Village project put on hold as town to eye traffic woes


MANALAPAN – A pending major commercial project has been put into a holding pattern by mutual agreement between township officials and project representatives.

The Village atManalapan is a 500,000- square-foot retail development planned for a 135-acre site at the intersection of Route 33 and Millhurst Road. It is expected to have several areas, including a community shopping center with a supermarket and related stores, a lifestyle shopping center that has been compared to the Grove retail center in Shrewsbury, and professional office space.

As approved by the Planning Board on May 25, 2006, all access to the center will be from Millhurst Road. The state Department of Transportation declined to permit access from Route 33. The board’s vote 19 months ago was for preliminary approval.

Final approval has not been granted to the developer, Manalapan Retail Realty Partners. Last week the project was placed on inactive status.

According toMayorAndrew Lucas, The Village at Manalapan was put on hold in order to allow the township to study traffic concerns at the already overworked, under-functioning traffic intersection of Millhurst Road and Route 33 west.

Lucas has said that intersection already holds an F rating (on a scale of A to F with A being the best level of traffic movement and F being the worst) and he said the situation will only worsen as The Village at Manalapan will bring more vehicles to Millhurst Road and through the intersection.

Lucas, who sits on the Planning Board by virtue of his position as mayor, said, “the board took the appropriate action by making The Village at Manalapan application inactive. This will allow the township the appropriate amount of time to have our professionals use the resources of the county’s Route 33 corridor study along with the Department of Transportation’s Smart Growth study and new modeling to make recommendations that will fix the traffic issues surrounding theMillhurst Road and Route 33 intersection.”

The Township Committee recently named an ad hoc committee that has been asked to develop a proposal that would support access for motorists from Route 33 into The Village at Manalapan.

Lucas is joined on that panel by Deputy Mayor Michelle Roth, Planning Board Chairman Richard Cohen, township engineer Greg Valesi, Planning Board member John McNaboe and former Manalapan mayors Jim Gray and Drew Shapiro.

Almost two years ago, The Village at Manalapan gained preliminary approval in a 7-2 vote of the Planning Board.

At the time of the vote Shapiro, who wasManalapan’s mayor that year, told his fellow board members, “I’m going to go ahead and be the blunt one … You can’t vote no on this application anyway. There are no variances. If we voted no it would be overturned in court.”

However, Shapiro joined Roth, who was also a member of the board at that time, in voting no for preliminary approval when it came time to vote.

Asked why he voted the way he did, Shapiro said that since he was opposed to the project and despite the writing on the wall that it would be approved, he voted no in order to make a “statement.”

Applicant Manalapan Retail Realty Partners initially proposed what was referred to as the vision plan for The Village at Manalapan.

At more than 800,000 square feet, the vision plan as explained by developer Richard Brunelli included the community and lifestyle shopping areas that eventually were approved, plus an entertainment complex, a hotel, a tennis complex and a “downtown” retail area with apartments over the stores.

The vision plan was presented as a concept to the Township Committee, but was never presented to the Planning Board as a formal application.

More recently, the developer discussed the idea of having a housing component as part of the project. The Township Committee has not taken action on that request.