‘Plan B’ for post-BRAC fort property unveiled

Redevelopment uses could mix residential, industrial, commercial

BY SUE M. MORGAN Staff Writer

Staff Writer

EATONTOWN — Weary from battle, yet resolved not to be defeated, the mayors of Fort Monmouth’s three host communities have rolled out a scheme designed to show that there will be life after the local U.S. Army base closes.

Though still visibly shaken by the 7-1 decision rendered less than 12 hours earlier on Aug. 24 by the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission to accept the Pentagon’s recommendation to close the 88-year-old installation, the mayors of Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls joined together that night to unveil “Plan B,” a proposal designed to breathe new life into the more than 1,100 acres of land that is expected to be vacated by the military by 2011.

Having just returned from Crystal City, Va., where the BRAC commissioners cast the votes that sealed Fort Monmouth’s fate, Eatontown Mayor Gerald Tarantolo somberly addressed area residents, fort workers, other local officials and the press gathered inside the council chambers at borough hall about what could happen to the base’s infrastructure after its more than 5,000 civilian and 467 military workers leave.

While expressing disappointment over the BRAC decision that has essentially thwarted what Tarantolo called “Plan A,” specifically the salvation of Fort Monmouth from the Pentagon’s ax, the Eatontown mayor introduced Plan B, the contingency redevelopment plan that he has floated with input from Mayors Maria Gatta and Peter Maclearie, respectively of Oceanport and Tinton Falls.

Flanked by both Gatta and Maclearie, as well as by U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-6) and Rush Holt (D-12), Tarantolo predicted that once closed, Fort Monmouth could be converted to a mix of other uses such as housing, office space, industrial, educational, or retail.

Ideally, however, an industry specializing in “high-tech” operations that could re-employ the civilian engineers and scientists that would be displaced by the closing is most desirable, Tarantolo said.

“We want to attract a good ratable to this area,” Tarantolo said. “This area has been very popular with the technical industry.”

If housing were to be constructed, both market-rate and affordable housing would be offered, the mayor noted.

While Pallone and Holt, the co-chairs of the local Save Our Fort Committee, vowed at the same press conference to continue pushing for a reversal of the BRAC decision at the federal level, Tarantolo stressed that the three municipalities should proceed with redevelopment ideas anyway.

“We mayors, in the best interests of our respective communities, felt an effort should be initiated to explore the Plan B option, i.e., the preparations of an overall strategy and plan for the reuse and redevelopment of Fort Monmouth in the event it is closed or realigned,” Tarantolo said.

The Plan B ad hoc committee, consisting of Tarantolo, Gatta, former Tinton Falls Mayor Ann McNamara representing Maclearie, Fort Monmouth Garrison Commander Col. Ricki Sullivan, Eatontown Council President Theodore F. Lewis Jr., Oceanport Councilman Jay Briscione, Tinton Falls Councilman Brendan Tobin, and Eatontown Borough Administrator Michael Trotta, has been formed to get that process under way.

At the recommendation of acting Gov. Richard Codey, New Jersey Secretary of Commerce Virginia Bauer will serve as the state’s designee to the Plan B committee.

To begin moving the base from military to civilian uses, the committee has already met with the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) “to seek out advice, guidance and economic assistance [and] to pursue the preparation of an overall strategy and plan for the reuse and redevelopment of those areas of Fort Monmouth declared surplus,” Tarantolo said.

The three host communities were expected to apply to OEA as of yesterday for an initial $300,000 in Seed Grant Assistance and Community Adjustment Assistance Funding to be used by the ad hoc committee as it sets up shop, Tarantolo noted.

“The mayors and their respective councils have mutually agreed that the reuse and redevelopment of Fort Monmouth should be approached on a regional basis, and we are seeking funding from OEA on that basis,” he said.

As it seeks out new uses for the largely research and development-oriented base, the ad hoc committee will be charged with creating a local redevelopment authority (LRA) to craft and implement whatever plan is ultimately decided upon, Tarantolo said.

Having already prepared a draft request for proposal, (RFP), the ad hoc committee will eventually start soliciting résumés from “qualified consultants having experience and background in base closing and redevelopment efforts,” the Eatontown mayor continued.

“The creation and operation of an LRA is a major undertaking that will require the services of consultants and permanent LRA staff, all of which are funded via the OEA Community Adjustment Assistance grant,” Tarantolo said.

Because the OEA requires that any grants awarded be matched by 10 percent at the local level, the ad hoc committee would seek those matching funds from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Smart Growth Program, he continued.

“Any shortfall in the 10 percent match will have to be assumed by the three municipalities,” he said.

Pointing to Colorado’s former Lowry Air Force Base near Denver as an example of a military base successfully redeveloped for mixed residential and commercial purposes, Tarantolo stressed that early planning was key to pulling off an economic viable reuse of the Fort Monmouth land.

“There is life after Fort Monmouth closes,” said Tarantolo, who visited the 1,800-acre Lowry property in June to prepare for the possible Fort Monmouth shutdown.

The difficult part is the transition period between when the base actually shuts down and when it comes alive with new development again, he added.

“If we do it right, it could be a boon to this area,” Tarantolo said.

The public will be allowed to have input in the process, he noted.

Other prospective uses for part of the property could include a retail-oriented town center, community center or college campus, or a communications technology firm, Tarantolo said.

Because all three host communities have yet to meet state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) obligations, the prospect of redeveloping a portion of the land for market-rate and affordable units is strong as well, he said.

Another government agency, such as the Department of Homeland Security, might be interested in using some of the laboratories and facilities now in place, according to Pallone.

Also, an FBI bureau office and other federal agencies that are co-located at the fort might want to stay put, Holt pointed out

“We’ll be looking into that,” Holt said.

Under the Pentagon’s plan as approved by the BRAC commission, most of Fort Monmouth’s workers in its Communications and Electronics Command (CECOM) would be transferred to the Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Ground within two to six years.

In announcing the decision, the BRAC commission agreed to allow the Defense Department to close Fort Monmouth provided that the shutdown does not take place until CECOM’s functions are fully duplicated at the Aberdeen base.

Both Pallone and Holt have pledged to lobby Congress to hold the Defense Department to the condition imposed by the BRAC commission before the fort can be completely shut down