By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |
OCEANPORT – Fort Monmouth’s former Lodging Area, which includes eight buildings along Oceanport Creek, is on track to be turned into 148 three-story townhouses by Somerset Development LLC, formerly of Lakewood and now headquartered in Holmdel. It is the same firm that bought and refurbished the former Bell Labs in Holmdel, now known as Bell Works.
In mid-May, the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) approved what’s termed a “Purchase and Sale & Redevelopment Agreement” with Somerset for the 15-acre parcel on Signal Avenue near the Oceanport entrance, following a bid evaluation and negotiation process that began over a year ago. The property was first offered for sale by FMERA in December 2016 with bids received March 31, 2017. There were four responses, including one from Toll Brothers, builder of the estate and townhomes on the Bell Labs property. Somerset was the highest ranked proposer in compliance with FMERA’s overall reuse plan for the 1,127-acre fort. Somerset will pay $17.5 million for the property.
“The agreement protects the property from being sold to someone else while Somerset’s evaluation of it happens during a due diligence period,” said FMERA Executive Director Bruce Steadman, adding that Somerset will spend money to examine the site’s environmental and other aspects. Once the due diligence period is over, if Somerset decides to proceed with the purchase, their proposal would go before the Borough of Oceanport for necessary permits and approvals, Steadman said. Until then, the parcel remains in the pre-closing phase. As per law, 20 percent of the total housing units constructed would be slated for affordable housing.
Somerset, led by president Ralph Zucker, would also be responsible for designing and constructing a portion of a planned scenic waterfront promenade to include a walkway and bikeway that will front about four separate fort parcels along Oceanport Creek. Once that promenade is completed, it will be open for public use, Steadman said. The fort’s Allison Hall, which was offered under a separate Request for Offers to Purchase and is currently in the negotiation phase with a different purchaser, is adjacent to the Lodging Area and intended to house a boutique hotel. That parcel would have a continuance of the promenade.
Two of the site’s eight buildings – Scriven Hall and Gardner Hall – are part of the fort’s National Register Historic District and subject to historic preservation covenants. Steadman said Somerset has “proposed a use that is compliant” and protects the two-story brick structures’ exteriors. The remaining six buildings will be demolished to make way for the new townhomes.
According to FMERA documents, the due diligence and project approval process can be extended for up to two years if necessary. The agreement stipulates that Somerset will apply for required building permits within five days of closing and commence construction 60 days after closing, with construction to be completed within five years. The firm’s capital investment in the project will be between $25 and $30 million. Somerset estimates it will create approximately 231 temporary construction jobs and one permanent full- or part-time job by the project’s completion, or pay a penalty of $1,500 for each permanent job not created, as per FMERA rules.
“We are thrilled to have a development firm the caliber of Somerset involved,” Steadman said. “They get results. They will produce a product various stakeholders and neighbors will be part of. It’s a prominent location with a beautiful vista on the river at the Oceanport entrance to the fort.”
This article was first published in the May 31-June 7, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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