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Eatontown panel approves revised plan for Monmouth Mall redevelopment

Brookfield Properties has received approval for several changes in its planned redevelopment of the Monmouth Mall, Eatontown.

During a special meeting of the Eatontown Planning Board on Dec. 17, board members voted 6-1 to grant preliminary and final site plan approval for an amended site plan with the commercial and retail areas of the mall.

The approval will permit the applicant to construct a four-story medical office building, a three-story medical office building and several new restaurants at the mall, which is located at the intersection of Route 35, Route 36 and Wyckoff Road.

Board Chairman Mark Woloshin and board members Virginia East, William Diedrichsen, Barry Roth, Mark Regan and Meir Araman voted “yes” on the motion to approve the amended site plan.

Eatontown Borough Councilwoman Jasmine Story, who sits on the board, voted “no” on the motion.

In a statement to the board, David Ortner, representing Brookfield Properties, said that “everything (being proposed) is for the betterment of Monmouth Mall. All of the components (being requested) are necessary for this plan. There is no scenario in which a failed mall is advantageous to us.

“This new direction is rooted in a clear and strategic plan for the site. We are actively pursuing (other) entertainment and dining options, and we have the resources and expertise” to make the plan a success, Ortner said.

Attorney Patrick McNamara represented the applicant and presented testimony from engineer Christian Roche, landscape architect Tom Bauer and planner Christine Cofone.

During his testimony, Roche, of Langan Engineering, said the applicant has proposed an increase in the approve medical office space from 82,000 square feet to 115,000 square feet.

Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch, is the tenant for the four-story medical office building. The three-story medical office building will have medical practitioners and the like that will complement Monmouth Medical Center, according to the applicant’s representatives.

Roche said the mall’s retail space was proposed to be reduced from approximately 1.5 million square feet to approximately 1.4 million square feet. There will be 6,700 parking spaces, which he said exceeds the required 6,200 parking spaces.

The former Joe’s Crab Shack restaurant on the mall’s ring road will be demolished and replaced by two restaurants, according to the testimony.

Roche said the applicant is seeking approval from Monmouth County to construct a sidewalk along the mall’s frontage on Wyckoff Road. He said the developer’s goal is to make the entire mall property walkable.

He said outside agency approvals are being sought for sewer and water utilities, and soil erosion. The application is pending site plan approval from the county.

During his testimony, Bauer described the landscaping package he is proposing for the three new areas: a winter garden that will replace a current parking area; the two medical office buildings; and the two new restaurants in the area of the former Joe’s Crab Shack. He said a total of 243 trees would be added at those three locations.

Planning Board members asked Bauer to coordinate his landscaping plan with the borough’s Shade Tree Commission and he agreed to do so.

Cofone, the final witness presented by the applicant, said the amended plan is “substantially consistent with the borough’s zoning ordinance and includes uses that are permitted here. We are not creating any new variances.”

“The entirety of the site will be improved through the introduction of the landscaping plan and I believe the medical offices will be a good thing. Your ordinance wants multiple uses on a site because they work well together. The board and the public can be comfortable” with the proposed uses, Cofone said.

McNamara said the medical office buildings would not be tax exempt properties and would be ratables for the borough. He said the applicant is not asking to enter a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with Eatontown. The attorney said his client is continuing to look for entertainment and retail options that would be permitted at the property.

Residents asked questions about several aspects of the amended plan, but did not object to what was being proposed.

The residents’ concerns touched on where construction vehicles would park during construction, the type and size of trees to be included in the landscaping plan and pedestrian access to the mall from a neighborhood on Wyckoff Road.

In 2018, the Planning Board approved the construction of 700 rental apartments on the mall’s property. The Heights of Monmouth were approved to include 340 one-bedroom, 340 two-bedroom and 18 three-bedroom apartments. At that time, the applicant also received approval to remodel, renovate and repurpose the mall for commercial and retail use.

The apartments will help Eatontown meet its obligation to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing in the borough.

In comments to the board and the applicant, Borough Council President Al Baginsky said, “I can’t get excited about 700 apartments, (but) the medical buildings might be a good thing.”

In response to a question from Story about when the apartments would be constructed, McNamara said there is no timeframe for the construction of the apartment building.

“We hope to sit down with borough officials in January to begin to hammer out a developer’s agreement regarding what gets built when,” the attorney said.

Ortner said it is the applicant’s intention to begin development of everything that was presented on Dec. 17 “as soon as we can.” Regarding the apartments, he said the applicant would like to coordinate the construction of that building with the retail and medical office improvements, but said there is no phasing plan at this time.

Roth made a motion to grant preliminary and final site plan approval for the amended site plan and Regan seconded the motion.

The “yes” votes from Woloshin, East, Diedrichsen, Roth, Regan and Araman that carried the motion were cast before Story voted “no.”

Story said she questioned the applicant’s vision for the Monmouth Mall property and took issue with the unanswered question as to when the apartment building would be constructed.

“A developer of this caliber should not be given a pass,” the councilwoman said.

Story said Planning Board members often press smaller developers to offer more specific information about their plans than she believed the representatives of Monmouth Mall were asked to provide during their appearance.

The Monmouth Mall redevelopment is a joint venture partnership between Brookfield Properties and Kushner Companies.

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