Ocean Hears Pros and Cons About Deal Road Project

By DON STINE

After seven months of hearings, an application to develop a 32-acre site at the intersection of Deal Road and Route 35 in Ocean Township is heading to a close.

Last week the Planning Board, once again, heard the proposal by Paramount Realty, who wants to build a 112-room Marriott Hotel, a Wawa gas station and convenience store, a fitness center, and a restaurant along the Route 35 corridor, with 70 upscale townhouses on the eastern portion of the site along Deal Road.

The board is still hearing public comment and the next meeting is scheduled for Mon., Sept. 23, although a special meeting at the High School may be scheduled before that.

Large crowds have been turning out for the hearings, which prompted the township to move the Planning Board meetings to the high school to accommodate the crowd. Thursday’s meeting was the first time general public comment was allowed on the overall project.

Early on, many residents came out in support of the project, saying it will increase tax revenues that can only help the school district, provide much-needed lodging in the township, increase property values, provide jobs, and improve traffic flow at the intersection under a reconfiguration plan.

Some residents said there was “falsified information” about the project on certain websites and that the project “has a lot of potential.”

Other residents spoke against the project, saying it will only be a “Route 35 truck stop” and is not pedestrian friendly. They said issues like storm water management and flooding, removjng more of the township’s tree canopy, a loss of habitat, and general overdevelopment in township are all concerns.

Others said they would like to see a more pedestrian-friendly project, without the hotel and gas station.

The project also includes 70 upscale townhouses east of the commercial section. A proposal on the table is to move that project to 17 acres of vacant land behind Cindy Lane and Clearview Drive, property that backs up to the existing Twinbrook Village apartment complex. The site once contained about 80 townhouses that were destroyed by fire in the 1980s and the property has been vacant ever since. The proposal is still under review.

Another bone of contention during last Thursday’s meeting was about tree removal at the development site. The plan calls for removing about 2,400 trees, that include an estimated 265 dead trees, 1,125 dying trees, and 900 stable, healthy trees. The land was once farmland and most trees are not old-growth trees.

In return for permission to remove the trees, the developer will make a contribution to the township’s Shade Tree Fund.

“I can’t swallow that,” board member Joseph DiBenedetto said.

He suggested a finite number for tree removal or re-plantings be imposed

Jennifer Krimko, attorney for the applicant, said the developer will agree to plant 100 larger trees, with half being up to four-inches in diameter, to make up for any concerns. Planting the additional tress will, in turn, reduce the developer’s contribution to the Shade Tree Fund.

Board Planner James W. Higgins said he feels “this is a reasonable fit.”

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