By Jay Cook |
HIGHLANDS – Still recovering from damages caused by Super Storm Sandy five years ago, the borough is taking steps to possibly upgrade a pair of forlorn properties within town lines: one in the hills and another along the bay.
The Highlands Land Use Board announced on July 12 that they received bids for two different requests for proposals (RFP) to look at designating both Captain’s Cove Marina and Shadow Lawn Trailer Park as official “areas in need of redevelopment.”
Both sites have been regular agenda items at Borough Council and Land Use Board meetings throughout the past decade, whether it be from plans to change zoning ordinances or for infrastructure upgrades in the post-Sandy era.
“Last year, it was one of the priorities of the council to really do something with these two properties,” said Highlands Borough Council President Carolyn Broullon.
The council sent a recommendation to the Land Use Board in December 2016 for the committee to look at how the two properties could potentially be redeveloped through the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.
By meeting one of seven associated criteria, the designation is designed to supersede existing municipal zoning laws, a move that potentially greases the skids for cleaning up blighted areas.
The future of Shadow Lawn Trailer Park has bounced around borough meetings for at least the past decade.
According to a Housing Element and Fair Share Plan report adopted by Highlands last year, Shadow Lawn is an approximately 120-unit mobile home park on 13 acres of developed and undeveloped land. It sits in the hills along Route 36, between the highway and the Eastpointe Condominium complex, a 14-story residential apartment building.
The only ingress to the mobile home park is directly across from the QuickChek rear exit on Ocean Boulevard, near where Route 36 splits westbound, traveling towards Middletown. The main road through the development is Laurel Drive.
According to court documents, the Highlands Borough Council looked to change zoning ordinances at Shadow Park in 2007 to allow for uses other than just a mobile home park, its current zoning. There were residents concerned over potential high-rise development at the site, yet the ordinance was ultimately approved in December 2007.
Highlander Development Group, the property owner, came to the Land Use Board two years later with a plan to build three high-rise residential buildings with 282 units, a swimming pool, clubhouse, a multistory garage and other associated site improvements. The plan was ultimately approved in October 2010, per Land Use Board documents.
Both the ordinance change and development project led to longstanding litigation spanning over four years. Pauline Jennings, a resident fighting the ordinance change, sued the borough and Highlander Development over the change, and eventually won when her case reached state Superior Court. That decision threw out the zoning update and Highlander Development’s building application.
Representatives with Highlander Development did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Recently, borough documents show an impetus to redevelop the Shadow Lawn property. Per a 2016 Master Plan Reexamination Report, the mobile home park “is one of the few tracts of land remaining in the borough.”
The report promotes redevelopment of the property through mixed use, considering “its proximity to Route 36 and multifamily home districts and its location at the top of the hill.”
Per county tax records, the property was valued at over $2.2 million this year.
Broullon concurred, saying “if (Shadow Lawn) is deemed to be an area in need of redevelopment, it opens up a wide scope for the property owner, as well as the borough.”
The other parcel under discussion is Captain’s Cove Marina, located at 2 Washington Avenue in the downtown section of town.
Per Captain’s Cove’s website, the marina has called Highlands home for more than 110 years. It has 92 boat slips for boats up to 38 feet long, six slips on floating docks, and three self-operating boat lifts, as stated on the webpage.
According to meeting minutes, Fred Rosiack, the property owner, said at a November 2016 Land Use Board meeting that his marina had been almost 50 percent destroyed after Sandy.
He noted that he had two potential buyers for the parcel who backed out when learning the property was zoned in a residential area and not for a marina use. Rosiack also said he has been looking to reinvigorate the café located near the bulkhead, yet would need a variance to do so.
Damages from Sandy are still visible today at Captain’s Cove Marina. Pilings along the Washington Avenue side are snarled and deteriorated. Only a few slipholders have steps to reach the ladders in their slips. The café, as Rosiack had said to the Land Use Board, is virtually unusable – much of the siding is ripped off, showing a previous coat of weathered red paint beneath.
Rosiack also did not return calls for comment by press time.
Broullon said the borough is in its ver y early stages going for ward with the redevelopment area designation, and bringing on planners for each site moves that process forward.
Broullon added that Highlands “could do so much more” with the two properties.
“If they’re developed in a way that brings in more for our residents, that’s a bigger tax base that can help the whole borough,” she said.
This article was first published in the July 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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