By Jay Cook |
HAZLET – A plan to erect a multi-story hotel on the town’s border with Holmdel is drawing opposition from Miller Avenue residents and Holmdel elected officials.
The Hazlet Land Use Board met on Oct. 19, for the third time, for continued hearings on an application by Gode Hotels/Holiday Inn to build a 13,664-square-foot, four-story, 93-room Holiday Inn Express hotel on a three-acre wooded lot off Route 35. It would be located almost directly behind the Hazlet Pharmacy and Casual Male XL stores, and across Route 35 from the Cinemark Theatres and Costco shopping center.
The new hotel would also be behind an existing three-story, 123-room Holiday Inn hotel, located at 2780 Route 35 South.
The unique project has stirred conversation from residents living in a neighborhood behind the current hotel who claim another facility would be a detriment to their community.
Township lines splitting Hazlet and Holmdel run between the rear of the hotel property and behind homes on Miller Avenue, meaning the affected residents are Holmdel homeowners, despite the development being on Hazlet soil.
Many of those residents have spoken out against the project and have enlisted the help of their elected officials to try and sway Hazlet’s Land Use Board.
Holmdel Mayor Greg Buontempo said earlier this week the Township Committee unanimously passed a resolution in September opposing the hotel expansion plans, citing quality of life issues for township taxpayers.
“This four-story hotel is literally going to be on top of these one-story homes,” Buontempo said. “It’s not a good project at all.”
Ironically, despite one being there already, hotels are not permitted in the area’s current zoning. Relief from that zoning ordinance is key to the project’s success.
The hotel plans were supported by Christine Nazzaro-Cofone, a licensed planner retained by the hotel owner. Cofone said despite the difference in zoning layout, a new hotel would be suitable for the site.
She cited a Hazlet Master Plan Reexamination report approved in July 2017 which specifically pointed out the entire Holiday Inn property should be rezoned to a designation where hotels are permitted.
“I find it very difficult, from a planning point of view,” said Nazzaro-Cofone, “to come to the conclusion that this site is not appropriate for another hotel.”
At the first meeting on Aug. 17, attorney Jeffrey Gale, representing Gode Hotels, said if the Holiday Inn Express was approved, the current Holiday Inn could be rebranded as a Comfort Inn, or similar-style hotel. A subdivision is being proposed which leads the way for another company to operate the older building.
Govind Thota, operator of the Holiday Inn, said corporate offices approved his business plan to construct a Holiday Inn Express. He said the company has no desire to be in the existing building anymore.
“If we lose this plan, we lose the business,” added Thota.
During the course of Thursday evening’s meeting, Land Use Board member Cliff Moore even questioned whether or not another hotel inside Hazlet borders is a smart business move. A three-story Best Western three miles north on Route 35.
Moore asked Thota about his normal operating capacity. Thota told the Land Use Board his current hotel usually operates at 70 to 80 percent occupancy and has never hit 100 percent occupancy.
Moore listened, and said, “I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on in Hazlet where all these people are going to come to require these rooms,” Moore said.
But Land Use Board attorney Gregory Vella cautioned Moore, saying business plans are not considered in land use applications.
Among the numerous questions regarding the project, from traffic impacts to proximity to homes, noise issues were also raised. At a previous meeting in September, Norman Dotti, an acoustical engineer who sits on the state Noise Control Council, said noise from the new hotel would be negligible compared to the sound of roadway traffic already existing along the Route 35 corridor.
A special meeting has been set for 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 30 at the Hazlet Municipal Building to complete the application and take a final vote. At that time, 25 to 30 residents who have attended the meetings since August are expected to raise their concerns on the record before a vote.
This article was first published in the Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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