Highlands Seeks to Guide Mobile Park Redevelopment

November 26, 2018
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The Shadow Lawn Mobile Village property in Highlands is being eyed for redevelopment. Photo by Jay Cook

By Chris Rotolo |

HIGHLANDS – From its vantage point above the shoreline, the Shadow Lawn Mobile Village property provides a scenic view overlooking Sandy Hook Bay.

Ten of its 13 acres are considered developable property and the site has attracted some proposals in the past that have not panned out.

Now, the Borough is hoping to finally exert some control over the future of one of its last open tracts in town. Borough administrator Kim Gonzales said residents can expect the adoption of an ordinance for a final redevelopment plan in the beginning of January.

Shadow Lawn is located on Ocean Boulevard between State Route 36 and the Eastpointe Condominium complex in the western portion of town, near the top of a steep cliff that rises 120 feet above the water. There are about 120 mobile home units on site.

In December 2016, the Borough adopted a resolution to launch an investigation into the property to determine if it met the statutory criteria for an “Area in Need of Redevelopment.” The Land Use Board agreed it did and the tract was designated as such this March.

Concerns with the Shadow Lawn site, including criminal activity and improper building and development standards, attracted the Borough’s attention two years ago.

“The Borough had such great concerns over the property at that time that they had to move forward and force the (property owner’s) hand,” Gonzales said in a Nov. 18 interview with The Two River Times.

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Though the property is owned by Highlander Development Group, officially labeling the site as “in need” requires the ownership group to either sell the property, hire a developer of its own, or comply with a development plan proposed by the Borough.

“But at the same time, we are working with the owner. We do have meetings and conversations, and it’s a give and take to a certain degree. But overall the Council and Land Use Board do have authority over the development of the property,” Gonzales said.

In 2009, Highlander Development Group came to the Land Use Board with a development plan for the construction of three high-rise residential buildings with 282 units, a swimming pool, clubhouse and a multistory parking garage. Though the plan was approved in 2010, a lawsuit brought against the Borough and the development company by resident Pauline Jennings resulted in four years of litigation. Jennings won her case in Superior Court and the site plan application was squashed.

Now deemed an “in need” area, the Borough can move forward with a redevelopment effort without pushback.

According to Gonzales, residents of the mobile village live there on a month-to-month lease. When the project progresses, Highlander Development Group will provide tenants withe relocation funds.

According to the plan, the objective of labeling the land is to rezone the location for mixed-use rehabilitation, making way for a multitude of residential and commercial opportunities on the site.

The redevelopment plan calls for responsible development of the tract in a way that will “capitalize on the unique topography and geographical location,” while minimizing hazards posed by landslides and protecting critical environmental resources.

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Sloping terrains in the Bayshore region, like some of the grounds at the Shadow Lawn property, are susceptible to rainfall-induced shallow landslides, and are being actively monitored by the United States Geological Survey for slope movement, rainfall, soil moisture and other hazardous conditions that could potentially destabilize the slopes. The tract is composed of slump block and portions of it are at risk for these types of landslides, Gonzales said.

The plan also aims to stimulate the local economy by encouraging mixed-use developments, as well as single-family residences that could attract families and bolster foot traffic in the downtown business district.

Additionally, Gonzales expects the rehabilitation of the area to positively impact the Borough’s Housing Element and Fair Share Plan. The plan states that the site, if it were to be developed with multifamily housing – including 15 percent set aside for rental units and 20 percent set aside for for-sale dwellings – could potentially produce between 16 and 25 affordable housing units.

Based on a preliminary report issued by the Superior Court’s appointed Regional Master, Richard Reading, Highlands must provide 55 affordable housing units to meet its Round 3 (1999-2025) fair share obligation.

That unmet need number is preliminary, as Gonzales said the Borough has a Superior Court date set for January to determine what the final obligation count will be.

This article was first published in the Nov. 22-27, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.


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