Mayor: Time for builder to move on Towne Centre


By Joyce Blay
Staff Writer

Mayor: Time for builder
to move on Towne Centre
Developer’s rep
hoping for another
public meeting
By Joyce Blay
Staff Writer

Jackson Mayor Michael Broderick has said there will be no further government-sponsored public meetings held to discuss developer Mitch Leigh’s proposed Towne Centre.

"Mr. [Thomas] Bovino [Leigh’s spokesman] has been told that we are not going to approve a development the size of Towne Centre unless it is rezoned for all those residential units," Broderick told the Tri-Town News last week. "That means Mr. Leigh must come before the Township Committee to ask for a rezoning, and he has not done that yet."

Leigh has previously described his plan for Towne Centre as a mix of retail, commercial and residential uses.

Broderick, who is a member of the Township Committee and the Planning Board, said he favored the commercial portion of Towne Centre but not the residential design as it is currently proposed.

In 1989, Leigh received approval to build a total of 1,640 single-family and multi-family homes. That approval is good until 2004. His new design for Towne Centre apparently calls for as many as 5,400 residential units with a commercial and fine arts village as well.

No formal application for Towne Centre has been filed with the Planning Board. As previously described, the 960-acre retail-commercial-residential Towne Centre would be built on a tract that abuts Interstate 195 to the north, and encompasses property roughly between Route 527 and Diamond and Freehold roads.

When informed by phone of Broderick’s comments, Bovino expressed shock and surprise.

"Mr. Leigh was disappointed that everyone at that Oct. 3 Planning Board meeting was unable to speak," said Bovino. "There were still people waiting at the microphones for their turn before the meeting was cut short. He was led to believe that there would be another meeting to continue the discussion.

"I sat in that crowd and heard Planning Board Chairman Mr. [James] Casella announce that there would be another meeting. If there is to be no new meeting, then we will have to speak to our attorney about our next move," he said.

Bovino said he would check the minutes of the Oct. 3 meeting, at which Leigh discussed his plan for Towne Centre, in order to determine whether his understanding that another public meeting would be arranged was on the record before he met with Leigh’s attorney, Ray Shea. However, Bovino said the development group would not make an application for rezoning at this time.

"It’s premature for us to go before the Township Committee," Bovino said. "At the end of the day, we believe everyone in Jackson must be behind Towne Centre for it to succeed. I think the support is there. It is just the angriest segment of Jackson that is being the most vocal. We will continue trying to educate them to gain their support."

According to Bovino, the reason the residential portion of Towne Centre is so integral to the development’s success is its concept as a village that would support the other segments of the development. He said that initially the first phase of residential construction would entail an upscale adult rental community, and then later it would incorporate construction of townhouses, row houses and other types of residences that would be targeted at a variety of age groups and income levels — in essence, a village within a village.

"I think that active adults who retire and can’t afford to live in Westlake would love to rent a Towne Centre apartment where they can live the same type of lifestyle," said Bovino. "There is a huge market of middle-class people that choose to rent that type of apartment."

Bovino also responded to comments made at the same Oct. 3 meeting by Jackson residents alleging that retirees who didn’t own their homes would have less of a commitment to the town in which they lived.

"I think that an active adult that retires to a rental community will still volunteer in the community," he said. "Seniors support the arts and since they don’t have kids they will not further drain town resources [that must be allocated for schools]."

When informed that parents at a Nov. 12 Board of Education meeting had voiced their belief that residents in the town’s adult communities had been responsible for voting down the 2002-03 school budget, Bovino addressed their fear that more senior citizens living in town would make passing future school budgets even more difficult.

"When you’re the last person in and you pay the highest taxes, you vote down the budget," Bovino said. "If Towne Centre is built as designed and commercial ratables go up, bringing down taxes, then active adults will stop voting down school budgets."