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Plan for homes would have heavy impact on Manalapan

James Gray Guest Column

James Gray
Guest Column

If Manalapan did not receive a wake-up call after the Planning Board approved the mega-mall plan last month, it should now thanks to the News Transcript’s latest editorial regarding the developer’s request to add 500 homes to its project (“Town, Not Developer, Must Control Housing, News Transcript, Aug. 30, 2006).

It is now very clear the developer (of The Village at Manalapan) has no shame in trying to use any means possible to achieve his own financial success with the mall project. He is counting on continued resident complacency to realize his financial windfall at our expense. I am even more surprised that the Township Committee would even entertain such an absurd proposal of adding residential units under the guise of helping us meet our state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) require-ments. The developer’s approach is just as cynical as the oft-repeated and dreaded phase, “we’re from the government and we are here to help you.”

Yes, Manalapan has a responsibility to meet state mandated affordable housing requirements when a commercial enterprise of this size is built, but there are many remedies available to the township which do not involve partnering with a developer so he reaps the financial windfall and we are left with financial liability.

In the beginning of the mega-mall saga a couple of years ago (also exposed by the News Transcript), the developer proposed a residential component to his “vision plan” reportedly to enhance the marketability and acceptance of a true village concept. Now it appears he may need this residential component to make the commercial space viable and successful. The more consumer presence at this regional destination-driven enterprise the more chances of success he will have.

Don’t be surprised if he now says the people who will live there will help to support a performing arts element, an enhanced entertainment complex, etc. Slowly but surely we are witnessing another attempt to obtain what he originally sought before the project was scaled down. His only hope is that our officials blindly agree and believe he truly is there to help the town. If that happens, we, the taxpayers, will be left with a project which will ultimately prove to be more of a burden than a benefit.

As an example you have to look no further than recent crime statistics in the paper and see that the incidents of non-violent crime are up in Eatontown and Freehold Township. These are where big-time malls are located. Any connection? We still will have to increase our police force.

With the addition of a substantial residential element what about the impact on the school system? The superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District was right on target when he said we should be alert to this proposal because the units could have a major tax implication with the number of school age children generated, or won’t people living there have children?

Let’s not forget the additional traffic which will be generated. Do we need more than what the mall will generate? Together with a planned commutation center accompanied by a heavy volume of bus traffic can our local roads stand the volume?

Look at Woodward Road, Millhurst Road and Tennent Road now. These county roads are already clogged. And the spillover to the local roads, I shudder to think what the cost of progress is.

When is enough, enough? I hope the Township Committee first and foremost continues to investigate alternative means to meet and comply with the township’s COAH obligation by working with other communities who will accept some of our court ordered responsibility.

If the developer insists on wanting to help us, have him purchase at his own expense sufficient parcels of land away from the mega-mall to place the required housing which is required because of his project. That’s fair and reasonable and I believe would be acceptable by the state.

If he’s not encouraged to do this and our elected leaders acquiesce to this plan they will have will sent a message to all Manalapan residents that greed is good and they are endorsing it. They also will have put into motion the plan for future township deterioration along the Route 33 corridor all for short-term revenue and long-term tax increases for everyone.

James Gray of Manalapan is a former member of the Manalapan Township Committee and a former mayor of the township.