Controversial Development Approved In Southern Ocean County

Ocean Isles will be located on Route 9 North and is intended as a mixed use project (Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan).

  WARETOWN – A controversial mixed-use project planned for Route 9 North received final approval by the Township of Ocean Planning Board.

  Herman and Marsha Zell received preliminary major subdivision and site plan approval for Oceanaire East in December 2021. The project has since been renamed Ocean Isles.

  Attorney Ken Davis, who represents the Zell property owners, said that during the CAFRA permit review process, the applicants learned that some minor technical changes were necessary as far as the subdivision.

  “The project will continue to consist of 117 total residential units, 99 of which are market rate,” said Davis. “Eighteen are affordable…and there are no changes to the commercial element of the project, a proposed approximately 7,200-square-foot commercial building right now.”

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  D.R. Horton plans to build the residential portion of the project and proposed construction of the pool and clubhouse/cabana as part of Phase Two. The planning board determined there would be no certificates of occupancy issued for units on the back portion of Forest Park Drive until completion of the pool and clubhouse/cabana.

  Plans for construction of the commercial building appeared to raise concerns among planning board members.

  “The phasing plan provides no timeline development for the commercial space and is simply noted to be built based on market conditions,” pointed out Dr. Shawn Denning, a planning board member. “This project has not been proposed to the board without the commercial section. Failure to build the commercial space would make this project simply residential and mischaracterization of the initial intent of this project.”

  Herman Zell plans to maintain ownership of the construction of the commercial portion of the site. Davis said his client had a track record in owning, managing, and operating retail shopping centers throughout the state and would proceed with construction once he had tenants lined up.

  Zell’s attorney further suggested that it should not be a condition of approval to have a date set in concert with the residential phasing.

  “It would not be a wise business venture to have an empty building and not have anyone for it,” Davis said.

  Mayor Ben LoParo picked up on the use of the word “wise” and shot back at the attorney.

  “So, it’s wise for us to approve this without having to build the commercial,” said LoParo. “That’s not wise. We’re losing tax money. It’s going to be an eyesore on Route 9…When that building’s built the taxes are going to go up. If there’s an empty lot, the taxes are a tenth.”

  Zell himself testified that he bought the property 47 years ago. When asked if he’d paid taxes on it that long, members of the public laughed. LoParo pointed out that the property owner had paid farm taxes on the land – at a much lower rate.

  As someone in the commercial development business since 1975, Zell said he’d like to build a commercial building but expressed his reservations.

  “I’m not going to build a building of approximately $2 million and let it sit there vacant,” Zell said. “It’s not good sense. My intent was after getting all the permits and approvals was to leave the land vacant and wooded and hire a commercial broker in Ocean County or Monmouth County.”

The townhouses are expected to look like this (Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan).

  Zell said that someone familiar with the area could possibly find tenants and he would come back for additional approvals. He’s already started talks with AtlantiCare, who are tenants in another of his buildings.

  Parking became a critical issue as planning board members expressed concerns there would not be sufficient parking. The Township has parking ordinance requirements for different types of businesses.

  The CAFRA permit comes with certain pre-condition conditions. Among them is that 7.301 acres of the forested area on the site must be deed restricted from future development or clearing.

  Other requirements seek to avoid adverse impacts to the northern long-eared bat, nesting migratory bird species and northern pine snakes.

  Only two planning board members ultimately voted no against final approval of the application, LoParo and John Petrosilli.

  “There are a lot of areas and things that were not discussed in his application,” said Petrosilli. “My opinion is there were a lot of undisclosed areas that were glossed over or were vague and I therefore have to vote no.”