By John Burton
SHREWSBURY – The owners’ plans to expand and renovate the venerable Shadowbrook catering facility have now been approved by the borough Zoning Board of Adjustment twice but objectors will likely look to continue to try and block the project.
After a Superior Court judge had remanded the matter back to the borough to allow for an additional public hearing, the zoning board on Feb. 8 conducted another hearing and, while continuing to face opposition to the plan, again provided approval for the venue, located at 1 Obre Place.
The owners of the nearly 110-year-old picturesque site on roughly 18 acres, which has been a restaurant and more recently a catering site, say they want to improve the location. Their plans call for the work to be conducted in two phases. Phase one would involve constructing a 30,014-square-foot building addition to the current structure; building off-street parking facilities to accommodate about 329 vehicles; and providing ancillary site improvements, such as renovating the kitchens and restroom facilities and other amenities.
The second phase of the proposed construction would involve building an approximately 4,200-square-foot addition, according to information in the zoning board’s resolution of approval passed by the board in December 2015.
The owners are a six-member group headed up by James Kourgelis of Saddlebrook. The group owns and operates The Venetian in Garfield and Seasons venues in Washington Township, also catering sites. Kourgelis and his partners have owned Shadowbrook for approximately two years.
Kourgelis had explained to the zoning board two years ago that Shadowbrook needed to be upgraded and modernized from its existing state to remain competitive in the marketplace. The improvements would allow the facility to book larger events and conduct overlapping multiple events, making the site more attractive to a wider client base, according to information documented in the approval resolution.
Kourgelis did not return a phone call this week seeking an interview about his plans for the location.
Shadowbrook is an existing non-conforming use that sits in an area zoned for residential use and is also home to Shrewsbury Borough Elementary School. Some residents in the neighborhood raised objections to expanding a non-conforming use, fearing the added traffic and noise will have a dramatically negative impact on their quality of life.
The board, in its resolution, requires Shadowbrook’s owners to address some of the residents’ issues, by limiting music times, hours of certain larger events, and to increase buffering landscaping.
Edward J. McKenna Jr., a Red Bank lawyer representing Shadowbrook, said “We listened to the neighbors,” and conducted a series of meetings with homeowners “and adjusted our plans to take into consideration the concerns of the neighbors who appeared.”
An appeal lawsuit seeking to overturn the board’s approval was brought by Spruce Drive residents Richard and Patricia Windecker. During those proceedings, the court found that the municipality failed to adequately advertise the public notice and remanded it back for another public hearing for anyone who hadn’t had the chance to get their comments on the public record. That was held earlier this month, resulting in the board reaffirming its earlier approval.
Attorney Ron Gasiorowski, Red Bank, representing the Windeckers, said this week this is not the last word on the matter or the last time it’ll be in a courtroom.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Gasiorowski, a veteran New Jersey land use lawyer, who specializes in representing objectors to development projects. “I have great sympathy for the plight of those homeowners,” meaning both the Windeckers and their neighbors. “These people believe in me and I believe in them. I’m not walking away from this.”
McKenna also noted his 40-plus years in land use law, maintaining, “I don’t take (planning) applications I don’t think are in the best interest of the town they’re going into.”
And in this case, “The owners here are incredibly intelligent people who have a great interest in this particular facility in the borough of Shrewsbury.”
McKenna went on to say about the project, “I thought it was one of the most incredibly well thought out plans I’ve ever seen.”
Objectors have 45 business days to file an appeal in Superior Court.
The original Georgian mansion that is Shadowbrook’s main structure was built in 1907, serving as the summer home of the socially prominent Feinstock family. In 1942, the location was sold and began its life as a restaurant. It was then sold to the Zwebin family in the 1971, who first ran it as a restaurant and eventually converted it to a catering business until selling it in 2015.
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