Next round in Laurino Farm fight on Tuesday

Community group pushing council to use a lower
density in rezoning

Staff Writer

Community group pushing council to use a lower
density in rezoning
Staff Writer

Go ahead and sow the seeds for residential development on the last working farm in Tinton Falls. Just make sure those seeds do not yield a crop of more than 100 or so condos.

That is what one group of community activists have to say about the fate of the 60-acre Laurino Farm, which has sat basically empty on the corner of Sycamore and Hance avenues for many years.

The Laurino family wants to sell the farm to Sterling Properties, Livingston, for $14 million. Residents who live near the farm support the family’s right to sell and profit. They support the borough’s efforts to rezone the tract to make it more marketable.

They do not, however, support rezoning the property to allow houses to be packed onto the property as tightly as the Laurinos have planted corn. The opponents of the current planned rezoning are planning to hire an attorney to represent them in their efforts to keep the density down, and they are hoping that officials will take heed of their pleas for compromise at the public hearing on the issue Sept. 16.

"Our goal is not to stop what they’re doing [rezoning], just to ask them to do it responsibly with a little bit of thought to the effects on the area," said Drew deGanahl, the group’s unofficial leader.

In keeping with the group’s quest, deGanahl said he would meet with attorney Gregory Vella, of Tucci and Vella in the West End section of Long Branch, to see about retaining him to represent the group at the hearing next week and perhaps stall a vote on the ordinance to rezone the farm, which could bring 192 age-restricted condos to the tract.

Roughly 36.5 acres of the Laurino Farms are zoned industrial/office/professional (IOP) and the other 23 some acres are zoned residential (R-2).

The present zoning would allow anything from a warehouse to an office to a hotel on the tract on one end, and up to two single-family homes per acre on another.

The zone change, according to the ordinance, would allow for a singular use of age-restricted housing on the site and a maximum of 3.2 condos per acre.

"Nobody wants an industrial park," deGanahl said. "Nobody wants commercial zoning of any kind. Nobody disagrees with changing the split zoning to a singular common residential zone. I’m pretty certain no one disagrees with the age restriction, either. That makes sense. The school system is overburdened as it is. However, the maximum allowable density, according to the new zoning ordinance, could be catastrophic and a disaster for the future of the area."

At a maximum build-out of 3.2 homes per acre, according to the ordinance, what is now a farm, deGanahl said, could become traffic nightmare for the area.

Age restriction or not, he added, if the high density development is built out to capacity, the traffic will come.

"Officials are trying to sell this [maximum density and] age-restriction, saying that even at the 3.2 homes per acre the zoning in the ordinance would allow, there would be control and it will all work out well. It’s all smoke and mirrors," deGanahl said. "The fact is that if the ordinance allows high density and it is passed, what will follow may be the worst thing in the world for the borough, and no one will be able to stop it."

The way the ordinance reads now, deGanahl said, the traffic impact of 192 condos on an already congested corridor could prematurely turn area residents into shut-ins by default.

"I think the proposed project is good and I think the density and traffic issues will all be ironed out in site plan review on the Planning Board level," Mayor Ann McNamara said.

Not concerned that the ordinance says the density could be as high as 3.2 homes per acre, McNamara said she sides with the opponents of maximum build-out potential.

"That is very dense," she said. "I agree with the residents who have spoken out. I do think that compromise is the key and I think that people on all sides will compromise concerning density. I’m sure that the powers that be will find some way to take the density down to more palatable numbers without compromising the sale of the property. I’m not worried about how they do it. They’ll figure it out."

As far as the accompanying traffic issues are concerned, McNamara sees the development of the Laurino tract as an "opportunity for road improvements that we have been asking for from the county for a long time. The intersection of Hance and Sycamore avenues, both county roads, has been plagued with problems for a long time. We have tried relentlessly to get county assistance for improvements. I have always felt, though, that the county was waiting for a determination on what was to happen with the Laurino farm before officials made any moves to improve [roads and signals]."

Since the Laurinos have never afforded the town the option of buying the farm, they are ripe for retirement and the sale is imminent, the Sterling plan seems the best suited for the site, McNamara said.

DeGanahl had other ideas. He still holds out hope that the borough could control, via some sort of developer donation deal, at least a third of the property for passive or active recreation.

"All of us would like to see a farm continue on the property," McNamara said. "But the Laurinos’ intentions are clear, and compromise is in order. I talked to the family a long time ago about the idea of farmland preservation, but they had no interest. With that sort of program, they would have to make an agreement to stay and farm the land. They want to retire."

If the ordinance passes, it will pave the way for Sterling to fill the tract with not only the condos, but a clubhouse, pool and "outdoor recreational facilities such as a putting green, bocce courts, tennis courts, etc." The development will be geared toward active adults … (or) "80 percent of the dwelling units permanently occupied by at least one person 55 years of age or over and (in which) no children under the age of 18 are permitted to reside on a permanent basis."

While the ordinance parameters comply with the Federal Fair Housing Act, "it’s the art of politics to compromise," McNamara said.