Questions Raised About Waterfront Plan Dedication

September 10, 2018
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During an Aug. 29 Planning Board meeting, borough residents were presented with an engineer’s rendering of The Aegean, the proposed 21-unit housing development for 7 acres of waterfront property known as the McConnell Tract. Photo by Chris Rotolo.

By Chris Rotolo |

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS –What exactly does it mean to “dedicate” land?

That question was hashed out by a housing developer and borough planners at an Aug. 29 Planning Board meeting at the Atlantic Highlands Elementary School that drew 300 people and lasted until midnight.

Last week Denholtz Custom Homes unveiled plans to dedicate 1.5 acres of waterfront property for public use and reconstruct 650 feet of dilapidated bulkhead to accommodate a 10-foot-widepedestrian boardwalk with green space. It is part of the company’s proposal to develop 21 single-family dwellings on 7 acres of Bayshore property known as the McConnell Tract.

But Planning Board member Richard Colangelo raised concerns about who would ultimately be responsible for the structures on the dedicated land.

“‘Dedicate’ is a great word, but let’s be honest here, you are giving us a property in the V-Zone, a flood zone,” Colangelo told Denholtz attorney John Giunco. “Great, here you go, we’ll build a walkway for you. I don’t know if you live in this town, but that’ll be gone in five years,” Colangelo said, referring to the borough’s bombardment from stormwaters which cause annual damage to coastal properties.

Colangelo also questioned the maintenance plan for a proposed on-site pump station and retaining wall near the westernmost portion of the tract, as well as utilities like the sewer system and a stormwater filtration system. Giunco said his client will seek a developer’s agreement with the municipality for maintenance services.

“We already spend a lot of money fixing the (Bayshore) trail that gets wiped out what seems to be every two years,” Colangelo added. “So if the developer wants to maintain it, that’s great and certainly makes it a heck of a lot better. But to just say we’re going to dedicate it, in other words throw it on the town to take care of it, that’s a whole other ball of wax.”

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Giunco said his client’s intentions are to satisfy borough residents who had been requesting this development include public access to the waterfront, by rehabilitating this portion of the tract and making it “functional and attractive.”

If the borough was no longer interested in the access and these improvement projects – which, according to Steven Denholtz, the CEO of Denholtz Associates, would cost approximately $1 million, a price tag he says his company will assume entirely – Giunco said the area can simply be left as open space.

Civil engineer James Kennedy of Kennedy Consulting Engineers in Red Bank displayed a rendering of the development, currently named “The Aegean.” It showed a 1,300-foot roadway laid out in the shape of an elongated horseshoe, with the toe pressed up against the Sandy Hook Bay Catamaran Club to the west, and an entrance and exit positioned at the heel on Avenue D.

The rendering shows 13 homes placed around the inner edges of horseshoe, and the remaining eight dwellings aligned along the southern most edge of the tract closest to Center Avenue.

According to Professional Planning Consultant, Andrew Janiw of Beacon Planning and Consulting Services in Colts Neck, the developer is seeking 11 variances for 11 of 21 lots that do not meet the borough’s lot-shape circle requirement, which calls for the inscription of a circle to be placed on each of the proposed 7,500-foot lots to ensure developers adhere to the creation of conventional rectangular and square-shaped lots, rather than triangular or trapezoidal.

Janiw presented a study of all single-family units in the borough’s western residential district and said, of the 378 dwellings in the area, 189 of them – or 55 percent – did not meet lot-shape circle requirements.

The planner said the phenomenon aligns with the developer’s desire to reflect the character of the surrounding neighborhoods, though borough resident Kate Wigginton countered the claim when she asked “How many of those homes on nonconforming lots are as large as the 2,600-square-foot homes being proposed?” Janiw could not provide an answer, as it was beyond the scope of his study.

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James Monteforte, owner of Monteforte Architectural Studios in Ocean Township, has been contracted by Denholtz to custom design each new 2,600-foot unit and said the homes will have a “nautical flair” to them. Monteforte presented two base models named The Spinnaker, a two-and-a-half story unit that will sit atop the hill on the southernmost portion of the tract, and The Starboard, which will be located further down the hill closer to the waterfront. Both models will include raised outdoor observation decking so homeowners may enjoy views of Sandy Hook and the New York City skyline.

A byproduct of the McConnell Tract’s development would be the loss of property currently designated for Catamaran Club parking, as well as a boat storage area for the Atlantic Highlands Sailing Education Program, which was provided to local sailors by the property’s longtime owner Arthur “Bud” McConnell.

As it is subject to development, the rendering depicts one of the 21 proposed homes being built directly on top of the club’s current parking lot, as well as roadway and bulkhead construction displacing the educational sailing program storage area and launch point.

“In this existing plan, these groups will be displaced from the property and have difficulty finding a place to continue this educational program for our young sailors in this community and surrounding communities,” borough resident and yacht club member Matthew Goushy said. “You’ve taken away our access.”

The hearing has been continuedto the Sept. 13 meeting of the Planning Board. At that meeting no testimony will be heard or public comments permitted. The meeting will be used to announce the date and time of the following meeting, as the Planning Board will need to secure the elementary school once more to accommodate the expected large attendance.

This article was first published in the Sept. 6 – 13, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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