Attorney: Movies out of Village plan

Monroe Marketplace could hinge on build-out of Manalapan project


Staff Writer

Plans for a multiplex theater and performing arts center are apparently off the table at The Village at Manalapan, a retail shopping center planned for Route 33.

Attorney John Giunco, representing Manalapan Retail Realty Partners, made the announcement during a Dec. 8 meeting of the Manalapan Planning Board.

As the board was considering a site plan for a 500,000-square-foot shopping center, Giunco was asked what type of entertainment activities will be available at the site, located on Millhurst Road.

He responded by saying, “My clients are not seeking this board’s approval for a movie theater nor seeking any longer the Township Committee’s authority to rezone for a theater and consequently that includes a performing arts center. At this point or any point in the future.”

His statement was a change of course for a project that has been discussed in two ways over the past year — first as a 500,000-square-foot shopping center, which is a permitted use at the site; and second as what developer Richard Brunelli has referred to as a “vision plan” with the 500,000-square-foot shopping center, plus a hotel, entertainment center and tennis complex.

Brunelli had asked the Township Committee to consider making zoning changes that would allow the hotel and entertainment center to be constructed in an area that is not presently zoned for those uses.

The committee did not take action on his request this year.

Monroe Township officials perceive the proposal in Manalapan as a threat to their vision for the Monroe Marketplace, which is being considered for land along Route 33 and could include a minor league ballpark, high-end retail space, luxury condominiums, a commuter lot and a performing arts center.

Officials have said there may not be enough demand in the area for both projects.

Giunco’s comment on the Manalapan plan appears to remove the movie theater and performing arts center from The Village equation.

Testimony on The Village continued Dec. 8 from project planner Christine Cofone, who reviewed recommendations made by the Office of Smart Growth and changes made based on those recommendations. She said a 95-car commuter parking lot has been added and buses will be able to pull into the site. The commuter parking lot will be near Millhurst Road, just east of what is designated as Building H, which will be a Borders book store.

Cofone said The Village will have a compact cluster community design, walkable neighborhoods, distinctive attractive communities offering a sense of place, open space farmland and scenic resource preservation.

The developer is proposing 180,000 square feet of nonretail space in the form of offices, a health club, a bank and three restaurants, she told the board.

Project architect Charles P. Dietz said the applicant is looking for an upscale, high-end project. He described the Village Green area as the focal point of the shopping center.

“That is where the life of the shopping center will be,” said Dietz.

The architect also described Main Street, Broadway and other proposed roads within The Village.

Dietz described the buildings that will be included in the lifestyle center of the project as structures that will be made of brick, stucco and natural stone.

The lifestyle center has previously been described as being similar to The Grove in Shrewsbury.

Dietz also described the project’s Main Street area and its design theme. He compared this section of The Village to the Georgetown area near Washington, D.C., Red Bank and Westfield, with retail uses on a single floor.

“We’re proposing a three-story false facade with lighted windows behind it,” the architect said, “but there will be a single occupiable floor as planned.

“The community shopping center [portion of The Village], anchored by a supermarket and other retailers, a bank, possibly a drug store and health club facility, will have a strong traditional look,” said Dietz. “There will be earth-tone colors and natural stone at the base.”

The Planning Board did not vote on the project at its Dec. 8 meeting.

It is expected that the next date for The Village hearing to continue will be determined on Jan. 12 when the board reorganizes for 2006. An extension of the application has been given to Jan. 26 and the hearing may continue on that evening.