TOMS RIVER – Although residents were concerned about another development going into the northern section of town, Planning Board members said that the original development would have been far more busy.
The board approved a complex that will have a three-story apartment building, and a building with retail on the first floor, with office space above it. Originally, there had been plans for a more congested development, with such things as a gas station. Those other ideas have since been stripped away. Some other changes had been made, too, like changing a shuffleboard court to a pickleball court. There was also a quarter mile jogging trail proposed.
The development will have a driveway on Route 9, and another on Cox Cro Road. The shops on the corner, where there was a fire recently, is not part of this development.
The attorney for the developer, Michael Beck, brought forward experts one by one to discuss the project. The architect discussed the appearance and location of the building. The engineer talked about recreation uses and variances. Planning Board officials had questions of these professionals, but traffic concerns brought the most questions.
The traffic engineer, Scott Kennel, said that the intersection on Route 9 could operate safely and efficiently. There won’t be a new traffic light. Some residents and planning board officials questioned how safe a left turn would be out of that intersection. He said that part of his study was to measure the gaps between traffic – when there are no cars coming. He said there were sufficient gaps of a long enough period of time to ensure that vehicles can turn left onto 9, even during busy times.
He also said that he expected about one vehicle per minute leaving the complex at peak hour.
One member of the public, Tom Duffy, asked if the traffic study had been done while the nearby property on the corner was still vacant from the fire.
Kennel said it was done while those businesses were vacant. However, the study takes into consideration traffic growth in the area. This includes those businesses as well as a few multi-family developments nearby that are not complete yet.
Duffy also mentioned the access on Cox Cro. Although it’s planned to be a right turn out, right turn in only, people will still make left turns there.
A few dozen people were in the audience. Usually the only people with paperwork in the audience are paid professionals or journalists. But these were residents taking notes, and bringing their homework to fight the development.
A plan for kids walking out of the development to reach their bus stop was also questioned. There was a plan in place by the developer, but board attorney Gregory McGuckin doubted that kids would take a long path, but would probably cut across a parking lot.
Engineer/planner Kenneth Schlatmann said that the impervious cover on the development has dropped considerably. So, while the lot size was smaller than allowed, there was less of an intensive use.
Planning Board member Anne Hammill-Pasqua asked if there could be land purchased nearby to offset this, and Schlatmann said there was not.
One resident said that it would set a bad precedent for other developers. It would send a message that they can build twice as much as the land is zoned for. Planning board officials informed her that the application was made back when the amount of land required for such a project was 10 acres, not 20 as it currently is.
When the board approved the development, several made comments explaining their vote. They noted that the development was first proposed to be much larger. It was through negotiation, and by residents bringing up valid concerns, that the development was honed down to what was finally approved. It’s not the job of the Planning Board to decide what goes onto a parcel of land, but to make sure that the developer follows the rules, they said.
“We might not like a development, but there’s no way to stop it by law,” Planning Board member Paul Wnek said.
The development was approved, with the only “no” votes coming from Anne Hammill-Pasqua and Laurie Huryk.