Manalapan OKs residential uses in Village Center zone

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By Mark Rosman
Staff Writer

MANALAPAN – Following nearly three hours of comments from residents concerned about development at a location that has become one of the most congested spots in Manalapan, the Township Committee agreed to permit residential uses on a 130-acre property at the corner of Route 33 and Millhurst Road.

On March 8, committee members voted 4-0 to adopt an ordinance that creates an overlay zone in Manalapan’s Village Commercial (VC) zone at the corner of a state highway (Route 33) and a Monmouth County thoroughfare (Millhurst Road).

The vote means a developer now has the option to propose residential units on a parcel that had only been zoned for 500,000 square feet of commercial space.

A developer may now select one of two paths to follow: a project of 500,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, or a project that will include age-restricted housing, 140,000 to 180,000 square feet of commercial space and affordable housing units for individuals of all ages who have special needs.

Within the past year, some developers have told municipal officials that a project consisting of only 500,000 square feet of commercial space is not viable with current market conditions and is not likely to be built.

The ordinance creating the overlay zone was adopted by Deputy Mayor Jack McNaboe, Committeewoman Mary Ann Musich, Committeeman David Kane and Committeeman Kevin Uniglicht.

Mayor Susan Cohen stepped down from the dais on this matter. Cohen has said she cannot participate in matters involving affordable housing because her employer owns land in Manalapan that could be used for affordable housing.

In addition to age-restricted housing and special needs housing, other permitted uses at the property would be a hotel with a minimum of 100 rooms, medical research facilities, urgent care facilities, outpatient surgery centers, fitness/health clubs, retail stores, personal services, supermarkets, indoor athletic, exercise or recreation facilities, pharmacies, funeral homes, banks, restaurants, professional, business and medical offices, gas stations with convenience stores, municipal facilities, a post office, a library, child care centers and adult daycare facilities, according to the ordinance.

George Spodak, a former mayor of Manalapan, drew laughter from the residents who packed the municipal meeting room when, two hours into the public hearing, he mentioned one use that will be permitted at the property and suggested that “people living in the adult community don’t need to look over their fence and see a funeral home.”

Spodak asked the committee to only permit commercial development on the site’s Route 33 frontage.

Many residents spoke about what they described as an untenable traffic situation on Millhurst Road between Route 33 and Woodward Road/Main Street and asked for a traffic study to be conducted by the township prior to any action on the overlay ordinance.

The committee members did not act on that request. Officials said if a project for an adult community, special needs housing and commercial space advances, the developer will be expected to make millions of dollars worth of road improvements at and near the intersection of Route 33 and Millhurst Road if the project receives Planning Board approval.

Any improvements that are proposed at Route 33 and Millhurst Road will be subject to approval by Monmouth County and the state Department of Transportation.

Officials said Monmouth County is expected to improve the intersection of Tennent Road and Route 522, which is another traffic choke point in this area of Manalapan.

Attorney Bernard Reilly appeared on behalf of the citizens group Manalapan Strong and asked the members of the governing body to table action on the ordinance on March 8 to give him more time to engage the services of a professional planner.

Reilly asked for talks with municipal officials “to organize our position, to get some planning help to mitigate concerns we have; to come to the best plan for the town and its citizens.”

Several residents spoke in favor of age-restricted homes which will not add children to local schools, housing for individuals who have special needs, and commercial space in this area of Manalapan.

Diane Baum, who has lived in the township for almost 30 years, said, “I am in favor of the zoning change and looking forward to shopping” in stores at Route 33 and Millhurst Road.

“People who move here ask me where they can shop. They would be fortunate to have shopping” at Route 33 and Millhurst Road, she said. “The traffic is horrendous. I believe you are going to make it better.”

Baum suggested that some people may have the wrong impression of housing for people with special needs because there is an existing facility on Route 33 in Manalapan which is home to individuals who have been discharged from state mental health facilities.

Residents of that facility, the Marianne Manor, have been involved in fatal vehicle-pedestrian accidents on Route 33 near Woodward Road and have been reported to have caused other concerns in the area.

Baum thanked Township Attorney Roger McLaughlin for explaining that the special needs housing that is envisioned at Route 33 and Millhurst Road will be designed for individuals who have developmental disabilities, Down syndrome, physical limitations or who are on the autism spectrum.

McLaughlin said residents of that housing may find job opportunities they can walk to at the businesses that could be established in the commercial area at the site.

He said housing for individuals with special needs has been included in the overlay zone because Manalapan, like other towns, faces a directive from New Jersey’s courts to permit the construction of affordable housing and because there is a need for such housing in the community.

Resident Brad Berger advocated for a traffic study to be conducted before a development application reaches the Planning Board, “to show the people who live in Meadow Creek and in Battleground how a two-lane (Millhurst) road will be widened.”

McLaughlin has previously said there is no pending application for the property, but he has said that developer Vito Cardinale may propose the construction of market rate age-restricted (55 and over) single-family homes; 50 to 70 units of affordable housing for individuals with special needs; and commercial development on a maximum of 21 acres along the property’s Route 33 and Millhurst Road frontage.

The maximum number of age-restricted homes permitted is 280 homes.

Several residents acknowledged the development proposal McLaughlin described is an improvement over a previous plan Cardinale unveiled for the site which proposed hundreds of apartments, including some apartments over businesses, a hotel and conference center, and multiple other uses.

Township Engineer James Winckowski said that if built, an adult community, special needs housing and less commercial space would produce significantly fewer vehicles than the number of vehicles that would be generated by 500,000 square feet of commercial development.

Resident Barry Fisher said, “From what I can see, this (adult community, special needs housing, less commercial space) is one of the best projects I can imagine. I have faith in this committee that they will do the right thing.”

The property at Route 33 and Millhurst Road is adjacent to the Four Seasons adult community.

Jordan Maskowitz, a former committeeman, said, “It is important to have businesses on the south side of town. We are trending to make Manalapan business-friendly and that trend has to continue. I certainly support the ordinance.”

After the public hearing was closed, the members of the committee discussed the overlay ordinance.

Musich said she was in favor of the ordinance and additional age-restricted homes. She said the committee members are trying to do what is best for the township.

Kane said some residents who have commented on the ordinance and what may be permitted at Route 33 and Millhurst Road are “applying their personal standards to development, but you have to apply reasonable standards. We took an approach of trying to make a reasonable and responsible development.”

Uniglicht said he understands there are people who do not want any more development in the community, but he said what is now being discussed for the property “is the least impactful project we have seen and I know we are going to get it right.”

In response to residents who have asked why Manalapan does not buy the 130-acre parcel at Route 33 and Millhurst Road from the owner and preserve it as open space, McNaboe said the cost of doing so would be prohibitive.

McNaboe suggested that permitting a variety of businesses at the location will give residents an opportunity to have their needs met where they live, rather than having to patronize businesses in other communities that welcome Manalapan’s consumer dollars.

A motion was made to adopt the ordinance and the overlay zone was approved in a 4-0 vote. The next step will be for the property owner or a contract purchaser to present a development application to the Planning Board.

Discussions and various proposals for the land at Route 33 and Millhurst Road have been held or considered since about 2000. The only development at the site to this point has been the construction of a ground-mounted solar energy field.

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