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Comments on Holmdel's Redevelopment Plan for Alcatel-Lucent property

This is a discussion of the Redevelopment Plan for the Alcatel-Lucent property in Holmdel and submissions of the expected buyer. It is written by a former Chairman of our Planning Board.

The conceptual maps for the Alcatel-Lucent property presented in the Concept Map are frightening but not really very different from what I expected. The comments associated with the article are equally disturbing as nearly all of them are focussed only on the proposed age restricted housing. However, it seems clear that everyone seems interested restoring a use of the property that will restore the tax revenues it provided 10 or so years ago. I would love it to happen but let’s not get carried away and neglect the negatives that can result from allowing just anything on the property. The Office Laboratory use of the property was special but all of the proposed uses can have serious negative impacts that could well be greater than whatever tax revenue is forthcoming.

I am as disturbed as anyone with number and the layout of the proposed age restricted residential units. In the comments on the referenced article, Tony Cooper points out the incompatibility of the age restricted units with the needs of seniors and the likelihood that they will end up losing the age restriction. The problem with units that are compatible with the desires of seniors is that they would be much smaller and, if converted to unrestricted use, as is very likely (see comments on referenced article for reasons), they would be an even greater burden because we could expect the same number of school children and fewer tax dollars. In about 10 to 15 years, 185 houses would increase our school population by more than 250. Age restricted housing on the sight may appear to be compatible with the use of the original building becoming a home of commercial operations, e.g. retail, but, as discussed below, the traffic would be a more serious problem and inconsistent with senior housing.

The Mayor is quoted as commenting that that the locations shown on the plans would change dramatically the character of the property and would like the view from Crawfords Corner Rd. to be as it is today. I can’t agree more and it was great to read his comment! He is, in effect, saying that the property between the existing building and Crawfords Corner Rd. should be left as it is today. But where is there area on the site where the 185 units can be located without cramming them in such that those occupying the units will believe they are in some city. Regardless of how the residential units, age restricted and not, are located, they will change dramatically the character of the site. I have stated many times that the property included the best Open Space in town and is reflected in the value of surrounding properties.

I was very pleased to read that the Mayor wants traffic studies. But, the provisions in the Redevelopment Plan suggest that no one considered the traffic that could be generated by the uses permitted. It should have been a MAJOR consideration! I sent a letter on the subject to the Township Committee in 2011 and pointed out that the proposed uses of the existing building, without any additional construction on the site, residential units, etc., could be greater 12 hours of every day, 7 days of each week, than the peak traffic, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening of week days only, generated by the building when it was occupied by Lucent. And additional uses, including the residential uses, will add significant traffic. There was a major uproar when we changed the Zoning to allow additional OL areas because the expected TRAFFIC and that was when the present building was only a fraction of its present size. The increase in the OL zone was subsequently eliminated.

Trip generation estimates for different uses are available from several sources. The most official source is published by the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE) and is available for a fee. However, there are other sources available online such as the San Diego Trip Generation Manual found at http://www.sandiego.gov/planning/documents/pdf/trans/tripmanual.pdf. It may be of interest that the Lucent use of the building, generated about 1/3 of the peak traffic indicated in the Manual for Office Lab.facilities. It is also true that eventual uses of the building may generate less traffic than the numbers in the estimates. However, even if the uses are successful but generate only 1/3 of the traffic in the estimates, the traffic will still be excessive. In my view, the more likely outcome is that they will not be successful, the building will disappear and we will be stuck with another "redevelopment" with the added-on uses of the property included in the starting condition.

Note that the Lucent building has about 2,000,000 sq. ft. of floor space. By comparison, the Holmdel Shopping Center on the Northwest corner of the intersection of Rt. 35 and Laurel Ave. contains 235,000 sq. ft. total of floor space in the retail part, less than 1/8 the space of the Lucent building. Note also that heating or air conditioning of any room in the building requires heating and air conditioning the entire building. And only one office has windows for natural light - the President’s office in building 3.

