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June 30, 2005

Residents out in force to discuss Metropark

Staff Writer

Discussion centered around a general development plan

Residents opposing Michael Alfieri’s Metropark South plan filled the municipal courtroom at last Thursday’s Old Bridge Zoning Board meeting — for the second time in two months.

The residents, wearing large Smart Growth Old Bridge (SGOB)-provided buttons reading “Vote No,” are against the proposed plan, which would put three office buildings, two parking garages and 83 homes near Parkway Exit 120.

Opposition also comes from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Chapter 32 BJ, the New Jersey Sierra Club, the Edison Wetlands Association (EWA), the Raritan Riverkeeper and the Bayshore Watershed Council.

“Try to stay calm,” Zoning Board Chairman Kiran Desai told the public. “We don’t want any outbursts. No applause.”

Much of last Thursday’s discussion centered around the necessity of an amended general development plan (GDP) for the site.

“We don’t think we need an amended GDP,” said Alfieri attorney Frank Petrino.

But township-retained consultants maintained that an amendment was needed in light of the two components of the plan — residential and retail, which have been filed as separate applications.

“Many of the global issues that surround this project are still related to the GDP,” said consultant Mark Remsa. “The GDP is supposed to pull everything together.”

“We’ve been spending a lot of time debating what the applicant’s fair share is for the application that has been put forth,” said John H. Rea, a traffic consultant with McDonagh and Rea Associates Inc.

The Turnpike Authority, Rea said, has raised objections to the plan. The Laurence Harbor Parkway bridge over the Garden State Parkway, he noted, should be four lanes wide with shoulders, according to information from the authority.

The current plan would expand the bridge to three lanes with no shoulders.

“We need to know what it’s going to be,” Rea said, noting that it will make a big difference in terms of the fair share amount Alfieri must pay.

The application also currently contains improvements to Cliffwood Road, Laurence Harbor Road and the on and off ramps of the Parkway.

The site plan has been downsized, Alfieri representatives said. And since the initial GDP approval in 1985, the plan has changed numerous times.

One story has been removed from the southernmost Esplanade office building, they said. Parking spaces have also been eliminated from the office plan, as well as signage on the buildings that would have necessitated waivers from the board.

One retail building was removed, and an emergency access-way was added between the Esplanade and Canterbury Cover, the residential and retail area of the plan.

A total of 51.5 acres, or 33 percent of the site, would be left as open space, which, Alfieri representatives said, exceeds the requirements set by the township.

But all the changes that have been made, township consultants said, make an amendment a must.

Later phases of the plan would include a hotel near Biondi Street. According to David G. Roberts, a Schoor DePalma consultant for Alfieri, those plans have been downsized (in terms of number of rooms) as well.

A train station is also a potential part of future plans.

Jeffrey Otteau, an appraiser hired by Alfieri to prepare a real estate market analysis for office, hotel and residential areas, said that Middlesex County has the worst office vacancy rate in the state.

Hotel and commercial markets, he said, have success based on location. But the proposed hotel would not be in a prime location, and would therefore need to follow the office development to succeed.

When Desai opened the meeting, Sierra Club attorney Larry Kroll, of Lieberman and Blecher, was first to speak.

“I believe that the municipal land use law speaks specifically that it is the Planning Board that has jurisdiction to determine matters of the GDP,” Kroll said.

Board attorney James Hyland said he did not agree.

According to a press release from the firm, the Sierra Club also plans to challenge Alfieri’s site plan based on environmental concerns.

Many of those who came out to speak during the meeting’s public portion were Cheesequake Village residents. When the board was still hearing testimony at 10:35 p.m., the majority of those residents had to leave to catch their bus.

“Our main concern is the traffic congestion,” said Philip Tanala, a Cheesequake Village resident who stayed for the public portion.

Roads, according to Alfieri traffic consultant Carl Pehnke, would not be improved until after building is finished.

People can’t get onto the Parkway now, Tanala said, if there’s an accident in the area where Alfieri intends to build.

“Our village will be closed in,” he said. “There are ambulances going in there every other day. How are they going to get into our village?”

Bridgepointe resident Marian Ferrarotto said that while Alfieri had agreed to meet with residents in her development, only the board was present for the talk.

Ferrarotto also expressed concerns about traffic.

“I do believe that before you start building your homes, you should do the roads,” she said. “Because I don’t think your commercial property is going to be done right away … and I don’t think you’re being fair to the people that live over in Bridgepointe.”

Michael Scyenski, a Bridgepointe board member, said he was not told about the meeting held with Alfieri.

Petrino explained that Alfieri representatives met with the board president and two other members at 3 p.m.

The meeting should have happened in an open session, Scyenski said, so that more of the community could have been present.

Desai requested that Alfieri meet with Bridgepoint residents, not only the board.

The next Metropark South hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 1.

Copyright 2005 Suburban of Sayreville/Old Bridge

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