GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Township officials said Tuesday they will order a local developer to stop work on a building that had been slated to house the state Parole Board Office for Atlantic and Ocean counties.
The move was prompted by a pending appearance Feb. 4 by state Parole Board officials, developer Jim Goodwin and his attorney Brian Callaghan before the Galloway Township Planning Board.
The Planning Board has claimed that it based its approval more than a year ago for a change in the building's design on misleading statements by Goodwin and Callaghan that only administrative parole functions would be performed out of the building. But parolees also would check in with their supervisors there, an activity that might fall outside of uses allowed by zoning laws for the site at Avenue A and the White Horse Pike.
It took nearly two years for township officials to find out that the building would actually replace the Atlantic City office where the state Parole Board handles about 400 ex-offenders.
That did not come to light until October, when a local business owner and nearby residents heard that the state Parole Board's current site would close as soon as this winter.
Construction workers have completed the 9,300-square-foot structure's skeleton, exterior and roof, as well as installed windows.
They continued working through Tuesday, but must stop once the order, mailed Tuesday, is received by Goodwin and Callaghan, Township Manager Jill Gougher said at Tuesday night's council meeting.
The move was prompted by the Planning Board calling Goodwin back to rehash the matter. That gives the township the power to halt construction, Gougher said.
Neither Goodwin nor Callaghan returned calls for comment Tuesday. They are scheduled to meet Feb. 4 with the Planning Board, according to Planning and Zoning Board Administrator Pamela Alleyne.
They will discuss whether their initial approval is moot, given the parolee activity and presence of related facilities - including counseling rooms and a secured holding room - likely would qualify as institutional uses, which are not permitted there. If that's the case, the Planning Board would rescind its approval and divert Goodwin to the Zoning Board.
An approval revocation has not occurred in Galloway for at least 11 years, Alleyne said.
Planning Board attorney Mike Fitzgerald was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the contention at the local level prompted the state to delay signing a 10-year lease for the Galloway facility, according to Treasury Department spokesman Tom Bell.
State officials skipped public meetings Oct. 27 and Nov. 10 at which they had promised to address questions from the public. Scheduling conflicts caused the first cancellation, they said.
Parole Board spokesman Neal Buccino said the second occurred because then-Mayor Tom Bassford asked state officials to stay away.
Bassford, who won re-election in November and is now a councilman, said Tuesday that state and township representatives mutually decided to cancel the appearance because Galloway officials already had started their push to halt the project.
The township Planning Board had already approved the project when the state advertised for a new lease for parole operations in southeastern New Jersey at the end of 2007. One year later, Goodwin asked the Planning Board if it could be a single-story space instead of the two-level structure originally planned. Planning Board members agreed.
At that time, Planning Board members told The Press that tenants would be professionals, such as architects, engineers, lawyers and doctors.
They said later that although they could have asked more questions, Goodwin and Callaghan also led them to believe that only administrative parole functions would be handled at the site.
In actuality, Goodwin had already bid to replace the Atlantic City office as host for local parole functions, Buccino said.
The current site services about 25 percent of the 15,000 parolees statewide. Parole supervisors do not always require their charges to come to them, but often check in at the parolee's home or workplace.
Residents have angrily expressed concerns about the public safety implications of the project. Among the most vocal critics are those who supported the township's battle to keep a local law that limited where sex offenders can live. The matter reached the state Supreme Court, which ruled May 7, 2009 against Galloway.
Police Chief John J. Mooney III said there were no statistics to show that a significant portion of crimes and complaints in Atlantic City are linked to visitors to the parole office there. Mooney said the department does not dedicate patrols specifically to that facility, which sits across from the Public Safety building.
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