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Housing plan stirs residents in Manalapan

By Mark Rosman
Staff Writer

MANALAPAN – An ordinance that would permit residential and commercial uses on a 130-acre property at the corner of Route 33 and Millhurst Road has been introduced by the Manalapan Township Committee.

If the committee eventually adopts the ordinance, residential and commercial development will be permitted on a parcel known as the Village Commercial (VC) zone where only commercial development is permitted now.

The committee introduced the ordinance by a 4-0 vote at its Feb. 22 meeting. Deputy Mayor Jack McNaboe, Committeewoman Mary Ann Musich, Committeeman David Kane and Committeeman Kevin Uniglicht voted to introduce the ordinance.

Mayor Susan Cohen stepped down from the dais on this matter and will not participate in the ordinance’s consideration. Cohen said she stepped down because she works for an individual who owns land in Manalapan that could be used for affordable housing.

The ordinance before the committee contains provisions for affordable housing at Route 33 and Millhurst Road.

A public hearing on the ordinance has been scheduled for March 8. Committee members may vote on the ordinance following the public hearing.

Township Attorney Roger McLaughlin has previously said that in conjunction with the possible adoption of the mixed use overlay zone ordinance, developer Vito Cardinale is expected to 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 along the property’s Route 33 and Millhurst Road frontage.

During the Feb. 22 meeting, McLaughlin described the special needs housing as housing that would be designed for individuals who have developmental disabilities, Down syndrome, physical limitations or who are on the autism spectrum. He said the units would allow for independent living with some supervision.

McLaughlin said residents of the special needs housing could find job opportunities at some of the businesses that may be established at the location.

More specifically, the ordinance states that the maximum number of homes permitted in the age-restricted community would be 280 homes and that the special needs multifamily units (rentals) will be affordable to low and moderate income households.

During a public comment session held prior to the introduction of the ordinance, residents Brad Berger, Ray Kalainikas, Deborah Smarth, Ray Springberg, Alora Meisel, former mayor George Spodak, Glen Mendez, who is one of Manalapan’s commissioners on the Western Monmouth Utilities Authority (WMUA), and Steven Kastell addressed municipal officials.

Berger addressed what he said would be significant traffic issues resulting from the construction of homes and commercial space at Route 33 and Millhurst Road, both during construction and after a project is completed.

“We don’t owe the owner of the property anything,” Berger said, asking the committee members not to introduce the ordinance.

Township Engineer Greg Valesi said the existing zoning permits the development of up to 500,000 square feet of commercial space without any residential units. He said the proposed commercial (an estimated 140,000 to 180,000 square feet) and residential uses could produce 40 percent less traffic than the current zoning of all commercial development.

Kalainikas asked committee members not to introduce the ordinance and said, “if you move ahead with this, you will not be happy with the outcome of the (2017 municipal) election.”

Smarth asked, “Why are we making this easier for the developer?” which was a reference to the fact that while the commercial zoning has been in place at the site for about 15 years, nothing more than a solar energy field has been constructed at Route 33 and Millhurst Road.

“Did anyone do a cost-benefit analysis to find out what is going to come back to the taxpayers?” asked Smarth, who in the past has cited studies which indicate that some development can add more costs to a town than benefits it produces.

Springberg called the proposed ordinance “spot zoning that is giving a developer a choice to do what he wants.”

Meisel asked what the impact of a project at Route 33 and Millhurst Road would be on traffic at the nearby intersection of Millhurst Road and Main Street in the Tennent section of Manalapan.

Meisel also asked what the impact of a project would be on Manalapan’s sewer system, and she questioned whether a developer could switch age-restricted housing to a plan for housing for people of all ages.

Spodak supported the provision of housing for people over 55 and for people with special needs, but he suggested that the changes should be accomplished through a revision of the township’s master plan and not “piece by piece” on Route 33.

Spodak said people in the Route 33 and Millhurst Road area of Manalapan want a food store, but he said they do not want all of the other commercial uses the proposed ordinance would permit.

Mendez, the WMUA commissioner, said there would be almost no impact on the sewer system as a result of development at this location.

Mendez supported what he said would be $7 million worth of road improvements at the location that would be paid for by a developer, and he supported the provision of commercial services for the 5,000 residents who he said live within 1 mile of Route 33 and Millhurst Road.

Kastell asked for a clarification of how much space would be permitted for commercial uses and an independent traffic study prior to any development.

Residents will have another opportunity to speak about the ordinance during the March 8 public hearing.

After the residents spoke, committee members offered their thoughts on the matter.

Kane said, “i understand some people want nothing (built) on that property. I think I was elected to argue for smart development. Age-restricted housing will have one or two people in a home and will not produce an insane amount of traffic.

“The special needs housing will not produce a lot of people driving. Many people want limited commercial development … We are also obviously going to get road improvements. There is some trade-off to get what we want,” he said.

Musich said she agreed with the points Kane made in his comments.

Uniglicht said, “I am looking at a project as something that will benefit this area of Manalapan and the town as a whole. It is a disaster right now. Where else are you going to get the money to make these (road) improvements? I think this is the least impactful (proposal) we are going to get.”

In response to comments about the possible political fallout from an eventual decision on the ordinance, McNaboe said he is not afraid of political threats.

“I will always do what is right for Manalapan,” he said. “We need some commercial development there; not 500,000 square feet, that message was received. This is not spot zoning; everyone wants to say that. I understand we are never going to make everyone happy.”

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.

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