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Township Committee revises zoning at Freehold Raceway Mall site

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Municipal officials in Freehold Township have voted to increase the types of uses that will be permitted at the Freehold Raceway Mall.

During a meeting on July 13, the Township Committee adopted 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 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 legislation redefines the “regional mall” as a “regional mall shopping center” and amends 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 and have been removed by the ordinance.

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

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

Extension schools, and commercial schools and professional administrative offices have been 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 have 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; 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 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, 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 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.

Mayor Thomas Cook, Committeewoman Maureen Fasano, Committeeman Lester Preston and Committeeman Alan Walker voted “yes” on a motion to implement the amendment.

“Malls and their place in communities has obviously been changing and this change was accelerated by the (coronavirus) pandemic,” 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.”

Deputy Mayor Anthony Ammiano voted “no” on the motion and said, “The main reason is I feel the Freehold Raceway Mall should have a much broader plan for their long-term strategy for this property.

“I felt the ordinance amendment addressed some additional uses and allowed for some small expansions of possible pad sites, but fell short of being a permanent and long-term solution for the property.

“I fully recognize the importance of the mall to Freehold Township, but I thought this was too small a first step in addressing the property,” Ammiano said.

He continued by saying, “I also took exception to the fact that the Master Plan Committee and the Planning Board were not allowed sufficient time to review this ordinance amendment for consistency with the master plan and provide recommendations to the Township Committee for its consideration, as has been the process since the Freehold Raceway Mall’s inception.

“As I have said at prior meetings, the township is and has been well served by a Planning Board that balances the interest of the residents of Freehold Township and the applicants that appear before it, within the statutory requirements of the Municipal Land Use Law of New Jersey,” Ammiano said.

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