By Joseph Sapia
COLTS NECK – Jon and Tracey Stewart had been aiming to open a proposed sanctuary-education center at the historic Hockhockson Farm, on Route 537 between Laird Road and Swimming River Road in the spring of 2017.
But that is “looking less likely” and they are now hoping for an opening the following spring, said Tracey Stewart.
In May, their application cleared its way through the Monmouth County Agriculture Development Board, which ruled the center is a legitimate farm use, giving the Stewarts the OK to have a non-conforming use in the Agriculture Zone.
Now, the application is just making its way through the township Planning Board, where it was heard briefly in November, then again Dec. 13. It is now scheduled for Jan. 10.
The Stewarts are seeking preliminary site plan approval for a two-story, 8,436-square-foot visitor center that would resemble a barn, rehabilitating a 2,287-square-foot barn into a 200-seat lecture room, building a greenhouse, hosting tours and running classes on the 45-acre site. Initially, the farm would have a steer, a cow, four pigs, three horses, 10 sheep or goats, six chickens and two turkeys, according to the Stewarts’ application.
Preliminary approval would give them the clearance to make infrastructure improvements, but not build. Final approval is still necessary for actual building, said Timothy Anfuso, the township planner.
Progress was made at the Dec. 13 Planning Board meeting with the Stewarts providing professionals who testified on general plans, landscaping, traffic and engineering. Tracey Stewart also testified; Jon Stewart was not present.
Events on the property would not be drop-in style, but would require pre-registration or an invitation. They would include tours, classes and special events.
Hockhockson Farm would be allowed four special events a year, but Stewart said it is unlikely there would be four, at least in the beginning. “I would say that (the four) would be generous.”
Courses would include such topics as introduction to agriculture, advanced agriculture, gardening, eating well locally and the history of farming, Stewart said.
The daily number of visitors would be limited to 150, including those using the after-school program, according to the Stewarts’ application. Special events, such as lectures and fundraising activities, would accommodate up to 250 people.
Although the farm would be staffed around the clock, the number of employees and volunteers on the property at a given time would not exceed 20, Stewart said.
The totals do not include those at the Laurino Farms farm stand on the property.
Jon Stewart, the former host of Comedy Central television’s “The Daily Show,” would not use the property for his entertainment work, Tracey Stewart said. Initially, the Stewarts had talked about a movie/television studio on the property, but those plans were dropped.
Also, there would be no veterinary studies on the property, Stewart said.
Onsite parking would be available for 129 vehicles, divided between a 60-space gravel main lot and a 69-space turf area for overflow parking, said Raymond C. Liotta, a planner and landscape architect working for the Stewarts.
Additionally, the Stewarts have agreements with the nearby Lutheran Memorial Church and Tinton Falls Fire Company No. 1 to park 90 vehicles and 30 vehicles, respectively, on those properties on Tinton Avenue in Tinton Falls. A shuttle would be used between Tinton Avenue and Hockhockson Farm, said Michelle Briehof, the Stewarts traffic engineer.
Anfuso had no issues with traffic, saying the sanctuary-center should be within “reasonable parameters.” During special events, Hockhockson Farm is to coordinate traffic flow with the township.
A farmhouse, part of which dates to the 1700s, would be used by the Stewarts as a second residence, Tracey Stewart said. The Stewarts live in Red Bank.
Hockhockson Farm, a commercial farm the Stewarts took ownership of in September, would operate as a non-profit farm sanctuary-education center, Tracey Stewart said.
Early in the meeting, Planning Board Attorney Michael Steib said a lawyer for farm neighbors Marilyn and James Cracchiolo had advised the board his clients had reached an agreement with the Stewarts on such issues as lighting and landscaping. Also, the Cracchiolos were not questioning whether the Stewarts should be before the township Zoning Board, rather than the Planning Board, Steib said.
No one from the few members of the public in attendance chose to speak at the hearing. Tracey Stewart grew up on a farm and is a former veterinary technician. She is an animal advocate and the author of a book, “Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live and How We Can Make Their Lives Better.” Jon Stewart grew up in Mercer County, New Jersey.
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