By DON STINE
Heavier buffering and setbacks will now be required for a commercial/residential project being proposed on a 32-acre tract at the intersection of Route 35 and Deal Road in Ocean Township.
The Township Council last week adopted an ordinance that made the modifications, which was in response to concerns from both residents and township officials.
“We want to make this as buffered as possible,” Mayor Christopher Siciliano said.
But many of the those filling up the council chambers were not happy with the fact that the site is being developed, with many urging the governing body to save the property as open space.
Paramount Realty, a township-based company, wants to build a 112-room, four-story Marriott Hotel, a Wawa gas station and convenience store, a fitness center, and a Turning Points restaurant along the Route 35 corridor with 70 upscale townhouses on the eastern portion of the site.
No application for the project has yet been presented to the Planning Board.
The revised ordinance adopted last week provides for additional buffering in three areas: buffering will range from 240 feet to 290 feet on the northern edge, where there is existing residential housing, previously it was 100 feet. It also provides that buffering at the eastern edge, near the library, will be increased from a previous 35-feet minimum up to 75 feet; and a 75-foot buffering is required along Deal Road that also includes a 100-foot minimum from any proposed building.
But some residents said they don’t want to see any development there at all.
“This is a step too far and Ocean Township is losing its character. We might as well live in Union County,” resident Melissa Stryker said.
Others residents said they are concerned about traffic, the loss of open space, the township’s tree canopy, and the loss of habitat for wildlife. Some residents said there should be a public meeting of residents over this issue or that adoption of the ordinance should be postponed.
Siciliano said that he can appreciate that many people at the meeting came to express their opinions but he also pointed out that there are more than 27,000 residents that he also has to represent.
“Personally, I also would like to see it preserved as open space too,” he said.
He said that this tract is going to be developed and that it is not possible for the township to acquire the property for open space. He said that the original 90 to 83 percent impervious coverage, under previous plans, has been reduced to 52 percent.
He said that the property is worth a lot on money and that the developer has no plans to sell it. Voters recently approved creating a dedicated open space tax but Siciliano said that only about $450,000 would be generated a year and that the account has not even been set up yet.
Other residents said the development proposal should go forward.
“This is the best possible deal we can get,” said resident Don Geiger, who also pointed out that the development will bring in additional tax revenue, estimated at $2 million annually
“If it is not developed, who benefits?” he asked.
Resident Evelyn Shapiro said the project has been clearly explained and that she sees it as a benefit.
“Numerous accommodations have been made and I see this as a turning point in Ocean
Township,” she said.
And development plans have been tweaked and modified for the best possible result, township officials said.
“There will be a substantial benefit traffic-wise,” Township Attorney Martin Arbus said.
“This is a much better alternative and much improved from past proposals. We already got our piece of this site,” he said.
In 2001, township officials bought 43 acres of the original 75-acre site, with the understanding that the remaining property, along Route 35, was going to be developed.
Township officials also said that many of the concerns being voiced by residents need to be brought up at the Planning Board when an application is submitted.