Open Space And Development Are Key Issues In Town

Photo by Jason Allentoff

From desk of Mayor Robert Hudak

  Thank you for taking a moment to read my monthly column. In last month’s column, I discussed some of the big events in town including our spectacular summer concert series at Harry Wright Lake, as well as some updates that affect the daily lives of our residents. This includes honoring our promise to our residents with no water restrictions in the Eastern Service Area, and informing the public that four new businesses were coming to Whiting Commons Shopping Center including a Jersey Mike’s, Starbucks, AT&T store, and a soon to be named sit down restaurant.

  This month, I reserved the Mayor’s Column for open space management and what Manchester is doing to maintain our town’s identity. One of the biggest concerns I hear from our residents is their fear of over commercialization and the traffic congestion it causes which impacts both Manchester and our surrounding communities. Property utilization is a very complex issue for municipalities in our state; however, I want our residents to know that I absolutely share their concerns in maintaining Manchester’s character, while navigating these difficulties. It is important to note the things the township can and cannot do legally when it comes to private land management.

  The biggest step a municipality can make in smart land management is the purchase of open space with public funds for the purpose of land preservation. This would ensure the land purchased could never be developed in the future. Manchester is already a beacon of land preservation, as approximately 50% of our township’s land is preserved. My administration is constantly looking for more open space opportunities and to date we have been very successful. Late last year, I worked closely with county officials to purchase 250 acres of open space on Route 571 and Ridgeway Boulevard that is now earmarked to become a recreational area for our residents. Earlier this year, we partnered with Ocean County to purchase the Surf & Stream Campground off of Route 571. A developer was keen on purchasing the campground to place 245 apartments on that site which is now slated to be a county park. We also purchased an additional 16.8 acres off of Route 70 near Hilltop Road, which was slated for housing development.  In my first full year as Mayor, we were able to purchase nearly 300 total acres of open space and we will continue to pursue these opportunities. Additionally, I instructed our township’s officials to regularly maintain and update our zoning to discourage predatory development from occurring in our town.

  It’s also important for our residents to know the many components that Manchester is legally unable to do when it comes to land management. First, state law does not permit a moratorium on development except in the case of emergencies like Superstorm Sandy. Further, the township cannot simply order developers to utilize existing retail and office spaces before new buildings are constructed. The Township does not control rents or have the right to deny tenants in commercial spaces that are open or vacant. Lastly spot zoning was deemed illegal by the courts, which is the process of changing zoning regulation to single out or particularly effect one parcel of land.

  As you can tell, land management is a very complex subject, but one that I’ve become extremely well versed in due to my trade as a licensed municipal land-use planner for nearly 20 years. I enjoy raising my three children in our town, which has a quiet appeal while being nearby to many goods and services. Our town is unique in that regard and my promise to our residents is that I will continue to be an effective steward of our land so we preserve Manchester’s identity and combat overdevelopment of our town.