An antsy capacity crowd spilled into the aisles of the Middletown Township meeting room last night, driven to hear what the developer’s expert had to say about the foreseen impact of traffic that will accompany the contentious 342-unit residential .
Township residents, hailing particularly from the Lincroft section, donned T-shirts with a traffic sign design, replete with red circle and slash, signifying “No 342,” as in dwellings slated for the site.
They stirred, grumbled, shouted out-of-turn, and piled out of the room when they ended up hearing what they didn’t want to hear — that the conforming use development proposed by Four Ponds Center Associates can withstand the added traffic it is predicted to bear.
Traffic is one of the main concerns of Lincroft residents, who have been very vocal about their objections to the development.
They weren’t the only ones. As the Planning Board meeting progressed and traffic expert John H. Rea, of McDonough & Rea Associates, Inc., Manasquan, gave his official testimony and remained impervious to jabs (some friendly) from the audience and Planning Board Chairman John Deus and Vice Chairman Tom Hall.
Each questioned the timing of the studies, conducted in March of 2010, as an accurate gauge and said they had problems with traffic studies in general — because, they said, they somehow always end up backing the interests of the developer that hired the consultant to conduct the study rather than presenting a more intensified local analysis. The board objectors and audience shouters expressed that they didn't feel that the studies took into account, accurately, the impact of schools, ballfield activity, nearby Garden State Parkway ingress and egress and true peak hours and seasonal aspects of activity.
Rea said he was confident the studies took all those mitigating factors into account.
Deus backed up his "you really don't know this area" sentiments with the fact that he’s lived in the Lincroft area for more than 30 years and knows the reality of traffic in the area well.
“I think the problem is that this board and people pay little attention to traffic impact studies,” he said. “They take the path of least resistance. I know every short-cut, where it is and how to use it.” And clogging neighborhood roads with overflow traffic on the main arteries is just compounding an existing traffic problem in the area of the proposed development off Middletown-Lincroft Road and West Front Street, both Deus and Hall added throughout. Their comments were met with applause.
“I understand; and that’s why people have been beating me up like a human piñata for years,” Rea said. The board and audience chuckled.
A frequent expert testifier at the Middletown board, Rea took in stride the many expected boos his comments generated.
Met with a small chorus of cat-calls and boos, Rea reminded the audience first that the Avaya site houses a 350,000-square-foot shuttered building with 1,400 parking spaces.
“If it were open now, it would generate a lot more traffic than a residential development,” he said. “It has been used in the past and has significantly more traffic.”
Deus disagreed, citing that the township did not allow exits onto Middletown-Lincroft Road, “so it never affected Middletown-Lincroft Road and Newman Springs (Road).”
Though Rea noted that the intersection near the site was designed to “accommodate a lot of traffic.”
He also compared the proposed 342-unit Four Ponds development to others he said complied with national standards of comparison designed to justify the legitimacy of traffic impact studies, much like comparative property values in real estate appraisal. In his analysis, Rea called attention to the 500-plus unit Hidden Meadows development in Ocean Township. He pointed out that it is a higher density development with one access point off West Park Avenue while the Lincroft development already has two access points.
“People say that they’re wrong (such studies),” he said. “They’re not wrong, they’re right.”
That didn’t quell the crowd’s concerns. They continued to yell out in objection as Deus reminded them that there would be no calling out during a testimony and they’d have their turn when it came time for public comment on the issue.
Rea said that Four Ponds is willing to pay for any traffic-calming devices the township and residents recommend. But, residents just don’t see any amenity in that proposal.
“We’ve considered humps, bumps, pillows, cushions … We’ve considered it all,” Hall said. “Our major concern is Route 520 (Newman Springs Road, considered long over-burdened with traffic) an its impact on Middletown-Lincroft Road.”
Numbers aside, the bottom line in Rea’s testimony was that he surmised that the new development could easily handle what he said was a minimal predicted traffic hike to be generated by it. It is also estimated to take three years for full build-out and more for complete occupancy.
The state Department of Transportation standard, graded on an A (best) through F (worst) scale, gauged this traffic impact at a D level, which Rea said was good and what “DOT strives for,” and the crowd booed not good enough.
“My overall conclusion is that if the town(ship) was looking for a place to put a development of this nature, this appears to be a very good place for it,” Rea said.
His final comment punctuated with boos, the crowd poured out of the meeting room and the board and Four Ponds attorney Rick Brodsky, a former township committeeman, grappled with a possible date for a special meeting.
Attorney Ronald Gasiorowski was in the audience as a representative for some of the objectors and said he couldn’t make meetings they proposed and said the burden on objectors is greater to bear, concerning proper representation and presentations at hearings.
The next hearing is slated for the first Wednesday in August and more testimony from traffic experts, engineers and architects will follow.