To make the proposed redevelopment worse, sewers are being permitted for service to all construction on the site. The Mayor has stated that septic systems cause pollution. Yes, failed systems can cause pollution but properly located, installed and used systems are not a problem. The many failures that occurred in the past were the result of a lack of enforcement of the related laws. It is my understanding that the lack of enforcement is a thing of past. In addition, I wrote a paper that I offered to the public in 2010 to explain a low cost addition to systems that is common in most states around the country and corrects the most common cause of failure of a properly constructed system. It is also a FACT that we are headed for a shortage of drinking water. The water company already limits its use in the Fall of the year. Septic systems return all water that we use to the earth where nature treats it and makes it available for reuse. Sewers pump it into the ocean. When approval to service the building with sewers was granted, it was stipulated that the service was for the building only. Sewer service sounds good if you ignore the longer term impact on the availability of our potable water supply but is a very serious negative, long term. Our Township Committee seems interested only in the short term.

The real problem is our Township Committee, and its decision several years ago to introduce a Redevelopment Plan, which takes away the requirement to conform to our Zoning Ordinance including all provisions of the law requiring notification of residents and public hearings. When the Township Committee said nothing when their Planner said the proposal was consistent with our Master Plan, it was clear that we were headed for a dramatic degradation of our rural character and property values that many of us had worked hard to preserve. I chaired our Planning Board from 1966 through 1970 and, in my day, her words would have been her last as Holmdel’s Planner. I learned, often the hard way, to be careful what you believe from your so called professionals.

