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Friday, March 28, 2008

Zoners again deny shopping center

BY CHRISTOPHER DELA CRUZ
Star-Ledger Staff

Monroe Township board rebuffs developer's request for variance

The Monroe Township zoning board denied for the second time in three years an effort from a prominent Middlesex developer to build a shopping center at Route 522/ Buckelew Avenue and Schoolhouse Road.

Three years ago, residents in the area voiced concerns about traffic congestion, noise, light pollution, litter and quality of life, and the same concerns were brought up at the town's packed zoning board meeting on Tuesday. Renaissance Properties was seeking a variance for the land, which is zoned for the construction of single-family homes.

The zoning board said the proposed Marketplace at Monroe violated the town's master plan, and it failed to show why the plan deserved approval after the previous rejection, said Karl Meyertons, at torney for the zoning board.

"The facts were essentially the same," said Meyertons. "They were applying for a bank and commercial use in'04, and they were apply ing for a bank and several commercial uses now."

Robert McDaid, president of Renaissance Properties, said he feels that the area, which is across from a firehouse and a store, is ideal for commercial use. McDaid said he would try other avenues to develop the shopping center, including possibly changing the zoning in the master plan.

"Unfortunately, there are some people that live in the neighborhood that ran around crying, 'there's a plague in town,' me being the plague," said McDaid. "We will look at our options. We are not going away."

After the first shopping center proposal failed in 2004, Renaissance Properties applied to build eight residential houses in the area, which the zoning board approved. The developer recently decided to scrap the housing plan in favor of the shopping center.

Six members of the zoning board voted against the shopping center proposal. The sole supporter was Alan Plans, the board chairman.

Residents from the nearby development Devonshire objected to the plan, arguing they paid premiums to live by open space away from commercial development.

"To see the neighbors come out and stick together, it was heartwarming," said Warren Barnes, a resident on Schoolhouse Road.

But Patrick Hye, a resident on nearby Mount Mills Road, called the decision an "embarrassment" and felt a shopping center would provide jobs and added convenience, while building more houses would add children to school and require more maintenance services.

"The taxpayers would be spending their money to support our town," said Hye. "It brings in revenue into the town without overburdening the school system. We need more businesses."

McDaid said there would have been from 600 to 700 feet between Devonshire and the property that would not be developed because of land he gave away as open space to the town.

"I guess they've been told the big bad developers are going to cut down all the trees," said McDaid. "That will always remain open space."

Christopher Dela Cruz may be reached at (732) 404-8091 or [email protected].