Applicant takes defeated athletic center to court


HOWELL – The applicant who recently came up short in a bid to build an athletic training facility on Fairfield Road has filed suit against the Zoning Board of Adjustment in an attempt to reverse the outcome.

The people who proposed to construct the Monmouth County Athletic Center sought a use variance in order to place the project in a Special Economic Development and ARE-6 Rural Agricultural/Natural Resource Protection zone. The project was designed solely as a recreational facility, which is a non-permitted use in these zones.

Zoning board approval required five affirmative votes and when the board members voted in December the applicant was one affirmative vote short of getting the go-ahead for the project.

The legal action was filed on Jan. 31.

The applicant who appeared before the board five times called the board’s decision “arbitrary, unreasonable and capricious.” According to T.J. Coan, one of the principals behind the proposal, “We are committed to building” this project.

He added, “I feel we presented an excellent case over five meetings. We addressed every element, purchased additional property and even redesigned the plan.We have jumped over every hurdle. The zoning board’s vote was arbitrary, capricious and not based on the facts.”

The applicant proposed to build a sports complex which included a two-story health club, swimming pool, basketball courts, running track, baseball fields and other amenities.

According to the board’s resolution which denied the use variance, the variance was required because “the proposed private athletic complex is neither a permitted, accessory or conditional use within either the SED or ARE- 6 zones.”

There are no areas in Howell zoned for recreational facilities.

Coan called that reality an undue hardship, saying, “Because there is no zoning for recreational facilities, there are no guidelines, making it difficult to work with the township.”

According to the zoning board’s resolution, “from the inception of the case, the board was concerned with the impact such an extensive project would have on the otherwise rural nature of this part of Howell … specifically with traffic congestion.”

In addition to the potential increase in traffic, the board was also concerned about the impact of the athletic training facility on the quality of life and upholding the township’s goal to preserve the rural character of the community.

According to the resolution, “the board did not find that the purposes of zoning would be served by the placement of this facility at this location, given the rural nature of the area, and the presence of the nearby residences and farms,” and noted that if Howell officials deemed facilities of this type to be appropriate for this zone, it would be a permitted use, or at least a conditional use at this location.

Coan said the decision to file suit against the zoning board “hurts us because we are also taxpayers in Howell.We are not contract purchasers of the property. We own the property.”