Developer Pitches Shopping Center, Two Restaurants For Route 9 Site

The Planning Board will hear an application to build a shopping center on 12.5 acres near Casino Drive. (Photo by Daniel Nee)

HOWELL – The Howell Township Planning Board will continue hearing testimony next month on a shopping center proposed for an area of Route 9 where some have raised concerns over flooding.

SL Homes, owned by developer Bruno Savo, of Colts Neck, is proposing to develop an approximately 12.5 acre site off Route 9, just north of Casino Drive. Plans call for a 15-unit retail shopping center and two outlying pad sites that would be marketed to restaurants for further development.

Jan Wouters, attorney for the applicant, said Savo has owned the property since 1985.

“There are some dilapidated foundations on the property and there is a billboard, but basically the site is vacant,” said William A. Stevens, vice president of Professional Design Services, who served as the project engineer and planner.

The plan for the site includes three buildings – the main retail building with 15 units, as well as the restaurant pad sites. There will be a “mezzanine” section over several of the center units.

“It will be a multi-tenant retail structure,” said Stevens, explaining that deliveries would be made to the back of the each unit, adjacent to employee parking spaces.

Remaining unresolved following the Jan. 5 hearing on the project were questions from the township’s planners on deliveries. The township’s representatives had suggested a dedicated loading zone, but Savo’s representatives said they preferred to have a two-way drive behind the stores and restaurants to allow the future tenants to decide how loading should occur.

“I wanted to leave the driveway two ways, so people could find out the best way to load into their own stores,” said Stevens.

Board member and former mayor William Gotto raised concerns over flooding in the area, stating that in previous major storms, the Manasquan River – which abuts the southern property line of the site – has overflowed onto the site itself and even across Route 9.

“This area was a major area of concern for the township following two significant storms,” said Gotto, adding that homes in a nearby neighborhood were bought out under the state’s Blue Acres program to prevent future development. “I’m a little hesitant to unilaterally accept the testimony as to what would happen in a particular situation, knowing what has happened in the past.”

The site is not considered part of a flood zone according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, however the township remains concerned due to the site’s past history. The DEP’s maps on the area were last updated in 2009, before hurricanes Irene and Sandy struck New Jersey.

  Stevens said if flooding is a concern, he could design a berm and buffer area. A retention basin is already included in plans for the site. But each facet of flood protection should be carefully considered, he added.

“This isn’t a giant, big-box center,” said Stevens. “It’s small stores.”

Savo was seeking both preliminary and final approval on the site, but some board members and professionals indicated they may wish to grant only preliminary approval since the issue of loading areas may not be resolved until a tenant is chosen for the restaurant sites and can articulate how their business operates.

“We wanted to wait until approval to begin to market the property,” said Savo.

The board will continue hearing testimony at its February 16 meeting. It is expected that numerous residents neighboring the property may raise concerns over the project.