By Jay Cook |
MIDDLETOWN – A strategic attempt by the property developer proposing a major shopping center along Route 35 to move the project forward did not pay off at a meeting last week.
The request to Middletown planners to subdivide a 119-acre property before any approvals have been granted was denied after a vote. In turn, the request soured board members who have been hearing the Village 35 application for nearly two years.
Village 35, a 332,000-square-foot commercial development along Route 35 North, is designed to cover about 52 acres on a 119-acre property, if approved. It would span from Kanes Lane to Kings Highway East, covering about a half-mile of highway frontage. The entire property is owned by Mountain Hill, LLC., a partnership of the local Azzolina-Scaduto families.
At the Sept. 13 meeting, Village 35 representatives pressed to subdivide the property into two major lots, a move some planning board members viewed as unconventional at this juncture.
“So much of this depends on the site plan and I think that putting subdivision now in the middle of your site plan application is wrong,” Planning Board Chairman John Deus said.
Marc D. Policastro, Village 35’s attorney, cited a decision made in July by Middletown’s governing body to examine three properties in town for redevelopment. The Mountain Hill property was one of the three.
“Redevelopment is underway, as you know,” Policastro told the board. “It’s being contemplated for this parcel.”
On Sept. 5, the Township Committee decided to bring on three redevelopment planners “in relation to a number of impending redevelopment projects,” underway in town, which the township planners could not take on alone, a resolution said. The resolution did not list specific projects to be evaluated.
Those planners are DMR Architects, Hasbrouck Heights; T&M Associates, Middletown; and Najarian Associates, Eatontown.
Yet the planning board at large wasn’t aware of the Township Committee’s decision. Planning board member Carl Rathjen said, “we are totally in the dark on that.”
The planning board, Policastro and Ron Gasiorowski – who is the attorney representing Minding Middletown, a resident group opposing the development – went back and forth for over an hour on whether or not to hear subdivision testimony.
Policastro said this issue was the “easiest part of the application,” and that it simply would be “drawing a line on the map.”
Concerns over open space requirements, on-site drainage plans, and traffic and circulation improvements were brought up by the board, if the property was split now. Some feared that granting a subdivision now would mean the board could potentially lose a handle on the development, considering the possible application by Toll Brothers to develop the rear 66 acres as a residential complex.
A vote brought on by Deus to deny hearing an application on the subdivision was passed 5-4 by the board.
Middletown’s planning board attorney James Gorman said prior to the vote that the board, and Gasiorowski, had valid concerns.
“These (properties) are Siamese twins,” Gorman said. “If you separate them, you got to make sure they’re both okay.”
The next Village 35 application hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at Town Hall. That meeting will pick up where the July 12 one left off, giving the public a chance to cross-examine Gerard Fitamont, a project engineer for Village 35.
This article was first published in the Sept. 21-28, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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