By KAYLA J. MARSH
A new ordinance that would change current zoning at the Monmouth Mall to mixed-use has caused concerns and questions to be raised before the Borough Council from numerous members of the community.
A group of residents opposed to the proposed changes and the “overdevelopment” of the mall will hold an informational meeting for community members to discuss the ordinance and address concerns and questions regarding the impact on safety, schools, traffic, housing and other issues they feel would make the project “detrimental” to the area.
Eatontown Residents Against Mall Overdevelopment (ERAMO) will hold its informational meeting for all residents on April 21 at 7 p.m. at St. Dorothea’s Church at 240 Broad St. — a week before an expected vote on the ordinance will take place.
A public hearing is scheduled for April 27 at the Memorial School on Grant Avenue at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re not against the fact that the mall is being updated or upgraded, that is not our issue, but we are against the fact that there’s going to be a hotel built on it, hundreds of new apartments … we think it will have a terrible impact on our community,” said Sophia Domogala, spokesperson for the group in an April 13 interview.
Kushner Companies, sole owner of the Monmouth Mall, recently announced a $500 million redevelopment plan for the site that would transform the mall into a vast, mixed-use retail, dining and entertainment destination featuring state-of-the-art amenities such as multi-story residential structures, a hotel, an outdoor plaza and biker- and pedestrian-friendly greenspaces and streetscapes.
The ordinance up for vote would establish a new Mixed Use Regional Center Zone at the mall site, currently only zoned for retail use, and would provide for development incorporating commercial, residential and recreational uses.
According to the ordinance introduced, mixed-use requires a building of two or more stories to have a minimum of the ground floor consisting of exclusively nonresidential uses … and a minimum of one floor of residential uses over one or more floors of nonresidential uses.
Nonresidential uses include, but are not limited to, business or professional offices, indoor sports facilities, bowling alleys and health or children activity centers.
The proposed zone change would also allow Kushner Companies to build up to 800 residential units on the property, where 15 percent are required to be affordable housing.
“We’re a little town, we’re a borough, we’re nothing large and to expect 800 apartments to include 120 low-income units is devastating to the community,” Domogala said. “When we think about the whole borough and the community members and children and how it is going to affect each and every one of our homes, it is truly detrimental and is just overwhelming.
“It is going to be open 24/7, [and] it is going to be detrimental to our community [and] instead of improving it, we are actually going backwards … with the Monmouth Mall being improved.”
Domogala said the group feels the residents have been kept in the dark about the redevelopment plan and zoning changes proposed for the mall and said many are concerned about possible repercussions if Kushner Companies does not follow through on the whole redevelopment plan.
“Mayor [Dennis Connelly] said this was discussed since last August. Why didn’t the community know about it earlier?” she asked. “It feels like it is a done deal without the community having a say-so, and it feels the council is not even listening to the community and what the community has to say.
“If [Kushner] leaves it unfinished, we’re going to have a serious problem on our hand as taxpayers.”
Domogala said ERAMO wants the Borough Council to reject the ordinance and insist developers go through customary channels by presenting detailed site plans to the borough’s planning and zoning boards, where professional research into the impact would be considered before approval.
“There is so much to consider that we don’t think a lot of thought and effort went into this,” she said. “There are so many questions that are unanswered as far as the community is concerned and that is why we formulated this because it is overdevelopment.”
Domogala said the group believes the proposed changes would set a negative precedent for future development in the borough.
“[The project] is bringing the city into a small borough,” she said. “We’re not going to be the beautiful Eatontown area that perhaps we were.
“We need to grow absolutely and develop, but there are other areas where housing and another multi-story hotel can go, but not at the Monmouth Mall. It would be detrimental to the character of our beautiful borough.
“We want Eatontown to grow and be beautiful, but we can beautify the mall in other ways and make it a community-oriented area center.
“I don’t [think] any of us have objections to revamping the mall … but leave it commercial, not mixed. It is just not conducive to our town and is going to make our town a city rather than a borough.”