 in additional real estate taxes even if the project is granted a partial tax abatement, which is expected. Most of the recent redevelopment projects in the township have received the tax abatement provision. The site is currently valued at $8 million and generates $280,000 annually in municipal taxes. However, the redevelopment could increase the property value of the site, which in turn could be a further tax windfall for the township. Lowe's projects a sales volume in excess of $80 million from its North Bergen site. "North Bergen will also gain an estimated $2.5 million a year in Urban Enterprise Zone fees and hundreds of new jobs for our residents," Sacco said. The Evan-Picone warehouse and distribution center has been vacant for nearly 10 years. It has been the home of vagrants and squatters in recent years. Just two months ago, four North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue firefighters were injured while battling a two-alarm fire. The fire was attributed to the homeless people who had gained illegal entrance to the building. After the fire, which was the second major blaze in a two-month span, the building was more properly secured and the squatters were kept away. Township officials have been hard at work to find a permanent solution to the problems the vacant building posed and believe the new shopping center will deliver.