Proposed rezoning puts plan up in air

Residents of two towns have panned development ideas

BY JOYCE BLAY Staff Writer

Staff Writer

The Jackson Township Committee held its first reading Monday of an ordinance that would rezone the site of Ashlie Plaza, a proposed medical and office development bordering Jackson and Freehold Township.

The 19-acre site is on Breezy and Chandler roads, near Jackson Mills Road. A total of 16 acres are currently zoned Neighborhood Commercial (NC) and the remaining 3 acres are zoned R-3 (residential 3-acre lots).

Access to the commercial portion of the site is on Chandler Road. Developer Jeffrey Kneler, of Freehold Township, had applied to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a 50-foot easement to build a private road that would have run through a salvage yard abutting the property.

When the plan was before the Zoning Board, residents of Jackson and Freehold Township opposed the commercial portion of the application as well as the private road, citing their desire to retain the rural character of the neighborhood.

If the Township Committee approves the second reading of the ordinance on July 11, the entire parcel would be rezoned to an R-3 designation.

Opponents of Ashlie Plaza applauded the committee’s action at the June 13 meeting.

“Tonight, together, we take one more step to protect the rural beauty of the Jackson-Freehold [area],” said Linda Mika, of Freehold Township.

One man asked the committee members how they would stop the developer from reversing the committee’s action by suing in court.

Mayor Michael Broderick said the issue had been discussed with Kevin Starkey, the township attorney, and Rick Ragan, the township planner.

“They feel it is defensible,” Broderick said.

Committeeman Mark Seda said Kneler would have needed preliminary approval of his application to retain the NC zoning that is currently in place.

At the June 6 meeting of the Planning Board, Broderick, Committeeman Sean Giblin and other board members unanimously voted to deny a request by Kneler’s company, Equity Builders, for a second extension of time. The vote elicited applause and cheers from residents of both towns who filled the meeting room.

Their jubilation may be short-lived; according to Jackson Municipal Land Use Code 109-44, permitted uses of land zoned R-3 would allow a developer to build community residences for the developmentally disabled or a community shelter for victims of domestic violence.

After the Planning Board’s denial of a second time extension, residents of Freehold Township and Jackson had expressed their opposition to similar projects.

Scott Higgins of Jackson said he did not want doctors’ offices behind his home or those of his neighbors.

Kevin Patten of Freehold Township expressed his concern that medical offices could include unwanted tenants.

“What’s to stop them from putting in a methadone clinic or a rehab clinic for molesters?” he asked.

Kneler expressed frustration after the Planning Board denied his application for a second time extension.

“They didn’t want us to build anything,” he said of residents opposed to the project.

Kneler’s original application was one of 23 the board denied after Jackson’s zoning was changed in 2001 from one home per acre to one home per 3 acres in the area. Kneler sued in state Superior Court along with many of the other denied applicants.

After a review of the master plan, Kneler’s attorney, Gerald Sonnenblick, of Freehold Township, said municipal officials told him the site would be appropriate for neighborhood commercial development.

“They changed the zone and we dropped our suit,” Sonnenblick said.

Sonnenblick said a public hearing was held before the zoning change.

However, residents did not oppose the zoning change until they became aware of the proposed medical and office project, according to Kneler.

The zoning board was scheduled to hear the application on June 1, but Kneler formally withdrew it just before the meeting, citing protests by residents in Freehold Township and Jackson in his letter of explanation to the township.

Instead, he subsequently made an application to the Planning Board for a second time extension of the original approval that involved a subdivision of the subject property.

During testimony before the board on June 6, Sonnenblick clarified the time line that he asserted had resulted in a failure by the applicant to file a required map before the original time extension lapsed. The board members were unconvinced that the delay merited granting a second time extension.

Without another time extension, said zoning officer Richard Megill on June 14, Kneler’s proposed development would have to be redesigned before it is resubmitted to his office.

“The applicant was proposing to create new lots that did not front a public street or a right of way by subdividing the commercial portion of the site into five separate lots,” said Megill. “Had he received the time extension on June 6, he would have submitted a new application to the board. [It] would have included the original five-lot proposal as well as construction of a public road instead of a private one. Instead, the (proposed) rezoning of the site will require that the entire project be redesigned to conform to the new zoning.”

When contacted by a reporter on June 14, Kneler expressed surprise at hearing that the committee had introduced an ordinance to change the zoning on the site to R-3. Kneler did not discuss how the proposed change in zoning would affect his plans for developing his property.