JACKSON – Members of the Jackson Zoning Board of Adjustment heard an application for changes to phase I of the proposed Adventure Crossing project during a recent Board meeting.
Last month, the township’s Planning Board approved phase II of the $500 million Adventure Crossing plan on Route 537. Several environmental groups opposed the plan, questioning traffic and other aspects. The application was found to be in compliance with township code.
Phase I has been progressing for more than two years now. Ninety acres have been clear-cut to make way for a large indoor and outdoor sports complex, along with two hotels, banquet hall, four fast food restaurants and a parking garage, which were previously approved.
MS Research Center
The project’s developer Vito Cardinale wants to move elements of Phase III of the development, including a multiple sclerosis research building, into Phase I. This has caused the need for additional variances along with amended site plan approval.
Cardinale testified during a recent board meeting, “the project is more than a sports and entertainment facility. I was instrumental in putting the MS Center at CentraState which was named after my late wife who passed away from MS. Our goal here with this project is not only to deliver a sports and entertainment project but we are also looking to build an MS research center.”
He said the 80,000 square foot center would employ over 80 people. “Profits from this project will go to funding the MS research center so that if I should leave this earth…the project will continue to fund MS research.”
The center was initially proposed at a different location.
Cardinale said the new location is closer to the road “and I believe a better location.” He added that the facility would be put up much earlier than in the original proposal. In reviewing the status of phase I of the project, Cardinale said, “we are working on fixing the roads. We have signed up some tenants. We have a 7-Eleven, a Taco Bell, a Popeye’s and we are in a lease negotiation with Jersey Mike’s and Starbucks. We are fully leased on our baseball fields and soccer fields. We hope to have those up and running by September/October.”
State And County Approval
It was noted during the four-hour meeting, the bulk of which concerned this application, that the township’s Planning and Zoning boards won’t have the last word on the project. The approvals Adventure Crossing received are conditional upon approval from several other agencies, including the State Department of Environmental Protection, the County Engineer’s Office and the State Department of Transportation.
Critics of the plan like Jackson resident Randy Bergmann said “the Ocean County Planning Board has already signaled concerns about traffic and the environment. Unlike the Jackson Planning Board, it is skeptical about the applicant’s traffic plan.”
Bergmann criticized the projections for phase I and II by Cardinale’s traffic planner John Rea. “At a county Planning Board meeting earlier this year, its final approval for Phase II was contingent on several traffic-related conditions, including one that the Jackson Planning Board should have imposed.”
The county board has required the applicant to submit a copy of the DEP letter of interpretation for the wetland delineation as indicated on the plans and submit a copy of the NJDEP wetland permit for the construction within the wetland area/buffer areas as shown on the plans.
A second condition required by the County is that a drainage design plan be presented for review due to a portion of the site that drains towards an Ocean County drainage structure on Anderson Road. A drainage design plan must be reviewed and approved by the Ocean County Engineer.
The Ocean County Planning Board’s unanimous resolution states, “all of the above conditions must be addressed in order to obtain Ocean County Planning Board approval stamp and signature. Construction shall not commence until all conditions have been met.”
Holly Tree Court resident Tracy McKinney, who lives 500 feet from the project, asked during the meeting about traffic signals. She asked if new traffic lights would be installed upon completion of phase I of the project. No information on the technical aspects of the traffic signals were available during the meeting and the applicant’s traffic planner will be testifying at the next hearing of the application.
Bergmann, in a prepared statement, added that the Planning Board should have insisted that an analysis be provided of “all other signalized intersections along the (Route 537) corridor, taking into account future proposed development including Route 537/Route 571, Route 537/Jackson Outlet, Route 537/Interchange 195, Route 537/Pine Street and Route 537/U-turn jug handle.”
A Major Destination
Cardinale said much of the property in Phase I is now clear. He added that the two hotels that are proposed include a Hilton and a Marriott both of which will share a 100,000 -square foot convention center. “The goal is to bring conventions here.”
“We have Six Flags, we have the Outlets, we are 30 minutes from Philadelphia and we have some the best beaches down 195. Families will come here for many reasons because they will have access to all these things. We have a lot of different sports here,” Cardinale added.
Bergmann said after the meeting that “Cardinale and his hired guns appeared before the zoning board to amend their previously approved phase I site plan, to respond to “changes in the market.” Those changes include the need for a four-deck, 1,100-car parking garage – which requires a variance – the elimination of an indoor recreation center, the addition of a convention center/banquet center (with the two proposed hotels moved and attached at either end), and changes to the mix of fast-food joints and restaurants.”
“Cardinale said he only recently learned that for Jackson to qualify for affordable housing credits, it had to make a certain number of the affordable units he had hoped to provide exclusively for MS patients available to those with “special needs. What constitutes ‘special needs?’ The board was assured that it didn’t include people being treated for addictions, but no definition was provided,” Bergman said.
Part of the meeting included a presentation on a green energy plan for the overall project that Cardinale’s legal representative, Sal Alfieri said his client wanted to share with the board.
Another critic of the plan, New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, said “Adventure Crossing is already a terrible project for Jackson. They already got Phase II approved, and now they’re amending the warehouse site plan and adding even more development.”
Among the 30 participants on the Zoom meeting, some sought to ask questions about what was discussed during the lengthy meeting.
McKinney, the neighbor, asked about parking spaces. “Originally, 2,757 were required and currently you have 2,470. Right now, you are saying it is 39,000 square feet would be required with those numbers so what you are proposing is 1,430 spots less than the 3,900 requirement and asking for a waiver for those 1,430 spots?” That issue will also be further addressed at the next board meeting.
Resident Keith Jolliffee asked what the tax impact of the project would be on Jackson and if an analysis was done.
The applicant said this would be a huge profit maker for the township and a big tax ratable but no analysis had been performed. Cardinale added a good comparison would be what Six Flags Great Adventure pays to Jackson.
Joyce Jolliffe asked if MS patients would receive treatment at the center to which Cardinale said they would not but MS patients would receive brain lesion scans at the facility as part of the research being done utilizing equipment that will be on site.
Jolliffe expressed concerns about the many changes to the project, including ones that were not known until the meeting. Cardinale responded “The project has gotten better every time that we have made changes.”
No action was taken by the board but further testimony by the applicant’s professionals as well as added questions and comments from the public is expected to occur during the Zoning Board’s next meeting on April 21.