Jackson zoners deny plan for apartments on West Veterans Highway

JACKSON – The Jackson Zoning Board of Adjustment has declined to grant use variances that would have permitted the construction of 192 apartments on West Veterans Highway (Route 528).

A hearing on two applications that were submitted by Dr. Ira Port and Alan Cohn continued on June 5. Following the conclusion of testimony, motions were made to approve the applications.

Because a use variance was being requested, five “yes” votes were needed for a motion to pass. Each motion resulted in a 4-3 vote in favor of approval, but both motions failed to pass because the five-vote threshold was not achieved.

One application sought a use variance for a 29-acre tract on West Veterans Highway in a Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zone. The property has an existing diner. The applicant proposed to construct 112 apartments in seven two-story buildings and 23,000 square feet of commercial space. The site was referred to as Parcel A.

The second application sought a use variance for an 11-acre site on West Veterans Highway in an NC zone. The property is partially improved with a 14,500-square-foot commercial building. The applicant proposed to construct 80 apartments in five two-story buildings and 7,000 square feet of new commercial space. The site was referred to Parcel B.

Attorney Kenneth Pape, engineer and planner Michael Intile, and real estate consultant Jeff Otteau represented both applications at the board’s June 5 meeting.

Pape said the plan had been revised since it was presented at a previous meeting. The revisions included moving the proposed commercial space closer to Route 528.

“We revisited that idea and came up with what we believe is a more meaningful streetscape. The buildings are actually situated on the road and parking is behind them,” Pape said. “There are bike paths that connect the residential (uses) to the commercial (uses). We also anticipate there will be recreational paths.”

The zoning board’s attorney, Sean Gertner, asked Pape why the applicant wanted to improve the streetscape.

“This is a unique property, it is in a portion of Jackson that has so many elements of a downtown or a hub, and anything we offer should enhance that,” Pape said.

Board member Peter Maher asked if moving the commercial uses closer to Route 528 would be an issue if the county road had to be widened.

Pape said the Ocean County Planning Board would review the project and noted the application before the board was for a use variance, not an engineering plan.

During his testimony, Otteau said the demand for apartments is increasing and he explained that Jackson “is experiencing a sharp increase in population in what is referred to as the ‘bookend generations,’ younger households between the ages of 20 and 34, and older households, age 55 and older, and more specifically, 65 and older in Jackson. These are the primary sources in demand for (rentals); demand is rising universally and Jackson is experiencing an increase in these key demand (demographics).”

He said he believed the apartments would create a long-term sustainable benefit to the township.

Board member Steve Costanzo said he found it “hard to swallow” the applicant called the area “a magnet for jobs” after saying the local characteristics were an attraction, and that most potential occupants of the proposed apartments would be commuters.

The board’s chairman, Sheldon Hofstein, said he disagreed with Otteau and with testimony from the applicant’s affordable housing expert, Arthur Bernard. Hofstein said data from 2014-16 did not include an influx of new residents into Jackson.

“The majority of new families purchasing homes in Jackson have many more children than the average New Jersey family or Jackson family,” Hofstein said, adding there are families with five or more children.

The board’s vice chairman, Carl Book Jr., asked the applicant’s representatives for a response to Hofstein’s comments.

In regard to Hofstein’s assertion that the data was incorrect and that larger families are moving to Jackson, Otteau said he was focusing on the big picture.

“There is no doubt (larger families) are happening here and there, but what I am focusing on is the big picture, the larger trend. The larger trend is undeniable, which is that Jackson’s population is not increasing in lower age residents.

“I have statistics (which show that) since 2010, the population of children under the age of 5 in Jackson has declined by 1%. The population of children between the ages of 5 and 9 has declined by 12%. The population of children between the ages of 10 and 14 has declined by 9% and there has also been a decline in the 15- to 19-year-old age group,” Otteau said.

He said the data indicates that while there are families moving to Jackson that have multiple children, they are the exception.

“If that were not the case, then your population of children would not be declining at double digit rates, which is what is happening,” Otteau said.

Port addressed the zoning board and said he has owned a dentistry practice in Jackson since 2004. He said he treats thousands of patients who live in town.

“I opened this business in 2004 … The plaza is about 50,000 square feet and employs 50 people. If we extrapolate and I build another 30,000 square feet, that probably should provide another 100 jobs in the community,” Port said.

He said he was approached several years ago by representatives of the township and asked to develop the property.

“I was told at the time that the township was looking for more revenue and they were looking to bring more business to the area. At that time, which was 2013, I told them I had already been down this road two other times,” Port said.

“Anyway, it did not happen. This is not in a vacuum, this has been going on for a very long time. I have spent a good portion of my life’s savings,” he said.

Gertner asked Port why he did not ask municipal officials to rezone the property so that a use variance would not have been necessary.

“We got no guidance,” Port said. “I am not in this business, I am a local businessman and I am just trying to do the right thing for the township.”

A motion was made to grant the use variance for the application for Parcel A. Book, Costanzo, Maher and Gary Miller voted “yes.” Hofstein, Joseph Sullivan and Denis Weigert voted “no.” The motion failed to garner five “yes” votes and was deemed to have failed.

A motion was made to grant the use variance for the application for Parcel B. Book, Costanzo, Maher and Miller voted “yes.” Hofstein, Sullivan and Weigert voted “no.” The motion failed to garner five “yes” votes and was deemed to have failed.