Freehold Township Planning Board approves concept plan for Bellemead tract

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FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — The Freehold Township Planning Board has approved a General Development Plan (GDP) for the 80-acre property at Trotters Way that lies between Route 537 and Route 9 and is known as the Bellemead tract.

Representatives of M&M Main Street, LLC, appeared before the board on April 21 to present what was described as a concept plan or a master plan for the property.

After receiving approval for the GDP, the applicant may return at a later date with more specific plans to construct the elements of a mixed use center consisting of 63,828 square feet of commercial and retail space; 660 residential units (90 single-family homes, 256 townhomes, 274 apartments and 40 mixed use apartments; including 100 affordable housing units); and a public extension of Trotters Way from Route 537 to Route 9 south.

M&M Main Street was represented by attorney Salvatore Alfieri, Ronald Aulenbach of M&M Realty Partners and Edgewood Properties, traffic engineer Matthew Seckler, planner Christine Cofone and engineer Jeffrey Martell.

Prior to the beginning of testimony, the board’s attorney, Roger McLaughlin, provided a brief history of the attempts that have been made over the years to develop the Bellemead tract.

Most recently, the property was the subject of a court approved affordable housing settlement between Freehold Township and M&M Realty Partners, he said. The parcel is included in the township’s Fair Share Plan Element.

McLaughlin said the township’s professionals and the board’s professionals have reviewed the proposed GDP, which he said is not a fully engineered or fully designed plan. In general terms, the GDP shows the types and locations of proposed uses on the site, and the phases in which the development would be constructed.

The board’s eventual approval of the applicant’s GDP was for a 20-year development time frame, with each phase of development and each subdivision of the property subject to review and a public hearing before the board.

According to Township Engineer Timothy White, who represents the Planning Board, one of the key elements of the GDP is the proposed Trotters Way extension, which would be constructed in the first phase of development.

The Trotters Way extension would run from Route 537 through the Bellemead property and intersect Route 9 south at a point that is several hundred feet north of an existing traffic signal in front of the Freehold Mall shopping center (the location of a new Aldi supermarket; not to be confused with the Freehold Raceway Mall).

The existing traffic signal and jughandle in front of the Freehold Mall would be eliminated and a new jughandle would be constructed at the new intersection on the state highway, White said.

The Bellemead property is also bordered by the Route 33 bypass, but no access to the proposed development is planned from that highway, according to the applicant.

The Trotters Way extension would have a roundabout constructed at its midway point as a traffic calming measure and to provide access to different portions of the developed site, according to the testimony provided.

During his testimony, Aulenbach provided an overview of the planned residential units, which he said would include for sale townhomes, rental townhomes and residences above retail spaces. He said each residential component would be able to function on its own as part of the overall project.

Aulenbach said some of the proposed commercial space would be constructed on speculation and some of the commercial space would depend on tenants to be determined.

While the applicant requested and received a 20-year development time frame to complete the project, Aulenbach said the applicant’s goal is to complete the work in less than 20 years.

During his testimony, Seckler provided an overview of the planned road improvements on and near the Bellemead tract. He said any work that is undertaken on Route 537 will be subject to Monmouth County approval and any work that is undertaken on Route 9 will be subject to New Jersey Department of Transportation approval.

Seckler said the purpose of building the Trotters Way extension is to relieve congestion at the nearby interchange of Route 9 and Barkalow Avenue.

The existing portion of Trotters Way at Route 537 is an entrance to and exit from the Freehold Raceway Mall near the AMC movie theaters.

Board member Patrick Coburn expressed concern that some drivers who use the Trotters Way extension would, after passing through the roundabout at the midway point on their way to Route 9 south, use the road as a speedway.

Seckler said consideration should be given to the concern Coburn raised.

During her testimony, Cofone reviewed potential uses on the Bellemead property, which is in a Planned Unit Development 1 zone and includes affordable housing.

“A GDP is an appropriate way to develop this property. My office worked with your professionals on the zoning ordinance,” Cofone told board members.

Cofone testified that the commercial and retail space on the property could include uses such as restaurants, pharmacies, garden centers, supermarkets, specialty food stores, office buildings, medical offices, banks and childcare facilities.

In summation, Alfieri reiterated that if the board approved the GDP, the project would be subject to a developer’s agreement between M&M Main Street and Freehold Township, and that each element of the project would require an application to the Planning Board and a public hearing.

Following Alfieri’s remarks, a motion was made to approve the GDP. On a roll call vote, Chairman Jason Levy and board members Robert Shortmeyer, Mayor Maureen Fasano, Leon Bruno Jr., John Krok, Margaret Jahn and Coburn voted “yes,” setting in motion the possible development of one of the largest remaining tracts of land in Freehold Township.