Support urged for research center at Manalapan site


Staff Writer

MANALAPAN — A group of people who are living with multiple sclerosis (MS) told the Manalapan Township Committee they would like to see a proposed research center constructed on a 135-acre property at Route 33 and Millhurst Road.

At the same time, Joe Spano, who owns the property, informed committee members and the public that he has filed a legal motion to intervene in Manalapan’s affordable housing plan as a way of protecting his multimillion dollar investment in the site.

Earlier this year, Vito Cardinale of Cardinale Enterprises proposed building Manalapan Crossing at Route 33 and Millhurst Road. He has described the project as a mix of commercial and residential development, along with a hotel and conference center, and a medical facility dedicated to research into neurological disorders, including MS.

Cardinale has a personal and passionate connection to the disease because his wife, Linda, died from MS on Oct. 7, 2013. The Linda E. Cardinale Multiple Sclerosis Center at CentraState Medical Center, Freehold Township, is named in her honor.

Issues surrounding the land at Route 33 and Millhurst Road were raised during the public comment portion of the committee’s Dec. 9 meeting at town hall.

Diane Baum, a 25-year resident of Manalapan who said she designs wellness programs at CentraState Medical Center for individuals who have MS, spoke in support of Cardinale’s plan to create what she referred to as the Manalapan Brain Center.

She introduced several individuals who are living with the disease and all of whom said Baum’s efforts have helped them make significant strides in their battle against MS, which is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).

Those individuals cited Cardinale’s efforts related to the MS facility at CentraState Medical Center and supported his proposal for a research facility in Manalapan.

The Township Committee recently declined to adopt an ordinance which would have helped to pave the way for the Manalapan Crossing development.

Spano addressed the committee and said he was speaking against the advice of counsel after taking legal action regarding Manalapan’s affordable housing plan. He said he has $20 million invested in the property and has been working to develop it for 12 years.

There are municipal approvals in place for 500,000 square feet of commercial and office space on the parcel. In comments earlier this year, Cardinale said current market conditions do not lend themselves to that type of development. He said current conditions require a mix of commercial and residential uses.

“Mr. Cardinale became a friend of mine 10 years ago,” Spano said. “Two years ago he set forth a plan for Manalapan Crossing. He has worked with unbelievable passion on this project and he is looking to build a project this town can be proud of. … The plan I would put forth (for affordable housing) will not be what the town wants. … The property is (currently) zoned for something that does not work.”

The Manalapan Crossing project as described by Cardinale would include an affordable housing component for individuals who have special needs.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, Thomas Toronto, president of the Bergen County United Way, identified his organization as Cardinale’s partner in that aspect of Manalapan Crossing.

He said the affordable housing his agency would build at the site would accommodate wounded military veterans, as well as individuals who have MS, Down syndrome and autism.

“Residents of affordable housing are drawn from the community where it is located,” Toronto said.

Affordable housing as defined by the state is housing that is sold or rented at below market rates to individuals and families whose income meets regional guidelines.

Resident Rhoda Chodosh reiterated comments she has made at previous meetings and said the south side of Manalapan (Route 33) needs commercial uses such as a shopping center so that not all of Manalapan’s 40,000 residents have to come to Route 9 on the north side of Manalapan to do their shopping.

“I am tired of the north side being the tax ratable capital of the town,” Chodosh said. “Not everyone can shop and commute in only one part of town. … Residents of south Manalapan, don’t be afraid of growth. The many enhancements that could be made to Manalapan Crossing will only bring better roads, restaurants and shopping to southern Manalapan.”

Butch Budai, who chairs the Manalapan Zoning Board of Adjustment, asked “for the process to be allowed to take place,” in reference to the municipal approval process the developer of Manalapan Crossing would have to navigate.

Speaking after the people who are battling MS had addressed the governing body, Budai said, “this has been a very emotional meeting. We can help the people who need help. This is what we do” in Manalapan.

Resident Ray Springberg said Spano knew what the property at Route 33 and Millhurst Road was zoned for when he acquired it.

The parcel is not zoned for residential use and would require a zoning change to be enacted by the governing body for that type of use to be permitted.

Springberg said the Nov. 3 election of Democrat David Kane to the Township Committee was a referendum that indicates the community’s objection to Manalapan Crossing. He asked the committee not to consider Cardinale’s mixed use project as it has been proposed.

Committeeman Jordan Maskowitz said he has known Baum for many years and commended her for her efforts on behalf of individuals who have MS.

“I know the struggle of people battling disease,” he said.

As to affordable housing, Maskowitz said, “Affordable housing developments all over the place are not good.”

Mayor Jack McNaboe said there are aspects of Manalapan Crossing that are liked by the committee.

“On Jan. 1, affordable housing is our top concern,” he said.

Officials said the state Superior Court has determined that Manalapan must build 649 affordable housing units by 2025. They said that number is subject to change, but added that the issue must be addressed. Township representatives were expected to file a preliminary affordable housing plan with the court on Dec. 14 and a final affordable housing plan in June.