A plan in Ocean Township to build more than 100 townhouses on a large parcel of undeveloped land, west of Route 35, has raised concern among some residents.
“We have been fighting this for years and it makes no sense to still create these cluster-type homes on single-family lots,” said Dr. Gary Pess, who lives near the proposed project.
“It changes the whole flavor (of the area) and the traffic it generates will be incredible- shooting out onto roads that are already bad now,” he said.
Toll Brothers, based in Horsham, Pa, is seeking approval to build 114 townhouses, with about 12 being affordable-housing units, or 102 without the affordable units, on the 82-acre former Apple Farm property on the south side of W. Park Ave., west of Route 18 and diagonal from the township’s Intermediate School.
An earlier plan called for building 237 townhouses, with some of those also being affordable-housing units. In lieu of building any affordable units now the developer would contribute about $2.6 million into the township’s Affordable Housing Fund.
Toll Brothers has been building large community developments since 1967.
“We’ve been building communities in picturesque settings where luxury meets convenience, and where neighbors become lifelong friends,” the company states on its website.
Township Attorney Martin Arbus said that the current plan would allow up to 114 townhouses to be build on an 82-acre parcel, of which about 50 acres are wetlands- some may be affordable housing units.
“It’s either affordable housing on the site or they pay for affordable housing off site,” he said.
And, to some extent, Arbus said the current number of units “makes some sense.”
“It’s better to build about 100 townhouses than to build 200 to 300,” he said.
But residents said that, under former Mayor Terrance Weldon, the property was rezoned from single-family homes on one-acre lots to permit a denser construction project. Weldon was subsequently convicted of corruption and residents said the governing body then revoked the zoning change, making it single-family again.
This change, however, was never recorded in the township’s Master Plan.
And Dr. Pess said that because the new Master Plan has this overlay aspect in it that the denser zoning was never rescinded anyway.
“At least not the way they said it would- at least as far as we know,” he said.
Dr. Pess said he there is a possibility of litigation should the project be approved.
“A number of residents are considering this possibility. Let’s do what’s best for the town and not just give in and negotiate with a builder. They are saying that’s the best they could negotiate but, intuitively, it does not make sense to put in that kind of high density,” he said.
Arbus agrees that the zoning was rescinded but never recorded in the Master Plan. However, he said there is an overlay zoning contingent that still allows for “cluster-type” developments.
“Time will tell if this is a problem,” he said.
Dr. Pess said he estimates that the project, once completed, could generate more than 200 cars in and out each day.
“And traffic? Anybody who lives or travels through this area realizes that traffic there is out of control- so why contribute to it with more density?” he said.
“All of this doesn’t make any logical sense from a municipal standpoint. It should be built with single-family homes that were originally planned, which is about 25 to 30 homes on the buildable land,” he said.
Dr. Pess said that the development will not be age-restricted and that it will obviously have a impact on the school system.
“Are you telling me that putting up three- and four-bedroom units is not going to generate more school children? It’s got to impact the school system to some degree,” he said.
Some residents want the council to consider purchasing the tract and preserve it as open space. They note that areas in the township east of Route 35 have many parks and recreational facilities but there are few, if any, west of the highway.
However, the state Green Acres program has been greatly reduced in recent years and little other money is on the horizon, Deputy Mayor Christopher Siciliano said.
In 2004 Ocean Township voters cast ballots in a non-binding referendum that would have created a moderate open-space tax but voters narrowly defeated it.
Siciliano estimates an open-space tax rate of a few pennies would have generated several hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
“If (the referendum) passed and (the council) then decided we wanted it, we would have started it- and there would probably be some money there now,” he said.
But even if the money can be found to purchase the Toll Brothers’ current property, Siciliano said he would still not support buying the site.
“There are too many other properties involved (for affordable housing) and we could never afford to get them all,” he said.
And while Siciliano believes the township is overdeveloped, it still cannot prevent people from developing their property.
“They are invested in their property and the only way to obtain it is to buy them all out- and that would be expensive,” he said.
Another factor is that the township has to meet its state-mandated number of affordable housing units. Although the township has many affordable rental properties, any built before 1980 are not allowed to be used toward the state’s mandated number.
“The current project is a lot better than what it could have been – and I am afraid of what could happen if this application is turned down,” Siciliano said.