A controversial project that will build commercial and residential units on a 32-acre site at the intersection of Deal Road and Route 35 was approved by the Ocean Township Planning Board this week.
The move comes after 12 lengthy meetings were held on the application, with township residents both opposing and supporting the project. Meetings were moved to the high school auditorium due to crowd size. About 150 people attended Monday’s meeting.
“The applicant has met our concerns and I think they have done and met their (obligations),” board member Joseph DiBenedetto said upon introducing a motion to approve the project.
Board member Jeffrey Weinstein said the board made a lot of good points and changes and took the application “seriously.”
“We took it to heart and appreciate the changes the applicant made (to the project),” he said.
Eight out of the nine Planning Board members attended Monday’s final meeting on the project, with Board Chairman John Verrilli and board member John Duthie casting the two dissenting votes on the project.
The development plan by Paramount Realty wants to build a 112-room Marriott Residence Inn, a Wawa gas station and convenience store, and a Chick-Fil-A restaurant along the Route 35 corridor, with 70 upscale townhouses on the eastern portion of the site along Deal Road, near the public library.
Residents have voiced both support and opposition to the project.
“The project reflects very poorly (on the township) and I urge you to vote it down,” former Environmental Commission Chairman Ray Pogwist said.
Opponents cited traffic, environmental, and flooding concerns. Others cited a loss of natural habitat, trees, and a loss of open space.
“Developing this property does not have our best interests in mind,” resident Alexandra Myers said.
Other residents said they support the project, saying the land was always slated for commercial development and will bring in much-needed tax revenue, estimated at about $2 million a year.
“It sounds to me like very good planning…and it should receive your approval,” resident Paul Edelson said.
Resident Joan Larkin said she is one of the “silent majority” that supports the project. She said the project’s taxes will make up for a loss in state aid to the school district.
“It will be a nice addition to our commercial corridor,” resident Todd Katz said.
Development of the property will also end a long-standing law suit by Ahold USA, the current owners of the property. Ahold sued the township after they were denied building a Stop & Shop on the site after the township changed the zoning there in 2006.
However, a law suit is also currently pending in the state Appellate Court over the rezoning of the site. The suit has been brought forward by the Save 32-Acres organization that hopes to preserve the site as open space.
The project also needs various approvals from county and state officials, especially over environmental concerns.