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Freehold Township officials propose permitting new uses at mall

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – A proposed amendment to the current uses at the Freehold Raceway Mall is being considered by Freehold Township municipal officials.

Members of the Township Committee have scheduled a July 13 public hearing on an ordinance that updates the zoning and land use requirements in Freehold Township’s regional mall zones (RMZ).

Business Administrator Peter Valesi explained that the proposed changes are intended to add uses that are commonly found in shopping malls and to take a more modern approach with site pads and signs.

Freehold Raceway Mall, which is bordered by Route 9, Business Route 33 and Route 537, is in a regional mall zone.

The members of the governing body may adopt the ordinance that evening following the public hearing.

After Township Committee members introduced the rezoning ordinance on May 25, the ordinance was sent to the Planning Board on June 17 for a review and recommendations regarding its consistency with Freehold Township’s master plan.

The ordinance’s public hearing before the Township Committee was scheduled to be held on June 22 following the receipt of a report from the Planning Board.

However, the Planning Board did not adopt a report on June 17 and instead requested a 60-day extension to refer the issue to its master plan subcommittee.

On June 22, Township Committee members denied the board’s request for an extension of time and requested reconsideration from the board. The committee rescheduled the public hearing on the ordinance to July 13.

If the proposed ordinance is adopted, the legislation will redefine the “regional mall” as a “regional mall shopping center” and amend the uses of the RMZ-1 and RMZ-2 zones. Some of the added uses in those zones were previously in the RMZ-2A zone, which will be removed by the ordinance.

In the permitted uses of the RMZ-1 zone, theaters and assembly halls will be replaced with indoor commercial recreation.

The ordinance also specifies full-service restaurants, counter-service restaurants and fast food restaurants without drive-up facilities as the permitted types of restaurants.

Extension schools, and commercial schools and professional administrative offices will be removed from the permitted uses.

The ordinance changes the use of “office buildings” to “offices” for professional, executive or administrative purposes and adds that this will include co-working spaces in the RMZ-1 zone.

Senior citizen, cultural, civic and other similar facilities of general public interest will become a new use under the ordinance.

Among the new uses in the RMZ-1 zone are instructional schools and studios/commercial schools; brewpubs and other brewery, winery and craft distillery facilities subject to licensing requirements of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control; warehouse clubs; and child care centers licensed by the New Jersey Department of Human Services.

Outside of the loop road of Winner’s Circle, the storage of new automobiles by automobile dealerships that are located in Freehold Township will be permitted, according to the ordinance.

And, higher educational institutions, including colleges, universities, medical education associated with a hospital or a health care system, extension schools, technical schools and business schools will be permitted in the RMZ-1 zone, according to the ordinance.

Also permitted will be medical and health care facilities providing outpatient care, such as offices for the examination and treatment of patients by physicians, dentists, psychologists or other medical personnel; ambulatory surgery centers; and urgent care centers.

New accessory permitted uses in the RMZ-1 zone, according to the ordinance, will be electric vehicle charging stations, roof-mounted or building-mounted solar energy systems/fuel cells, outdoor seating areas associated with a permitted restaurant use (subject to site plan review), and gasoline or alternative motor vehicle fueling stations associated with a warehouse club, in locations outside of Winner’s Circle.

Conditional use permits may be issued in the RMZ-1 zone to self-service storage facilities, restaurants with drive-up facilities and wireless telecommunications towers and antennas, provided that certain standards are met.

Day care centers were previously a use subject to a conditional use permit; the ordinance will remove them from this section.

In the RMZ-2 zone, warehouse clubs will become a permitted use. The minimum square footage of gross floor area at retail stores, retail stack storage, warehouse clubs and restaurants will be decreased from 10,000 square feet to 2,500 square feet.

Furthermore, multi-tenant buildings must now have an average gross floor area of 20,000 square feet, according to the ordinance.

Medical office buildings will also become a permitted use in the RMZ-2 zone, according to the ordinance. Also specified as a permitted use are facilities of general public interest similar to municipal/governmental, senior citizen, cultural and civic facilities.

Further amendments that will be made by the ordinance include replacing regional mall developments with regional mall shopping centers within the outer loop road in the RMZ-1 zone and allowing a maximum of three pad sites in the RMZ-1 zone.

The owner of the regional mall shopping center in the RMZ-1 zone will be permitted to construct one freestanding illuminated sign along each public road the regional mall shopping center fronts directly, or on a contiguous parcel with frontage on a public road if a sign structure easement has been obtained, according to the ordinance.

“Malls and their place in communities has obviously been changing and this change was accelerated by the pandemic,” Mayor Thomas Cook said. “That being the case, Freehold Township wants the Freehold Raceway Mall to continue to succeed and this ordinance provides them the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of their customers.”

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