Town center decision expected next month

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN — The township’s Zoning Board is expected to announce a decision regarding the proposed town center next month, despite a court order to halt any action surrounding the project.

Arguments surrounding an appeal concerning whether the Zoning or Planning Board should hear one of five project plans were wrapped up at the Dec. 8 Zoning Board meeting. The decision on the appeal is slated for Jan. 28.

The town center’s developer, Mountain Hill Group LLC, has testified at two hearings regarding its appeal of Zoning Officer Marianne Hanko’s decision to defer a third development plan, submitted in July, to the Zoning Board.

The developer wanted the plan heard before the Planning Board because variances are not required on plans heard before that board. The Planning Board hears plans that comply with township land use regulations.

Hanko’s decision said the third plan for the development did not comply with township land use laws. The plan had some buildings straddling two zones and driveways connecting them. With the buildings and driveways sitting between zones, Hanko said a connection was made between zones that lent the appearance of the center filling one not two separate zones with separate parameters.

Buffers were not sufficient in the plan, either, her findings said. The 85-acre planned development zone, between Kanes Lane and Kings Highway East, allows for a town center-type development. Mountain Hill’s plan calls for the town center to span 137.5 acres and spill into a 52.5-acre light industrial zone which sits next to the planned development zone.

Since its unveiling, the $150 million mixed use development slated for 137.5 acres between Kanes Lane and Kings Highway East has generated controversy. Conceived by the son and a nephew of Republican Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-13, Joseph Azzolina Jr. and Philip Scaduto, some township officials have argued it is too big and some residents have rejected it.

The developer has submitted five plans and all of the plans are either under appeal with the courts or the township. There are also several lawsuits related to the plan pending in court.

Because of the multiple lawsuits and applications causing confusion and inundating the courts and township boards, Superior Court Judge Lawrence Lawson issued a directive a few weeks ago to stop all action surrounding the town center until the five unresolved lawsuits and five applications are resolved.

"Mountain Hill LLC is hereby enjoined (prevented) from bringing any application to either the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Adjustment of the Township of Middletown regarding the development of the ‘town center’ project until such a time as disposition or withdrawal of each pending appeal has been made," according to Lawson’s decision.