Oceanport Opposes Amended College Campus Plan at Fort

February 22, 2019
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By Chris Rotolo | crotolo@tworivertimes.com

OCEANPORT – Borough officials are concerned about an amended proposal to establish a college campus with several buildings at the former Fort Monmouth.

In September the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) approved a purchase and sale agreement with KKF University Enterprises, LLC to acquire the fort’s 26.8-acre Squier Hall parcel and an adjacent complex on Sherrill Avenue.

The development group initially submitted site plans to construct a satellite campus for New Jersey City University (NJCU) that included a single building with classrooms and administrative offices and a supplementary parking lot.

An amended development plan for a New Jersey City University satellite campus at the former Fort Monmouth Squier Hall property is shown with five buildings and an athletic field.
Courtesy FMERA

A set of amended plans submitted Dec. 12 described multiple five-story buildings for a residence hall, academic lab building and visual arts center, an athletic center and a parking garage – all of them between 65 and 72 feet tall. Also included is a two-story, 80-foot-tall performing arts center.

A ‘TROUBLING’ DEVELOPMENT

Councilman Robert Proto called the plans “troubling” in an interview with The Two River Times Tuesday. Proto said the scale and density of the project is a problem, as are the potential traffic and environmental impacts. But the biggest concern was the residence hall, a 100,000-square-foot dormitory he said could hold up to 500 beds.

Councilman Joe Irace added that all six council members were on board with the initial set of site plans, but the amended proposal poses many concerns, including public safety.

“Our fire department doesn’t have a truck that can put out a fire that’s 80 feet up. If you’re going to have students staying overnight, you’re talking about different kinds of security concerns than a 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) operation. We have a lot of concerns,” Irace said in an interview Tuesday.

Irace added that the borough’s planning board, planner and engineer have compiled a list of issues that were memorialized at Tuesday’s planning board meeting and will be issued to FMERA.

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HOUSING DISPUTE

FMERA’s Reuse & Development Plan mandates that the Oceanport section of the fort include 720 residential units. According to Proto, the 500 potential beds would not count toward that total.

“If they want to use this land for a dormitory that’s fine, but it needs to count toward that total. They’re taking and developing significant acreage. And those 700-plus units still need to go somewhere. You can’t tell me dorms are not housing units,” Proto said Tuesday to The Two River Times.

FMERA controls the zoning at the fort and has the power to override any zoning ordinances on the borough’s books. The organization also has the ability to dismiss any concerns levied by the borough council, which Irace said is a legitimate fear he and his fellow council members have.

“We have issues with it. Our professionals have issues with it. The plan goes against everything in our master plan. But FMERA doesn’t have to abide by our rules. Regardless of what we have to say, we’ll be left with what they decide to leave us. And what happens if three years from now the school decides they don’t need a campus of this size in Monmouth County. What will the lease holder bring in next?” Irace said.

TRUST THE PROCESS

Oceanport Mayor Jay Coffey, who also sits on the FMERA Board, said the borough has now entered the part of the process where it can have its say and oppose the plan by “doing exactly what’s being done,” submitting its list of concerns for FMERA review. “A proposal was made and we’ll be providing a robust response,” Coffey said Tuesday. Coffey, who holds one of seven FMERA board votes, came under fire during that Feb. 7 workshop session after being accused by borough council members of withholding details about these amendments since he found out about them in September.

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“They say I could have stopped this amendment from coming to the (borough) council by heading it off months ago. But that’s not the process,” Coffey said. “This is the process. Now we have an opportunity to work on it. Our professionals have made recommendations and now we can fight.”

NJCU executives were on hand for a recent Feb. 7 workshop meeting with the Oceanport Borough Council. Irace said the council has a meeting scheduled with the school Wednesday, Feb. 20, where the two sides will sit down to discuss the plan and what the school administrators envision for the site.

“What’s been relayed to me is that the school doesn’t seem to want or need this large of a development,” said Irace, who noted the one trump card the borough has is the developer’s need for a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) to complete the project.

“Normally, schools don’t pay taxes, but because this is a development being built by a private company we are due to receive a tax payment,” Irace added. “And they’ll come to us because they can’t afford the project without a break on the taxes.”

The next FMERA meeting is scheduled for March 20 at 7 p.m. at 5-2 Brewer Ave. in Oceanport.

This article was first published in the Feb. 28-March. 6, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.

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