Mall owners make economic case for adding apartments

By Coleen Burnett

Eatontown — Testimony continued in the Monmouth Mall – Eatontown Planning Board hearings on June 18.

On the surface, it looked like more of the same as in previous meetings. But an end to the discussion, which has run for months, may soon be in sight.

The focus for this session was a presentation by Jeffrey Otteau, president of the Otteau Valuation Group of Matawan. The company specializes in analysis of real estate. Speaking on behalf of the developers, he gave a blunt opinion of what’s needed to save the Mall.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Otteau said. “The mall itself needs to be redesigned.”

Otteau cited several factors, including a rise in online shopping, consumers looking at bargains at smaller stores (thus turning away from the so-called “Big-Box” stores that typically anchor a mall), and the fact that Eatontown has had a decrease in its population (especially in the all-important 20 to 35 year old demographic) over the last several years.

“There is too much retail space to be supported over the long term,” he told the Planning Board.

All is not lost for the borough, however. Otteau also said Eatontown’s strengths include its proximities to Route 18, the Garden State Parkway, and the beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.

As he sees it, the Mall would feature one- and two-bedroom apartments that could potentially rent for over $3,000 a month if the Planning Board moves ahead with the project. Otteau also mentioned having such amenities as a yoga room, a workout area, and an outdoor pool as a draw for potential residents.

“By having the apartments rich in amenities, you give a boost to the mall,” he said.

And while some 88 units would be set aside for affordable housing, none of this sat well with any locals at the hearing, especially those who live nearby. They complained about traffic and a lowering of property values — the same points that many of the same people have brought up all along.

Eatontown resident Shirley Jacobs told Otteau that it was too bad that apparently the Freehold Mall had not heard of the decline in mall traffic. She remarked that they seemed to be doing very well.

“If malls are dying, Mr. Kushner has made a big mistake in buying this,” she said angrily. “What I hear is that this town has handed over the keys to Mr. Kushner.”

The mall is co-owned by Kushner Cos., currently run by Charles Kushner.

Ted Lewis of Wyckoff Road said the math didn’t add up. He told Otteau that you could rent a small Cape Cod house on a corner lot for $1,800 a month versus a one bedroom apartment at the mall for the minimum of $2,700 a month.

Otteau replied that the demographics point to the fact that potential renters are not interested in a 1950’s Cape Cod. That seemed to annoy Lewis.

“You realize this is Eatontown and not Brooklyn, right?” he said as he walked away from the microphone.

At the end of his presentation, Otteau again cautioned the board that the borough’s survival may very well hinge on this project. “When people with income leave, you lose on every possible score.” he said.

More testimony is scheduled for July 2 at 7:30 p.m. It is possible the applicants will conclude their case that evening.