Trophy Park draws support from unions, critics from nearby towns

JACKSON – An athletic complex planned for construction on a 194-acre parcel at Route 537 and Hawkin Road, Jackson, drew support and criticism from members of the public when it came before the Jackson Planning Board on Feb. 4.

That evening, board members approved a General Development Plan for Trophy Park. The applicant will eventually have to return before the board for public hearings regarding site plan approval for specific aspects of the project.

Trophy Park, an indoor and outdoor complex, would feature 16 baseball and softball fields, batting cages, 10 lacrosse, soccer, field hockey and practice fields, a 400,000-square-foot, two-story, 18-court indoor facility for basketball, volleyball, cheerleading and wrestling, and an outdoor stadium with 6,000 seats. The fields will be synthetic turf.

Trophy Park would also include three restaurants, a building with retail space and hotels.

Representatives of Trophy Park said the complex would be able to host 2,000 athletes per week who would attend youth athletic tournaments and sports camps. They said the athletes would stay in team suites that would not have a kitchen. The athletes’ parents would stay in two hotels on the property.

The property where Trophy Park is proposed is in Jackson’s Commercial Recreation District (CR-1) and not in the Pinelands region, according to the applicant.

Board member Richard Egan, who was the only board member to vote “no” when a motion was made at the end of the meeting to approve the GDP, proposed that the application be heard instead by the Jackson Zoning Board of Adjustment. Egan described the team suites as dormitories.

Attorney John J. Jackson III, representing Trophy Park, said the matter had been discussed and decided at a previous meeting and said the Planning Board accepted jurisdiction of the application.

Township Councilman Ken Bressi, who sits on the board, said, “Our professionals and our attorney said (the team suites) were not dorms. … I am the one who originally raised the question they (might be) dorms and I asked the attorney to clarify the issue. The attorney came back and clarified it in my eyes.”

Bressi, Michele Campbell, Vice Chairman Robert Hudak, Tim Dolan, Martin Flemming, Leonard Haring Jr. and Chairman Joseph Riccardi voted “no” on the motion to send the application to the zoning board. Egan and Jeff Riker voted “yes” on the motion, which failed in the 7-2 vote.

When the meeting was opened to public comment, resident Robert Dzink said he supports Trophy Park, “100 percent.” His sentiment was echoed by numerous Jackson residents who indicated they are union members.

Marc Covitz of neighboring Upper Freehold Township told board members he had a petition containing the signatures of 4,537 residents of Jackson, Upper Freehold, Millstone Township and Plumsted who are opposed to Trophy Park.

Covitz was informed by the board that a petition may not be submitted as evidence in Planning Board proceedings.

“We believe this development will pose detrimental effects to the quality of life for residents in surrounding towns. Due to extreme traffic congestion and gridlock, it will cause severe effects on Prospertown Lake, the Pinelands and numerous threatened and endangered species that inhabit the forest,” Covitz said.

Covitz said vehicles heading to and from Trophy Park, plus existing traffic associated with Six Flags Great Adventure, and vehicles heading to and from the Jackson Adventure Crossing sports complex which is under construction will cause “complete gridlock” on Route 537 and on roads in Upper Freehold.

Resident Bill Lakatos supported Trophy Park. He said it would be good for the community and create jobs.

Brian Finley of Point Pleasant is the director of girls programming for the Players Development Academy.

“We are one of the premier soccer developers in Ocean County. We have heard a lot tonight about the traffic and parking. I fully trust that the Trophy Park team is going to address those concerns with the site plans. The reason I am coming before you tonight is for the kids,” Finley said.

Finley said he has been involved in youth sports since 1994, when he graduated from college.

“In the last two months I have been to North Carolina twice for soccer tournaments, I was outside Tampa, Fla., two weeks ago, I am going to Pittsburgh (in the near future) and I am going to Las Vegas in March, all for soccer tournaments.

“I don’t believe there is a facility anywhere in the country like the proposed Trophy Park. There are plenty of facilities that have 20 soccer fields or 10 baseball fields, but there is nothing that has the fields, the hotels, the indoor sports facility, the stadium and what I believe is going to be the most beneficial to these children, the proximity to a theme park,” Finley said.

He said he has not seen anything like Trophy Park and said Jackson has the opportunity to have the premier youth sports destination in the country, if not the world.

Andrew Bulakowski, a representative of the carpenter’s union, spoke on behalf of more than 600 carpenters.

“Not only is (Trophy Park) going to create a lot of construction jobs, but moving forward, the developer, Mr. (Alan) Nau, plans to maintain the park with good paying jobs, handling all the maintenance moving forward. I think this is going to be a good project for Jackson.

“Obviously there are some traffic issues that need to be addressed, but you are talking about creating not only revenue and good paying jobs, but a lot of tax dollars coming into Jackson,” Bulakowski said.