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Ocean Township Planning Moving at Accelerated Pace

OCEAN TOWNSHIP: The town's planning has an invigorated, faster moving pace as new projects development and redevelopment is being sought, and as the council and the planning board look ahead to where the town is going and growing. Keeping costs down is a major consideration, but not the only consideration.

The development activities of late include the Toll, LLC project of West Park Avenue, west of the Middle school, and a newer project moving toward approval and implementing, the 4N Investors application where a child care center is to be replaced by an office building on Highway 35.

In experts' discussions and in hearings to date, in both cases, the applicants have been most cooperative and accommodating as acknowledged by the Ocean Planning Board group and its experts.

In the negotiations both applicants have been seeking, and may get, waivers of ordinance required payments associated with tree removals on the development sites coming from proposed property changes from reconfigurations of existing features on the land.

Up for Board decisions are whether to grant concessions to waive tree funds for removed foliage, some based on applicant and Planning Board suggestions. The Board and its experts are working together with applicants to reach agreement.

The negotiations are intended to maintain a favored balance to the township of the forces at work, i.e., land use, environmental needs for healthy living in a physically appealing town, physical needs for drainage and flood controls, traffic effects of changes and a host of important considerations.

Mayor Chris Siciliano visited the July Shade Tree and Environmental commission meetings (they run back to back, so he spoke jointly with both). He explained the types of thinking about the multiple factors in deciding application awards or rejections.

For example, there have been incidents in the not too distant past where "clear cutting" of trees (wholesale, unapproved removals) have resulted in impacting the tree canopy in the township, as reported by a study from Rutgers. The commissions were concerned, thus the mayor's visit.

The canopy is now at its danger point in protecting the environment, Rutgers said. The canopy may be beyond recovery. Air purity may be at stake and other tree benefits lost. Shade Tree is proposing a volunteer team to help with tree health initially at Palaia Park where trees need attention.

The mayor is interested. His past Township work on the commissions brings him positive understanding of the environmental issues, and the other benefits that flow if development is done in cost effective for investors and tax impacting ways for Ocean.

One project, Toll, LLC is a low density, somewhat upscale senior living project for buyers over 55 years old. The tax impact is seen as a benefit, more overall help from municipal property taxes, yet no impact on the school portion of taxpayers' obligation. That aspect is one of the driving forces as that application moves toward decision, perhaps at the August 8 meeting of the Board. The proceeding has been moved several meetings in the schedule as Toll, LLC has worked diligently to meet Board inquiry and requests.

Still in those plans is the removal of 2,000 trees at Toll, and the ordinance assessment of $350 per tree may be waived if the Board so decides. The thoughts are that other changes Toll will make offset some costs, like drainage issues, so money for tree funding would offset municipal costs, thus no money would flow to the town's tree fund.

The second project, on the highway, 4N Investors, is less tree impacting, and will yield a net tree loss of just 350 trees (A quick calculation by experts amounted to $122,000). Important property changes that improve land use are planned. Those costs would be in lieu of tree funds, conceivably.

The waived funding practice may be applied in these two projects as things appear to be going. No decision yet. If the tree funding were maintained the development work may be lost due to lower profit for the investment, with possible applications for land use projects of more dense nature and tax issues.

The August 8 Planning Board scheduled meeting will revisit the pending application of Toll LLC with its acceptance of agreements reached, including the company's visits with all the neighboring homes to help the understanding and accommodations the homeowners may have. It has been stated that Toll wants to accommodate them even to the point of adjusting the number of senior limited units in the development, fewer than originally planned.

The 4N Investors project has also been moved along through joint meetings to have all parties understand the requirements and limitations the zoning ordinances provide and look forward to also improve some usability features of the project, a combining of the child center and vacant lot space to be joined as one, each now in different Zoning classifications, commercial and office categories.

The environmental impact on tree canopy concerns some in the community and may be separately considered as environmental concern to address at the decision making for these and perhaps future applications.


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