Oceanport: full size college on 12 acres wrong for here

By Neil Schulman

Oceanport — The Planning Board, the emergency services, and the governing body all say that plans to turn 12 acres on Fort Monmouth into a college campus, complete with hundreds of dorm rooms, a five-story parking garage, and an 80-foot-high building, are a bad idea.

FMERA, the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, has introduced an amendment to its master plan which would allow these changes to the area around Squier Hall. It was sent to Oceanport and other municipalities to review last month – and got a chilly reception here.

Officials at the Feb. 7 Oceanport Borough Council meeting outlined the objections the borough had to many of these proposals, saying they do not fit in with what they had been expecting from the originally described proposal, or with what the borough’s zoning regulations would allow.

Officials said the had been anticipating a college satellite with the former Squier Hall becoming classrooms, and a parking lot. But the ammendment would allow for four five-story buildings – a 95,000 square foot residence center, a lab, a parking garage and an athletic center, as well as an 80’ tall performing arts center.

Councilman Robert Proto said that the Oceanport Planning Board had “nine pages worth of comments and concerns,” and will not just be passing them on to FMERA.

“[It will] be taking the unusual step of memorializing these concerns in a resolution,” Proto said.

While he did not read all their objections, he did give several highlights:

The area is zoned for single family homes no more than 35 feet high and two stories; some of the proposed buildings are five stories and up to 80 feet high.

The Floor Area Ratio (FAR), the amount of space usable for business, is 0.3 in the borough; the FAR here is more than triple that at 1.0. “There is no other known zone of the borough of Oceanport that allows for such excessive FAR,” Proto said.

Despite the parking garage, the board is also worried that since no analysis has been done, they aren’t sure if the parking is sufficient, especially with a dormitory that can handle 500 people. They also were worried about the possible traffic impact.

It’s not just the board who came to this conclusion. Borough Planner Beth McManus reviewed the plan and also had pages of concerns – including worries about the environmental impact of developing near Parker Creek, and that this would diminish the open space in FMERA’s original plan.

“This is entirely inconsistent with the borough master plan,” Proto said.

Councilman Steven Solan said emergency services have many of the same concerns, and more.

Police want to know planned security arrangements, especially if people are slated to live on campus. If there’s a campus police force, they also want to know what sort of radio communications they’d use, and if those were compatible with the Monmouth County dispatch service Oceanport uses.

The borough’s first aid squad believes that they could get 150 more calls a year from this area, and wants details on what medical services the campus would offer. Is there a nurse’s office or medical facility, and would the college have its own ambulance to transport people to the hospital.

And the fire department says that the auditorium at 80 feet would be too high for them to deal with, since they lack ladders that are long enough.

And OEM said being close to a creek means they need an evacuation plan.

“A category 2 storm would actually overwhelm the entire property,” Solan said.

Councilman Joe Irace accused FMERA of doing a bait and switch.

“The original plan was one academic building… and a parking lot,” he said. “You put in dorms, you put in five-story parking lots… that’s Monmouth University condensed into a 12-acre property.”

He said that the next amendment which FMERA intends to introduce, while he couldn’t yet give public details, “is as bad if not worse” for the borough.

Mayor Jay Coffey said that he was working to get something more palatable to the borough. He has some hope – and also strong doubts – about FMERA.

“Since I’ve been mayor, for three years, FMERA, when push came to shove hasn’t done anything we didn’t want to,” Coffey said.

He noted that the first part of the proposal – converting Squier Hall into an academic building – has everyone’s approval, especially because the plan would give the borough tax payments, which usually don’t come from college campuses. “This is a unicorn as far as we’re concerned.”

He said he’s reached out to the president of the university, and believes there is room for changing the plan to something Oceanport can agree on.

But he also knows that the borough can sometimes have little say with FMERA. Oceanport only has one of the 9 seats, and five of members are appointments made by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, not locals, and may not vote for local interests.

While Coffey was talking about his thoughts on FMERA, council members interjected, and the tone of the discussion changed to arguments over how the borough is being run. See related story on front page of The LINK News