MANALAPAN – The members of the Township Committee have unanimously adopted an ordinance that approves a redevelopment plan for what is being called the Gaitway Redevelopment Area on Route 33 in Manalapan.
The ordinance was adopted during a meeting on Dec. 22.
The committee’s adoption of the ordinance concluded a year’s worth of work on the issue and paves the way for the development and/or redevelopment of land on Route 33 eastbound between Woodward Road and the Gaitway Farm property.
A public hearing was conducted prior to the committee’s vote to adopt the ordinance.
Prior to the public hearing, Township Attorney Roger McLaughlin said the area of Route 33 that is identified in the redevelopment plan “has been the subject of study and discussion over the past year. This (redevelopment plan) is an overlay of the existing special economic development zone and a commercial zone.”
“It is important to note the township will not be involved in acquiring any property in the redevelopment area or acquiring property for a developer,” McLaughlin said.
Two significant parcels in the Route 33 study area were Gaitway Farm and a now abandoned adult residential facility known as Manalapan Manor and/or Marianne Manor.
When the public hearing on the ordinance was opened, several representatives of the horse racing industry in New Jersey implored the Township Committee members to table the ordinance for additional study.
The speakers said Gaitway Farm is an important facility in New Jersey’s billion dollar horse racing industry and they said the industry has made a comeback in recent years.
The speakers said it is important for Gaitway Farm to continue to operate, as the facility provides about 1,000 jobs. Those who spoke expressed concern that the governing body’s adoption of the redevelopment plan would signal the end of the farm’s operation.
Jane Meggitt of Cream Ridge asked the Township Committee members to “do the right thing and postpone this decision (on the ordinance). What you are planning to vote on is not an accurate representation of Gaitway Farm.”
Following the remarks from members of the public, McLaughlin reiterated a comment he made prior to the public hearing, which was that the redevelopment plan being adopted is a non-condemnation plan.
He said the non-condemnation designation means Manalapan officials will not take private property to promote the goals of redevelopment.
“If Gaitway Farm is ever to be closed in whole or in part, it (will be) because the owners decide to do that. It will be up to Gaitway Farm to decide if they wish to offer the property for sale” to any developer, McLaughlin said.
No representative of Gaitway Farm spoke during the Dec. 22 Township Committee meeting and no representative of Gaitway Farm spoke during the Planning Board meetings at which the Gaitway Redevelopment Area was discussed this year.
Before the committee members voted to adopt the ordinance, Mayor Jack McNaboe addressed the issue of preserving Gaitway Farm, which some members of the public had raised moments earlier.
McNaboe said representatives of the township have visited Gaitway Farm “and the owners have no interest to go into a farmland preservation program at this time.”
A unanimous vote by the Township Committee members adopted the ordinance which approved the redevelopment plan for the Gaitway Redvelopment Area on Route 33 in Manalapan.
To recap what occurred this year regarding the issue, in January, the Township Committee authorized the Planning Board to determine if certain properties on Route 33 between Woodward Road and Gaitway Farm qualify as an area in need of redevelopment, according to the ordinance.
Professional planner Jennifer Beahm conducted an investigation of 23 properties along Route 33 to determine the properties’ current uses and how those parcels could be developed in the future.
In August, Planning Board members heard from Beahm, who reported that the area she studied contains about 225 acres fronting on Route 33 and Woodward Road.
Ron Cucchiaro, the board’s attorney, explained that in the redevelopment process being contemplated by municipal officials, “no one can be kicked off their property” and “no one can be told to cease what they are doing.”
Beahm discussed the size of each parcel she examined and described its access from Route 33, or lack thereof. Several parcels she examined are landlocked.
“Most of the properties (that were examined) qualify under multiple criteria” to be designated as an area in need of redevelopment, including Gaitway Farm and the Manalapan Manor, she said.
A bowling alley that is next to Gaitway Farm was not included in the study area.
Beahm reported that the owner of the Manalapan Manor no longer has a valid license from the state to operate the facility.
Regarding the study, Beahm said, “The goal is to come up with a development plan that would take advantage of these properties and provide a viable opportunity for development. This is a non-condemnation process and the sale of any property would have to be at will.”
Beahm’s conclusion was that the area under study met the criteria to be designated as an area in need of redevelopment.
The Planning Board members concurred with her finding and recommended that the Township Committee designate the targeted properties as a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment.
In September, the Township Committee members passed a resolution which determined that the properties identified by Beahm should be designated an area in need of redevelopment without the use of condemnation.
On Nov. 10, the Township Committee referred the redevelopment plan to the Planning Board for another review and introduced the ordinance that was eventually adopted on Dec. 22.
The committee members determined “it is in the best interests of the township that the redevelopment area should be developed in compliance with the redevelopment plan,” according to the ordinance.
The Township Committee’s proposed ordinance came before the Planning Board for review on Dec. 9.
On that night, Beahm explained that the redevelopment plan has created permitted light industrial uses, warehouse distribution uses (not Amazon “fulfillment centers”) and recreational uses in the redevelopment area.
She said one concept plan Manalapan officials have received from a potential redeveloper contemplates an ice skating center in the redevelopment area. Indoor recreation uses other than ice skating and ice hockey are possible in the redevelopment plan, she said.
Beahm said all of the permitted uses would be required to be set back 500 feet from Route 33, with no access to any of the targeted properties permitted from Woodward Road. She said 97 acres in the redevelopment area would be preserved as open space.
“The plan furthers the economic development of the township and it offers employment opportunities. In my opinion, it is consistent with the master plan,” she said.
Following Beahm’s presentation, a motion was passed which stated that the Planning Board members found the ordinance proposed by the Township Committee to be substantially consistent with Manalapan’s master plan, which is the document that guides the growth of the municipality.
The Township Committee will act as the redevelopment agency for the Gaitway Redevelopment Area.
Any proposals that are submitted for development and/or redevelopment in the Gaitway Redevelopment Area will be subject to review by the Planning Board. Members of the public will be able to comment on the proposals during public hearings conducted by the board.
The website njplanning.org cites the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law which says, “Redevelopment” means: “…clearance, re‐planning, development and redevelopment; the conservation and rehabilitation of any structure or improvement, the construction and provision for construction of residential, commercial, industrial, public or other structures and the grant or dedication of spaces as may be appropriate or necessary in the interest of the general welfare for streets, parks, playgrounds, or other public purposes, including recreational and other facilities … in accordance with the development plan.”