Jackson Trails falls short of approval on initial vote; meeting to resume in December

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JACKSON – When they meet on Dec. 2, the members of the Planning Board may vote to approve an applicant’s plan to build 459 residential units and a house of worship on South Hope Chapel Road, Jackson.

The property where the Jackson Trails development is proposed is near Jackson’s border with Manchester Township.

Jackson Trails, LLC, has applied for major subdivision and major site plan approval to construct 367 single-family market rate homes, 92 affordable housing units in multiple buildings and a house of worship on a 130-acre tract.

Attorney Salvatore Alfieri and traffic engineer John Rea represented the applicant at the board’s Oct. 7 meeting, which was the most recent hearing on the application.

Following a presentation by representatives of the applicant and public comment, a motion was made to grant Jackson Trails preliminary site plan approval.

Voting “yes” on the motion were board Chairman Joseph Riccardi, Michele Campbell, Township Councilman Ken Bressi and Leonard Haring Jr.

Voting “no” on the motion were Timothy Dolan, Martin Flemming, Township Administrator Terence Wall and Vice Chairman Robert Hudak.

The 4-4 vote meant the motion did not carry and preliminary approval was not granted.

The board’s attorney, Greg McGuckin, said the 4-4 vote did not necessarily end the matter. He said a board member could make a motion to deny the application or make a motion to carry the matter to another meeting.

Wall made a motion to carry the application in the spirit of what he called fairness to the applicant and because residents who spoke that evening made what he said were valid points and presented new information.

The vote to carry the application was 8-0 in favor and the Jackson Trails application was carried to the board’s Dec. 2 meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, the applicant’s representatives asked board member Jeffrey Riker, who also serves on the Jackson Environmental Commission, to recuse himself from the Jackson Trails application.

Earlier in the day, Riker sent the board members an email and McGuckin told them they should not consider the contents of that message.

“If the board members believe they were not prejudiced by receiving Mr. Riker’s email, then we have no objection moving forward this evening. We do have a concern as to whether Mr. Riker is objective based on the comments that were made in the email,” Alfieri said, adding his client was entitled to a fair hearing. “We ask that Mr. Riker voluntarily recuse himself.”

McGuckin said Riker indicated he had not intended to attend the meeting and attempted to notify the chairman of the concerns of the environmental commission.

At that point, Riker recused himself and left the dais.

Rea began his testimony regarding traffic by stating the applicant had several meetings with the Ocean County Planning Board’s engineering staff, with respect to the widening and improvements that have been required along South Hope Chapel Road.

Rea said a traffic impact analysis was conducted which included traffic counts at the two signalized intersections at each side of the property where Jackson Trails is proposed.

“To the north we have the intersection of South Hope Chapel and Whitesville roads. They are county roads, Route 547 and Route 527, respectively. That is the first major signalized intersection to the north of (Jackson Trails).

“To the the south, we did traffic counts and an analysis of the intersection of South Hope Chapel Road and Ridgeway Road (Route 571). That intersection is actually in Manchester Township, but again, we have to get Ocean County Planning Board approval so the county is interested in what kind of an impact we would have at that intersection,” Rea said.

He said traffic counts were also conducted at the intersection of Ridgeway Boulevard (different from Ridgeway Road) and South Hope Chapel Road.

The traffic volumes were projected to a design year 2028 in accordance with Ocean County protocol, according to Rea. The traffic study was originally conducted in June 2018.

The traffic engineers projected traffic volumes for the two signalized intersections that were discussed and for the two proposed driveways to South Hope Chapel Road. Rea said they looked at other projects in the area that have been approved and added their traffic projections into the 2028 projection.

“We analyzed five intersections, the three off-site intersections and the two (Jackson Trails) driveways,” he said.

He said the intersection of Route 571 and South Hope Chapel Road would operate a C level of service (on a scale of A to F) during the morning peak hour and at a D level of service during the afternoon peak hour, with vehicles from the proposed Jackson Trails development.

Rea said the intersection of Ridgeway Boulevard and South Hope Chapel Road, which does not have a traffic signal, would operate at a B level of service during both peak hours.

He said the two Jackson Trails driveways to South Hope Chapel Road would operate at a C level of service during the morning peak hour and at a D level of service during the afternoon peak hour, “primarily because of the delay that will be experienced by people making left turns out of those two driveways. … Still an acceptable situation as far traffic engineering is concerned.”

“The intersection of Whitesville and South Hope Chapel roads is a little bit of a different situation,” Rea testified, explaining that the intersection operates at an F level of service on some of the approaches to that intersection.

“We have been in touch with the Ocean County Engineering Department. They are currently in the process of designing improvements for that intersection and they provided me with a conceptual improvement plan that I used and calculated into the level of service for the design here.

“Unfortunately, the intersection improvement plan the county has (for Whitesville and South Hope Chapel roads) will not get all of the movements at that intersection to operate at an E level of service or better … there are some F level of service conditions,” Rea said.

Wall said he was surprised at where the county is with regard to conditional approvals for development.

“The Planning Board is expected to vote on an application not knowing what the future holds regarding the application,” Wall said. “With an organization as large and successful as the county not having their piece spoken for with clarity … From a procedural standpoint, is it typical that the county is not complete in their efforts? Or is it not unreasonable to ask them to finish their job before we are asked to do ours?”

Alfieri said the county has exclusive jurisdiction over the intersections being discussed and said the board cannot refrain from acting on an application while waiting for an outside agency’s approval.