Residents raise issues with Jackson Trails development plan

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JACKSON – Residents have voiced concern about the proposed Jackson Trails development that is currently the subject of a public hearing before the Jackson Planning Board.

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 on South Hope Chapel Road (Route 547), Jackson.

The property is near Jackson’s border with Manchester Township.

The Jackson Trails application was before the board on Oct. 7. A vote to grant approval to the application resulted in a 4-4 tie. Approval was not granted and the application was carried to the board’s Dec. 2 meeting.

During the public hearing, residents spoke about the proposed development.

Resident Jeff Nemeth asked the board members not to vote on the application that evening.

“I would table this (tonight), or say ‘no’ until some more clarity comes forth. That means having representatives of Ocean County here, representatives of the police department here, under oath, so you guys can put your heads together and have a little bit more clarity,” Nemeth said.

He said the board is in “complete disarray” and said the board members’ questions show there is confusion among them.

Resident Michael Firestone said he has lived in Jackson for 30 years and has been a school bus driver for 10 years.

“You (the applicant) have a nice presentation from Whitesville Road to Route 571, but that is not where the problem is. The problem is from Whitesville Road to East Veterans Highway, that is two lanes. Right now we drive a school bus during those prime times (and) it is nonstop traffic,” Firestone said.

Firestone said police officers help buses exit from the Christa McAuliffe Middle School at 35 South Hope Chapel Road.

“From East Veterans Highway to Cooks Bridge Road is a nightmare, too. Now we have (a) strip mall going in there, with an entrance and exit on South Hope Chapel Road. All that traffic that is coming in and out here, you have it all nice coming in and out, but those people have to go somewhere and they are going to be on the outside roads,” Firestone said.

He said traffic testimony that was presented by a professional on behalf of the applicant does not show the actual impact Jackson Trails will have, not only on South Hope Chapel Road, but on the surrounding area and back roads.

“It is going to be a nightmare. Your study does not go any further than just (Jackson Trails). So what good is it then? You made it all nice for everybody to access (the development). We (residents) are not going to access it. We are the ones who are going to pay the price,” Firestone said.

Resident Kathy Smith lives on Whitesville Road. She said that for years, she has heard about plans to widen Whitesville Road, but those plans have never materialized.

Resident Chris Aldrich said he found a pine snake about 1,500 feet from where Jackson Trails is being proposed. He said he also found a frog that is an endangered species.

“I think the board needs to take into serious consideration that (an) environmental study that was done 14 years ago is not accurate. It is absolutely not accurate,” Aldrich said. “This is an environmentally sensitive area and this is not something that should be made on a study that was completed 14 years ago.”

The board’s vice chairman, Robert Hudak, suggested he would like to see a new environmental study completed.

“If there is nothing written on the expiration or how long an environmental study is good for, then that is up to us to make the decision on whether or not (the 14-year-old study) is valid or not,” Hudak said.

Attorney Salvatore Alfieri, who represents the applicant, said the board cannot enforce that and can only enforce what the ordinance says. He said the Pinelands Commission has jurisdiction over environmental issues.

During his comments, Aldrich also expressed concern that the development of housing at Jackson Trails would have an impact on the Jackson School District.

Another resident raised the issue of a buffer zone that is required in the vicinity of Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst and suggested that Jackson officials should investigate that matter with commanding officers at the military installation.

Township Administrator Terence Wall, who sits on the board, acknowledged the residents’ testimony and said the Jackson Trails application should be carried to a future meeting.

“There was a lot of great testimony, a lot of commentary that I would like the professionals to scrub and identify what areas and issues may be of import and consistent with the law. We are making a decision on a project that would be here for hundreds of years. I do not see any particular harm in carrying this to the next meeting instead of making a decision at 11 p.m.,” Wall said.

“There have been relevant questions about the traffic study and natural resources. I thought there were relevant questions regarding county operations, county input, county roads … things of that nature that speak to having additional dialogue.

“Whether the applicant is agreeing to an adjournment or not, they have indicated they won’t, which is forcing a vote at 11 p.m. Also having the lack of ability to review the relevant documents to verify what was stated, to verify some of the testimony, in regard to the county information and some of the federal information,” Wall said.

A vote on a motion to approve Jackson Trails ended in a tie, meaning approval was not granted, and the application was carried to Dec. 2.