Planning Board Delays Further Approvals on Compass Point Project

BARNEGAT, NJ – Developer Chris Vernon, the owner of 1111 West Bay and Nautilus Associates LLC, and his team appeared before the Barnegat Planning Board this week. Seeking further approval to start work on the Compass Point Project, the applicant was advised to come back next month. The delay was announced after tempers flared during the public comments portion of the meeting.

According to tax records, Vernon’s company purchased the abandoned Shoreline Sand and Gravel site back in 2012. Original plans for the 140-acre parcel of land included a community of mixed housing types, an assisted living facility, and a nursing home.

“Although the project received approval, Vernon announced that he could not deliver what he proposed,” explained Township Committeeman Al Bille, who also sits on the planning board. “This resulted in the Township taking the developer to court.”

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According to Bille, the judge ordered the parties to come to an agreement. “Mr. Vernon agreed to pay for the Township’s remaining affordable housing obligation,” he said. “He plans to build affordable housing on Route 9 at the site referred to as the “Old Sweet Jenny’s.”

Like other municipalities, Barnegat has a constitutional obligation to provide a fair share of low and moderate housing.  Earlier this month, Township Administrator Marty Lisella estimated the agreement would result in a savings of  $15M-$20M to taxpayers.

In May of 2019, Vernon received preliminary approval for the property located at West Bay Avenue and Nautilus Drive. The developer’s plans call for 777 premanufactured units in an age-restricted community.  Starting at a price point of $275K, purchasers will have the ability to add or change features to the base model cottages. Buyers can select from six models and could spend as much as $380K for their homes.

As part of the application process, Vernon walked the board and members of the public through a score of poster boards displaying the aesthetics of the proposed project. Plans include a 13,520 square foot recreational clubhouse building with an indoor and outdoor pool, bocce ball court, pickleball, and tennis courts, as well as many other amenities.

“We would like to start construction this summer after we finalize the remaining permits and go to dig” shared Vernon. “We would then have the model units up sometime in the fall.”

Betsy Dolan, a traffic engineer who spoke on behalf of the applicant. discussed connectivity into the development from Pelican Avenue and Nautilus Drive. “From a traffic perspective, we looked at this after the construction of the 777 units,” she said. “That’s a lot of development to have access only on West Bay Avenue.”

Planning Board Chairman Jack Leonardo disagreed. “Right now, the Mirage has 1200 homes and one entrance, in and out.  It’s not necessarily convenient for the people who live in the back, but it works.”

Bille expressed his opposition to an additional access point, saying that it represented a “disaster” for both Pelican and Nautilus.  During the public comments portion of the meeting, Karl Dean, who lives at the intersection of the two streets, expressed his concerns about the potential for accidents.

Throughout the meeting, Barnegat resident Tony Sloane interjected comments regarding the applicant’s proposal. Asked if the structures would have wheels on them after placement, Vernon indicated that they would be removed, and there would be a plastic lattice underneath.

Sloane, who started a petition against the project, calling it a trailer park,  shouted out, “You get the deed at the DMV. Make sure you let people know that.”

Leonardo admonished Sloane for his outburst, which continued with other rumblings throughout the meeting. During the public portion of the meeting, Sloane attempted to engage planning board members to determine if they had real estate credentials. Leonardo instructed the Ocean Acres resident to limit his questions to the witnesses.

“Is this classified as personal property or real property?” asked Sloane. “You just said they don’t own the land.”

The question was seemingly rhetorical as Sloane continued to classify the proposed structures as personal property. “They will not be paying taxes on the structure…. No money (from the homeowners) will go to the Township,” Sloane asserted.

According to the angered resident, the developer will only be obligated to pay land taxes. Planning Board Attorney Michael J. McKenna attempted to put an end to the ensuing debate by explaining that taxation issues do not fall under the purview of the board.

Sloane’s tone took on a personal note as he attempted to gain eye contact with Vernon and spoke out against what he perceived as the developer’s intentions. “He’s trying to paint this picture to the town that he cares,” said Sloane.

As Sloane’s voice escalated into vulgarity, board members took a vote to close down the public session.  The application was adjourned to the February meeting.

TAPintoBarnegat/Waretown contacted Committeeman Al Bille for clarification on the taxation issue.  “The Township currently collects $70K in property taxes from the site,” said Bille. “When the project is completed, the Township will receive approximately $1.5M from the landowner.”

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