Fort plan gets HUD nod

Agency: Plan balances redevelopment and housing for homeless

BY ANDREW DAVISON Staff Writer

A fter a nearly three-year wait, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved the Fort Monmouth Reuse and Redevelopment Plan, which allows negotiations for the transfer of the 1,127 acres of fort property when the post closes in September.

The redevelopment plan, completed and approved by the former Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Planning Authority (FMERPA) in 2008, has been awaiting HUD approval.

“The Army could not engage in anything final with us, in any type of property disposition et cetera, or even in a formal document leading to that, without HUD having approved our plan,” said Frank Cosentino, director of Plans and Programs for the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), which succeeded FMERPA.

“In the federal guidelines, it clearly states that HUD approval is required for the Army to move forward in negotiations with the local redevelopment authority, FMERA.”

According to a letter from Mark Johnston, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for special needs, to FMERAChair James Gorman dated June 16, HUD reviewed the redevelopment plan to ensure that it accommodates the needs of the area’s homeless. “HUD finds that, with respect to the expressed interest and requests of representatives of the homeless, the plan balances in an appropriate manner a portion or all of the needs of the communities in the vicinity of the installation for economic redevelopment and other development, with the needs of the homeless in the community,” Johnston wrote.

Since the county operates a homeless shelter on the grounds of Fort Monmouth, by law HUD must review the plan to confirm that requests from homeless providers are properly included.

Johnston said that the plan accommodated nine of the 14 Notices of Interest (NOI) received from representatives of the homeless and that FMERPA had good reason not to include the remaining five.

“By accommodating almost all of the eligible NOIs received for homeless assistance, the LRA demonstrated that the homeless needs of the community were indeed considered when it developed the plan,” Johnston said.

The letter also recognized the substantial need for economic redevelopment in the area, estimating an annual state revenue stream loss of more than $165 million from the fort’s closing.

“The closing of the fort represents a loss of 5,638 jobs on base and as many as 16,000 supporting jobs in the region,” Johnston wrote.

With the feds’ blessing, FMERA and the Army can make final arrangements regarding property transfers and agreements.

Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-12th District) lauded the approval and said that it allows officials to pursue the transfer of property and advance efforts to create jobs.

“The next step is the negotiation between the state of New Jersey and the Department of Defense about how the title to the land will be transferred,” Beck said.

Beck was instrumental in crafting the legislation that created the FMERA entity and fought to increase local input.

“The guiding principles of how the land will be transferred is something that we [legislators] will be involved in, but specific transactions will be handled by the Fort Monmouth redevelopment authority,” she said.

Despite FMERA’s previous inability to finalize any agreements with the Army, Cosentino said that the authority has been discussing the imminent transfers for months.

“We’ve been meeting regularly with representatives of the Army, both of us understanding that nothing could move forward in any final sense without HUD approval,” he said.

“Truly, we have not been sitting on the sideline waiting to start our discussions; we’re well along in our discussions and now this is the green light.”

While this is final approval from federal entities, Cosentino said that FMERA would still be subject to approvals from individual boards, the state’s Economic Development Authority and the Governor’s Office.

Cosentino said that FMERA has received significant interest in the property.

“We are extremely pleased at the level of interest that’s been expressed, unsolicited interest, in the property, both in prospective purchases and prospective leases,” he said.

Expressed interest is a good sign, Cosentino said, but FMERAwill give equal opportunity to all parties as required, creating a “level playing field.”

“We will be putting out documentation to anybody and everybody who might be interested,” he said. “Even though people have expressed interest, the level playing field approach will be our guideline.”

Cosentino said that HUD approved the bulk of the plan and only offered guidance on some wording that did not affect its approval.

“They suggest that in the LBAs (legally binding agreements) that we make sure the language does not preclude, in the one instance, men,” he said.

Regarding a potential facility for the nonprofit 180 Turning Lives Around, the language of the plan referenced housing women and their children.

“HUD believes that the language should not be stated as such because it implies precluding men,” Cosentino said.

HUD made similar recommendations on the language regarding the Monmouth County emergency homeless shelter, which was described as housing single men and women.

“HUD does not want that language to preclude children from being there,” Cosentino said.

“That’s helpful what they pointed out because it’s guideline language that we want to make sure can’t be misinterpreted,” Cosentino said.

Johnston’s letter said that these instances could potentially violate the Fair Housing Act by discriminating based on gender or familial status if left unchanged.

“Because the project configurations are only proposed at this stage and the projects have not yet been advertised or constructed, HUD has determined that it can approve the plan subject to this warning,” Johnston wrote.

Johnston recommended that 180 Turning Lives Around and the Monmouth County Department of Human Services discuss and adjust the wording.

At the time of its adoption by FMERPA in 2008, the plan drew significant opposition from Oceanport and Tinton Falls, two of the three towns that, along with Eatontown, make up the fort’s host municipalities .

The Oceanport and Tinton Falls councils eventually voted against the plan; however, it still garnered enough FMERPA votes to move forward.

Under the redevelopment plan, Oceanport will receive 419 acres of Fort Monmouth for the construction of 700 units of residential development, a community retail center, a medical and educational campus, the reuse and expansion of the McAfee Center, and 229 acres of open space.

The plan for Eatontown’s 450-acre share of Fort Monmouth includes a town center with 300 units of mixed-income residential housing, a CECOM incubator and offices, space for additional offices and research and development facilities, the preservation of the existing Sun Eagles golf course, and the possible reuse of Mallett Hall as a new municipal complex for the borough.

The plan also features a 150-room hotel and conference center at the golf course.

The 250-acre Tinton Falls portion of the reuse plan provides for a town center and preserves the fort’s existing child care and youth centers, but reserves 670,000 square feet to be devoted to office and research and development space. Contact Andrew Davison at adavison@gmnews.com.