Density an issue in Jackson Mews

Jackson Planning Board is reviewing application for 2,500-home project


Members of the Jackson Planning Board have started a new review of Jackson Mews, a development of 2,531 homes proposed by Leigh Realty of Brick Township.

The application was remanded to the Planning Board following legal action.

Jackson Mews would include townhouses, single-family homes and a commercial section.

It is possible that Jackson Mews will also include affordable housing units that will be sold or rented at below-market rates to individuals whose income meets regional guidelines established by the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).

In 2007 the board denied the application proposed by Leigh Realty to build Jackson Mews on a 600-acre tract on West Commodore Boulevard with Route 526 to the north and West Freehold Road (Route 638) to the south.

Leesville Road would have been to the west of the project and Cedar Swamp Road (Route 527) would have been to the east. West Fish Road was expected to run through the project from northwest to southeast.

At that time the board’s planner, Alan Dittenhofer, indicated that net density requirements had never been provided by the applicant. His recommendation to the board was that a written density report for each section of Jackson Mews be provided so it could be determined if the application met the net density requirements of the ordinance in effect at the time.

During the board’s Jan. 25 meeting, attorney Denis Kelly, representing the applicant, said the matter was on remand from the court and he said Leigh Realty has its own interpretation of the meaning of density.

“The dispute hinges on the township ordinance relating to density,” Kelly said, explaining that there are differences in interpretation.

Engineer Dave Eareckson, representing the applicant, presented a chart with three statements; a definition of the term “net density” by code and then two interpretations of the code, one by the applicant and one by the township.

According to Jackson’s municipal code, residential density is the number of dwellings that may be or are developed per acre of land, exclusive of areas used for public access, streets, roads, easements and/or open space, Eareckson said.

The second statement on the chart indicated the applicant’s interpretation of the code, which said residential density is the number of dwelling units that may be or are developed per acre of land, exclusive of areas used for public access, public streets, public roads, public easements and/or public open space.

That statement appears to differentiate public from private access, streets, roads easements and/or open space.

The third statement indicated the township professionals’ current interpretation of residential density to be the number of dwelling units that may be, or are, developed per acre of land exclusive of areas used for all public access, all streets, all roads, all easements and/or all open space.

The question remains whether the streets, roads, easements and/or open space are public or private or both.

Eareckson showed several exhibits comparing Jackson Mews with several other projects — Jackson Valley, Hovbilt and Leigh at Jackson — which had previously been approved.

“These are exhibits that represent what our interpretation is,” Kelly said.

When asked by the board’s attorney, Gregory McGuckin, if that information was given to the board prior to the meeting, Eareckson said it was not.

McGuckin said is was supposed to have been given to the board by Jan. 13.

Eareckson continued and said if he uses the Jackson Mews chart with the applicant’s interpretation, the net density is 4.2 dwellings per acre.

“Using [the applicant’s] interpretation, these roads are private, all the open space is private, and there would be very little area left,” Eareckson said. “We would wind up with a net density of 4.2 per acre using this interpretation.”

Eareckson said that if the township professionals’ interpretation is used, all streets, all roads, all open space (public and private), there would be a density of 15.3 dwellings per acre.

Board member Dan Burke said the board never received the information in advance and did not have time to review anything presented by the applicant’s engineer.

“You are not allowing the professionals or the board to look at this in advance,” said Burke.

Porter said he thinks it is reasonable to include wetlands in the calculations.

Board member Blanche Krubner, directing her statement to the applicant’s attorney, said no matter how the question of density is interpreted, the same number of units, 2,531, are still being planned.

Krubner asked how much of the Jackson Mews property is wetlands and was told that about 300 acres of the site is wetlands.

When asked by McGuckin about sensitive environmental areas and whether residents would be restricted from walking in those areas, Jennifer Beahm, another engineer representing the applicant, said residents would be restricted from entering those area.

“Do you mean (residents) would not be allowed to walk in the conservation areas?” McGuckin asked.

Beahm said that is what she meant since all regulated land is restricted from activity and walking is an activity.

The board’s chairman. Howard Tilis. said the board members were hearing the numbers for the first time and they had not had the time to do any of the calculations.

“In terms of wetlands, open space and roads, I don’t want to believe you on face value,” Tilis said.

Board member Robert Hudak said he thought the matter was going around in circles.

The board’s engineer, Doug Klee, said his problem with the applicant’s position lies with the easement over wetlands and wetlands buffers. Klee said if the easement is dedicated to Jackson that will make it a public easement.

“It has to be dedicated to somebody,” he said.

During the public portion of the meeting, resident Denise Garner said she is concerned about the wetlands and the watershed as it pertains to Jackson Mews.

“We have had rain and snow recently and the water is up to my knees,” Garner said. “During the summer in a drought it’s still very wet.”

Garner said the Toms River and the Metedeconk River are tributaries to a reservoir in Brick Township. She said the development of 2,500 residential units at Jackson Mews will have an effect on those waterways. She said the people involved in the matter are dealing with affordable housing issues and with density issues, but she said they are not dealing with environmental issues.

Garner said she fears there will be significant problems if the Jackson Mews application is approved.

The discussion about Jackson Mews is expected to continue at the board’s meeting on Feb. 22.