JACKSON – In 2013, Mitch Leigh spoke to the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, getting them excited about a mixed use development for bohemians and the business community.
The chamber members and politicians in attendance roundly supported him. Leigh, the composer of “Man of La Mancha” was an unusual figure for development in Jackson. And this was an unusual development. His television commercials invited people to call him, but only if they were nice people. His “impossible dream” was to create a living space for young people within walking distance to the arts and entertainment, also in the development.
In March 2014, Leigh passed away at age 86. However, he had signed contracts with those taking over for him to set his plans in stone.
The dream is still on track, said Tom Bovino, manager for Jackson Development Company.
The development is now placing their first residential homes, an audience for future commercial development, he said.
The property, located near Route 195, would be installed in stages, with various developers taking portions of it. First will be The Gardens at Jackson 21, one and two-bedroom apartments over a walkable downtown, with theaters and artistic spaces.
Second will be The Ponds at Jackson 21. According to Melissa DeMayo, director of property management for Walters Homes, the Barnegat-based company building this portion of the development, there will be 87 units. There will be 16 one-bedroom, 53 two-bedroom, and 18 three-bedroom units. They expect it to open at the end of next year.
The third portion will be town homes in the $300,000s. “The resale market in Jackson is moving higher than that. We’re trying to be lower than 1-acre single family homes,” he said.
Early in the development process, Leigh’s project was frowned upon as more sprawl. However, as the lower number of bedrooms meant fewer children in school, officials started welcoming it. The Jackson Township school district did not return a call to discuss the school impact of this project.
Officials welcomed more commercial opportunities as well. Bovino said that the business aspect will be mom-and-pop shops, and locally owned stores that would be more common in downtown neighborhoods. These are the types of businesses that millennials and educated consumers will go out of their way to find. They would be environmentally friendly, socially-conscious shops that would offer careers, not just jobs.
“Socially-minded people are attracted to the kind of businesses we want. People who will pay a few cents to do the right thing,” he said.
The commercial aspect will have to wait until there are residences to utilize them, he said.
“We want to get the residential energy going first. That’s what the market is giving us,” he said.
Another option they are researching is a mixed use place where residential, office and commercial is mingled, using Bell Works in Monmouth County as an example.
They are targeting millennials and empty nesters who do not necessarily want to live in a gated community. Of the 510 apartments, 72 would help meet the town’s affordable housing regulations.
Leigh had a metaphor comparing it to a snowball, Bovino said. “You keep feeding it and let it become “a place,” not just a project. Once we get to a certain point, the momentum will take it.”