Planning board cancels OK for Spalliero project


Staff Writer

HOWELL — The Planning Board has voted to rescind a housing approval it had granted the developer of a proposed adult community.

Following last month’s decision by the Township Council to rescind the zoning designation that paved the way for the Route 33 adult community project, the Planning Board decided to hold its own hearing and take another look at its October 2002 decision on the Colts Neck Crossing development.

The result of the board’s May 5 meeting was no surprise when members voted to revoke the residential approval that had been given to Crawford Holdings, LLC, of Holmdel. Anthony Spalliero is one of the principals in Crawford Holdings. He was arrested last week by federal authorities and charged with bribing public officials in Monmouth County in order to obtain approvals on various development applications.

Colts Neck Crossing received preliminary residential approval in October 2002. The plan called for 497 homes on Route 33 at Cranberry and Colts Neck roads. Final approval of the commercial component of the project had been scheduled for April 21.

An April 12 action by the Township Council nullified the adoption of a Planned Retirement Community (PRC) zone that was put in place to accommodate the Colts Neck Crossing application. The developers had requested the zoning change, which was granted by a former mayor and council in April 2002.

The 334-acre site has reverted to the large-lot zoning that was previously in place.

The PRC zoning was rescinded after a special investigatory commission consisting of Mayor Joseph M. DiBella, Deputy Mayor Juan Malave and Councilman Wayne Lucey determined that the change from large-lot zoning to a PRC amounted to illegal contract zoning.

At the May 5 Planning Board meeting, board member Pauline Smith recused herself from the hearing due to the fact that she had been questioned at the special investigatory commission’s hearings in April. Smith said she was removing herself from the process as well as any future action regarding the Colts Neck Crossing application because she feared incurring personal civil liability.

Planning Board attorney Ronald Cucchiaro told the remaining board members who were going to act on the matter that a state statute supported their right to hold the rehearing of the application’s approval. According to Cucchiaro, the board had the right to modify or rescind the Colts Neck Crossing approval as long as the applicant had been properly notified of the potential action.

Although notified and called for at the meeting, no one identified himself or came forward claiming to represent Crawford Holdings at the May 5 rehearing.

After acting to rescind their prior approval for the residential component of Colts Neck Crossing, the board took action relative to the commercial component of the same application.

Although the final commercial approval had been scheduled for April 21, the board, without the consent of the applicant, voted to extend the final hearing of the application also to May 5, to follow its re-examination of the residential approval.

It was decided that since the board had overturned the original residential approval, Crawford Holdings would have to reapply for its commercial approval since its prior notice to area residents would now be considered to be invalid.

Crawford Holdings has already stated that because the board did not approve the commercial buildings in the time mandated by law, the commercial buildings were automatically approved.

Councilman Peter Tobasco has previously stated that the Planning Board’s approval for the Colts Neck Crossing application was appropriately granted according to the parameters of the PRC zoning.

However, before the board members voted, board Chairman Mike Corzine told them that the actions taken by the special investigatory commission made the board’s prior approval of Colts Neck Crossing moot since rescinding the zoning on the Route 33 property meant that the application was not meritorious since it was no longer consistent with the zoning in place on the parcel.

Board member Curtis Vislocky said that even though the board members had acted in good faith when they voted to approve the adult community in the fall of 2002, he believed that given the disposition of the special investigatory commission hearings, “It seems our premise was not valid.” He said he believed the board now had “every right to repeal our decision on this application.”

Also, according to Cucchiaro, since the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office had seized the original records relating to the Colts Neck Crossing application a year ago, the board did not have a complete file 10 days before the hearing as mandated by law and therefore it had no jurisdiction and would have been precluded, by law from proceeding with the final commercial approval.

Despite the legal notice that was published by Crawford Holdings claiming approval of the commercial buildings by default, the board directed administrative officer Barbara Melillo-Capitan to notify municipal departments that permits are not to be issued for Colts Neck Crossing.

Board members adopted a resolution stating their support for the mayor and council’s actions in the Colts Neck Crossing hearings and final decisions. The resolution states that the board members found the reinstated zoning for the Route 33 property to be consistent with the township’s master plan proposals.