101219_nws_mthotel Mary Ann Alulis

Mary Ann Alulis, a neighbor of the proposed hotel, argued it would not fit with the existing neighborhood and would damage wildlife habitat. She was one of several who addressed Middle Township Committee at their Oct. 7 meeting.

Mary Ann Alulis, a neighbor of the proposed hotel, argued it would not fit with the existing neighborhood and would damage wildlife habitat. She was one of several who addressed Middle Township Committee at its Oct. 7 meeting.

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A plan for a $17 million hotel just off the Garden State Parkway is in limbo after an issue with the wording of a recommendation from the Planning Board.

The proposed Hampton Inn would bring tax ratables and jobs to the township, an attorney for the developer has argued. However, neighbors have spoken against the plan, citing concerns about traffic and proximity to residential neighborhoods.

Over the summer, Township Committee introduced an ordinance to change the zoning of the property to make it part of the town center, but no final vote ever came. Kimberly Krauss, the township clerk and business administrator, said there was a fatal flaw in the resolution from the Planning Board recommending the change.

The resolution refers to the “town commercial” zone instead of “town center.”

“That’s a scrivener’s error. It was a mistake by the drafter,” said F. Thomas Hillegass, an attorney representing developer Cape May Hospitality. He said his clients are concerned about the delay but still plan to move forward with a 101-room hotel at 414 Garden State Parkway, what had been the site of the architectural firm Design Collaborative.

Neighbors vocally opposed the plan and any change in zoning that would clear the way for the hotel’s construction. Several attended the Oct. 7 Township Committee meeting to again make those feelings clear, criticizing the plans and calling on the township to protect the site.

Mayor Timothy Donohue said they were welcome to speak, but the committee was not expected to vote on the matter soon.

“There is no action to be taken by this board, now or in the foreseeable near future. The recommendation by the Planning Board was found to be flawed. That’s led to our proposed ordinance being flawed,” he said.

The matter was sent back to the Planning Board. That board could decide to vote on the issue again and send a fresh recommendation for Township Committee to consider.

In September, Donohue released a statement saying he supported the concept of a hotel chain investing in Middle Township but wanted the Zoning Board’s input on the proposal.

He said the zoning change could be looked at as the township reviews and updates its master plan over the next year.

Contacted after the meeting, Hillegass said his clients will wait for the regular master plan re-examination, which he expects would recommend changing the zoning.

But they will not wait forever, he said.

Another option would be to seek a use variance for the proposal, but that would present other problems, including making it more difficult to receive the needed Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit from the state and to get the hotel connected to the public sewer system.

The site already has been approved for a gas station, convenience store and an office building, which both Hillegass and township engineer Vince Orlando said remains in effect and runs with the land.

“My clients have $1.2 million of real money invested into that property. They’re going to have to protect their investment,” Hillegass said. “If it’s not going to be a Hampton Inn, it’s got to be something.”

He suggested if the zoning change fell through, the investors would most likely get a site plan approved for a convenience store and then sell the property to another company.

At the Oct. 7 meeting, several neighbors took issue with the plans, saying the proposed hotel is far too large for the site and that the area could not handle the increase in traffic. The site is off Stone Harbor Boulevard. Its address is listed as Garden State Parkway, but it’s a two-way road that leads both to the northbound parkway entrance and to neighborhoods off Holmes Landing Road.

The road is the only way in and out of the neighborhoods, and although it is clearly posted and has a double yellow line, neighbors say many cars speed along it, sometimes on the wrong side of the road, heading toward the parkway.

Neighbor Mary Ann Alulis told the committee the proposal would change the property from the lowest-density development zone to the highest.

Most of the site is not developed, she said, suggesting there are other sites that would be a better fit for the project. She called on the township to protect natural resources and retain the rural character of the township.

“Are we just going to keep expanding our town center just to accommodate a builder and more ratables? When and where is this going to stop? When there’s no more land to rape and pillage? After we’ve squeezed every fish and frog and deer and fox off of their natural habitat to make room for a bigger parking lot? I think there was a song about that back in the ’60s,” she said. “Do the right thing. Leave the site as it is.”

After the meeting, Hillegass said a small fraction of the site is listed as wetlands in the most recent report from the state Department of Environmental Protection. There is also an area of the site that cannot be developed, which serves as a buffer for wetlands off the property.

Print Director

Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.

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