Residents: Plan would bring too much traffic

Board gets earful as hearings continue on commercial plaza


Staff Writer

It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.That is the feeling of residents concerned that proposed development around Texas and Englishtown roads in Old Bridge will only worsen traffic conditions in the area. Residents told the Planning Board Tuesday that the proposed Woodhaven Plaza and the Woodhaven II development will ultimately make them hostages in their homes.

The Planning Board heard further testimony on Woodhaven Plaza Tuesday. The proposal is for 118,050 square feet of retail space on 27 acres of land fronting on Texas Road. The land straddles two commercially zoned parcels located near Murray Drive, according to Woodhaven attorney Ron Shimanowitz, and the application calls for three buildings on one lot and one on the other.

Future tenants of the stores are not yet lined up, but a supermarket is being discussed for one of the buildings.

“Can we not see the forest for the trees, here?” asked Dickinson Lane resident Richard Pucciarelli. “I mean, the impact is going to be incredible.”

In the summer, Pucciarelli said, traffic from Raceway Park will just compound the traffic problems. And, he said, Texas Road cannot support the type of development Woodhaven principals want to place there.

“It’s not Route 9,” he said. “It’s Texas Road. It’s one lane in each direction. You can’t drive down the road now.”

Fellow Dickinson Lane resident Barry Shultz agreed with Pucciarelli.

Shultz said that when he bought his home, he was assured by the builder that the area was part of a greenbelt, or wetlands, and would not be developed further.

Residents told the board that the area did not need another shopping center; they said they felt the region was “oversaturated” with shopping plazas already.

The Woodhaven developer is expected, as a condition of approval, to make road improvements to the intersection of Texas and Englishtown roads, as well as widen and straighten points along Texas Road.

Township-retained traffic engineer Mark Remsa has said at previous hearings that more of a buffer is needed between the proposed development and Texas Road. The road, he said, is a major artery, not a minor arterial roadway, as Woodhaven representatives had suggested.

Jeff Abdoll, president of the Woodhaven I homeowners’ association, told the board that traffic would only become worse if the commercial development is approved.

“The traffic conditions are pretty horrible,” he said.

Pucciarelli agreed.

“It’s an obstacle course down there,” he said.

Abdoll told the board that roads in the Woodhaven I development have not yet been completed, and asked how the board could reasonably approve another Woodhaven development if that is the case.

“You’re not going to put another shovel in the ground until these people have their roads paved,” Planning Board Chairman Lawrence Redmond told Woodhaven representatives.

Those representatives replied that 70 percent of the roads have been finished, and that the remainder cannot be completed until other road work is finished in the area, or the paving would need to be redone.

At past Woodhaven hearings, representatives have told the board that meetings with the county have been fruitless. Without county approval, certain road improvements cannot be completed. And without Planning Board approval, the county will not give it the OK.

Ward 5 Councilman Richard Greene told the board he had spoken with the county and found the talk less than helpful.

“I don’t sense anything in the works,” Greene said.

While noting that he does support commercial development in Old Bridge, Greene said this location is not the place for it.

Presidential Estates Homeowners’ Association President Brett Bannerman agreed.

Bannerman said that those living close to Raceway Park get a phone call from the police department on days when an event will be held at that venue because of the traffic that the police know will result. Residents, he said, check their calendars and make sure they have no plans – because they know they won’t be able to get in and out of their neighborhoods.

If the various new phases of Woodhaven are approved, he said, a lot of people will be forced to move out of the area.

Resident Betty Hago said she regretted moving to Old Bridge. What should be an 8-minute drive, she said, takes an hour and a half in the summer because of the additional traffic.

“I can’t even believe this is being contemplated,” Hago said.

Crecent Road resident Anthony Gerardi told the board the same thing. He said approving more developments there would result in “manlocking” the area.

“Texas Road itself, I don’t believe can hold that kind of traffic,” he said.

“I don’t think the township wants to wait until the beginning of the commercial project to have the intersection improvements done,” said John Rea, a traffic consultant retained by the township. “I think also … you seemed to indicate that those improvements were going to be done upfront.”

Shimanowitz said the applicant’s intention was to do everything upfront.

“We’re going to start [the road improvements] as soon as we’re legally allowed to start them, and not wait for Woodhaven section II,” said Woodhaven principal Bill Iafe.

But before those improvements can begin, some properties must be acquired by the applicant, Rea noted.

“For the intersection, I don’t believe that that’s true,” Iafe said. “If there are property acquisition issues, it’s very limited.”

But, he said, county and state Department of Transportation approvals do need to be granted.

Rea said that, from the township’s perspective, those improvements must be completed sooner rather than later.

Woodhaven includes another commercial component, as well as two large residential sections. The first residential section, Woodhaven I, was approved several years ago and consists of 73 single-family homes, 19 patio homes, 12 duplexes, 70 townhouses and 136 flats. The second, Woodhaven II, is still being heard before the Planning Board, and calls for 113 single-family homes, 292 townhouses and 358 multifamily homes.

Redmond reiterated Tuesday that he would like to see all conditions of approval written out. Board Attorney Jeffrey Lehrer said in January that he would prepare a resolution for the board outlining those conditions.

The board will hear more on the Woodhaven application in April.