MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Faced with a group of angry neighbors, Township Committee decided to delay the final vote on a zoning change for a proposal to build a four-story, 101-room hotel on a Garden State Parkway on-ramp.
Several neighbors of the property attended Monday’s meeting, and many complained they received no notification of the proposal to change the land from rural conservation zone to town center.
According to Kimberly Krauss, the township clerk and business administrator, there is no requirement for notification for a zoning change. But after the issue was raised, Mayor Tim Donohue said the final vote would be delayed to Oct. 7 and neighbors within 200 feet would receive notice of the change. He said the public hearing would proceed, because residents had turned out to have their say.
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In May, Township Committee heard a presentation from Cape May Hospitality LLC on plans for a Hampton Inn on several acres at 414 Garden State Parkway, a site now home to the architectural firm Design Collaborative. In July, the committee introduced an ordinance to rezone the area, what had been described as a necessary step to allow the proposed hotel to connect with municipal water and sewer.
The Cape May Hospitality investment group consists of Ernie Felici, Greg de Marrais and Robert Frey. At one point at the Monday meeting, one of the principles described the hotel as having 100 rooms, but attorney F. Thomas Hillegass corrected him, putting the number at 101.
That would mean the hotel was automatically eligible for a liquor license. In addition to a small bar for hotel guests, the attorney described plans for a fitness area and an indoor pool at the four-story property. The group has already spent more than $1 million on the land, Hillegass said.
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When completed, the new Hampton Inn will be a $17 million ratable, Hillegass told the board, and employ 20 to 22 people.
But neighbors remained skeptical. Some went so far as to suggest the hotel would shortly become home to drug deals and prostitution, suggestions Hillegass dismissed as ridiculous.
The meeting began with neighbors questioning why they were not told of the proposal.
“I’m only 60 feet away from here yet I’ve never received any notification of this happening. Could you tell me why?” said Bill Colavito, whose house is close to the site.
Judy DeLellis, another neighbor, said the last time the neighbors were in Township Hall was over what she called the Wawa debacle. A previous plan for the site would have seen the development of a convenience store with a gas station, but that plan did not proceed.
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“We were promised that if anything was going to happen behind us again, we would get notification from this board,” DeLellis said. “We’ve heard nothing except what we have seen in the paper.”
Colavito alleged he was misled about plans for the property.
“We put you in office and we expect truthfulness from you, yet we get none,” he said.
At one point he suggested the township wanted to move the plan forward to sell a liquor license. The township has plans to sell an additional license, but as Donohue pointed out, it will not be to the hotel, which would be entitled to a state license.
He also asked whether the plan to run water and sewer lines would mean his neighborhood would later be required to connect.
“I think this is being ramrodded down to us, and I don’t think it’s right. I don’t know what incentives there are for this thing to go up,” he said.
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Donohue expressed frustration that committee members were being accused of planning something nefarious.
Several people complained about the existing traffic on the road leading to their neighborhood, saying cars heading toward the parkway drive extremely fast and often on the wrong side of the street, not realizing it is two-way traffic there.
“Add another 120 cars, I’m going to be afraid to come out of my road,” said Mary Ann Alulis. “Something has to be done there.”
The proposal still needs to go before the township Planning Board for site plan approval. Plans originally suggested the project could be completed for summer 2021, but Hillegass said Monday the approval process could delay the project, pushing completion to 2022.