Old Orchard preservation considered in Eatontown

Staff Writer

 William Kastning, executive director of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, speaks at the Aug. 26 Eatontown Planning Board meeting about the future of the Old Orchard Country Club site.  NICOLE ANTONUCCI/STAFF William Kastning, executive director of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, speaks at the Aug. 26 Eatontown Planning Board meeting about the future of the Old Orchard Country Club site. NICOLE ANTONUCCI/STAFF The Monmouth Conservation Foundation has approached the borough about the possible preservation of the Old Orchard Country Club in Eatontown, and plans to enter into negotiations with the owners about purchasing the property.

William Kastning, executive director of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, said he wants to explore possible options — besides development — for the 135-acre site.

“I don’t believe the property should be developed. I think there is so little open space in town that one has to be very careful in determining what it is one wants to do with it,” Kastning said in an Aug. 29 interview. He made his comments four days after the Eatontown Planning Board denied a request by National Realty and Development Corp. to amend the master plan to rezone Old Orchard.

Kastning said that while his overall goal is to preserve the site, he would be open to discussions about other alternatives.

“It can run the gamut from full development to full preservation and something in between,” he said. “We will have to explore those options. The world is far from perfect, so we may have to compromise.”

Before approaching the owners, Kastning said he would talk with borough officials about other possible options.

Mayor Gerald Tarantolo said preserving the golf course is an option worth exploring, but raised concerns about the long-term financial impact to residents.

“I am an advocate of open space, but we are talking about big potatoes. We are talking about property in the millions of dollars,” Tarantolo said. “I am not sure the municipality is in the position to assume that kind of debt to acquire the property.

“I don’t know how we would do something like that. But if they have an idea, I am always willing to listen.” The property is estimated at approximately $22 million, but Kastning said another appraisal would have to be done to determine the final cost.

“The Old Orchard Country Club is something that the foundation could preserve if we can find the money and the partners to make it happen,” he said.

National Realty and Development Corp. (NRDC) is the second developer to come to the Eatontown Planning Board to try to develop the property.

The proposed concept plan by NRDC calls for 175 active-adult townhouses at the north end of the property, bordered by the Mill Brook and a 450,000- square- foot commercial complex at the southern end, near Route 36.

NRDC is asking the borough to amend the master plan and rezone the property — which also borders West Long Branch and Oceanport — from single family housing to restricted R-20 zoning in the rear of the property and B-2 zoning along the front.

At the final hearing on the development on Aug. 26, more than 100 residents came out to protest the development.

“I don’t want to see more housing — not low-income housing nor high-income housing. I don’t want to see more retail. I don’t need any more places to shop,” Wanna Chin of Carmel Way said, adding that her property has become a haven for a variety of animals that have no place to go.

Oceanport resident and former Monmouth County Freeholder John D’Amico said applicant’s request could be considered spot zoning and could result in litigation.

Resident after resident called on the Planning Board to preserve the property as open space, citing concerns about increased traffic, environmental impacts and quality of life.

Kastning was among those to come forward, saying that allowing the development of Old Orchard would be throwing away the last piece of open space in the town.

“What I find interesting is that we haven’t been contacted by anybody in the town to consider other options you have available to you for this particular parcel,” he said.

Members of the Planning Board denied the development application in a 7-2 vote, stating that the information presented was not convincing enough to warrant a master-plan amendment.

“When it comes to this application, I have not been convinced that we need senior housing,” said Planning Board Vice Chairman Mark Woloshin, who made the motion to deny the application.

“I haven’t been convinced that this town needs such a big retail area, and I certainly haven’t been convinced that traffic would be better.”

However, board members agreed that the property’s future as a golf course is not viable, and they created a subcommittee to look over the master plan and consider possible land-use options for the site.

“I feel that using the portion of the land along Route 36 is beneficial to the town. How much of that should be developed is something that this board has to determine,” Board member Michael Napolitan said.

Kastning said he hopes to be involved in the subcommittee to provide insight about Old Orchard.

Tarantolo said he requested that professionals be on the subcommittee, since the review of the master plan would not only look at Old Orchard but also the redevelopment of Fort Monmouth, the reconfiguration of the borough’s commercial arteries, the Monmouth Mall and Industrial Park.