Our Mayor is quoted, in the referenced article, as saying "Believe me, we are not sleeping on this, we have four lawyers and a team of engineers on the project." Why do we need 4 lawyers? One lawyer is usually too many. And why hasn’t the team of engineers contributed traffic estimates? And what have they said about the causes of septic problems in the past?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Anthony Cooper February 03, 2013 at 07:03 PM
Thanks to Mr. Smith for his nice article on Holmdel's issues with the Alcatel-Lucent tract's revitalization. His good question on why the Town needs four lawyers to negotiate with Somerset Development raises a warning flag. In typical negotiations, agreement is first reached among the principals on all key issues, and then lawyers for both sides craft the legal language. Some Township Committee members have implied there's no cause for alarm over the many defects in this tract's Redevelopment Plan since what counts is the tract's Redevelopment Agreement now being negotiated. But maybe four lawyers are needed since that Plan's defects, e.g., inadequate bulk parameters and a missing traffic-related requirement, have put the Town “behind the 8-ball” in this Redevelopment Agreement's negotiation. I'm aware of another warning flag on this negotiation: When a friend requested a copy of the Town's questions sent to Somerset in reply to Somerset 's Concept Plan, he was told they were secret and couldn't be revealed. Those questions are no secret to the Township or to Somerset -- why keep them secret from the public? If negotiations are going badly for the Town due to Redevelopment Plan defects, maybe Township Committee members want to hide this fact from the public. I commend Township Committee members' openness in publicly sharing Somerset's Concept Plan, and ask them to now follow their own good example by publicly sharing the Town's response questions to Somerset.
bud February 03, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Whatever we are gonna do here, we better do it quickly, since "rigor mortis" is setting in at Alcatel-Lucent (ALU-NYSE). See the WS Journal article of 12/14/12 describing the ALU debt financing.
Deannie February 03, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Thank you Mr. Smith and Mr. Cooper for your detailed postings on this issue. Like many of our township residents my greatest concern is with any kind of housing on this magnificent tract of land. Housing has its inherent complications and impact on many aspects from services to schooling to aesthetics and much more.
Jennifer February 04, 2013 at 05:22 PM
I live in South Holmdel, and I think a good ratable, especially if it enhanced the town, like ( my favorite proposal) a sports complex, if worth the traffic trade-off. Housing, no. But it seems to me that since chasing away the investors with the sports complex years ago, most development proposals seem much more dependent on a substantial housing component.
Jennifer February 04, 2013 at 05:25 PM
And the TC didn't allow sewers, the EPA did that.
ST February 04, 2013 at 06:58 PM
Wouldn't it be nice to have some sort of real "Main Street" in Holmdel, with mom and pop shops, and a place for the residents to gather? A gazebo, perhaps, where we could gather for nights of music during the warmer months, where we could do our Christmas tree and Menorah lightings, a gathering place with a small town feel? the only place where we do gather is at town hall or the community center, which are both in need of a good facelift!
Larrabee M. Smith February 05, 2013 at 10:29 PM
I apologize for taking so long to get formulate this response to your comment but my memory is failing these days and it takes time help it along. I also live in South Holmdel and have watched the changes since I moved here in 1960. And, I would love to see another GOOD ratable in town. My pension hasn’t increased since I retired at the end of 89. But a GOOD ratable doesn’t adversely impact existing property values and doesn’t carry with it costs that make it a net negative. You might be interested to know that I wrote a letter to the TC, when the Lucent building first became vacant, and suggested that, since NJ was losing companies that might occupy appropriately the building and that companies, of the size that might have an interest, were not expanding, the best we could hope for would be a replacement in the form of a large high quality Condo for seniors with an interest in golf and a 9-hole course. [The foregoing is my recollection only. I can’t find a copy.] But others felt the building must be preserved; though, to my knowledge, there was no consideration given to the level of traffic that would be generated by the alternate uses considered. I remember well the complaints about the traffic generated by the building when it was a Lucent facility. Residents, in the area, avoided, if possible, the use of their cars during the two high traffic hours on week days.
Larrabee M. Smith February 05, 2013 at 10:54 PM
Jennifer, Yes, the State DEP, not the Federal EPA, want sewers for the entire tact but I’m sure the TC had the power to prevent it. However, it has been a long time since I was up on such details and I don’t expect you to rely on my opinion. I want to give you a response that is FACT but my source of solid info will not be available until the week end. I will be back to you at that time. There are a large number of people in the State that benefit from any construction and the present administration has very limited concern about the environment. The focus of the Administration is on the next few years regardless of the future impact. Sad!
Larrabee M. Smith February 05, 2013 at 11:11 PM
ST, Did you read the building size numbers I included above?
Larrabee M. Smith February 05, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Deannie Thank you fo ryour comments and interest in the future of our town!!
Jennifer February 06, 2013 at 01:40 AM
My bad ;)
Jennifer February 06, 2013 at 01:42 AM
Well, it would be nice but mom and pop stores are struggling all over, and we already have plenty of parks. I LIKE the idea, I just don't think anyone will be interested in building it, and the town can't afford to buy it for gazebos and concerts. I saw Gease with my kids at Cross Farm - that was nice. There is a gazebo there. We could do concerts. Good idea, really. But back to the Lucent tract.....
Mrs. G. Kumar April 05, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Thank you Mr. Smith for your detailed postings on the development of the Alcatel-Lucent property. As a Holmdel resident, I am also very concerned about the future of the Alcatel-Lucent property. It is a huge building. There is plenty of room for several companies, office space, movie theaters, restaurant(s) etc. in the existing building. It's a quarter of a mile long, rises five stories, and has an interior atrium that is the full length of the building that goes right to the top which is all skylight. The main level is an expansive open space. If you haven't been inside, then you have no idea what a wonderful space it is. If developed creatively it could make Holmdel a magnet for research/technical/business companies again. I like the idea of active adult housing paired with a golf course and sports use. The township library & offices could be relocated there. Doctor/accountant/lawyer office space the list goes on. The enormous main level atrium would be ideal as a sort of indoor "downtown" feel. Restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters, retail space etc. I don't think we would ever see the amount of traffic that was there before, with up to 7,000 people working in the building. While you are appreciating the huge atrium inside, you see open balconies on each level, rising five stories high. There is basement level too. Two million square feet....a fantastic space to develop.
Larrabee M. Smith April 05, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Mrs. Kumar, Yes, the building is special. My office was in the building, except for 3 years, from 1960 through 1989 when they made me an offer to retire that I couldn't refuse, so I know it well. I learned more about the building and the landscaping when I chaired our Planning Board through 1970 because I consulted extensively with the building Engineer. The drainage structures around the building are special and notice, no curbs. Except during heavy storms, the runoff into the stream is very limited. However, while all of what you say about the building is true, the big negative to me is that the offices have no natural light. Because of this limitation, I believe it would be criminal to locate apartments in the building. Because, during my last 10+ years at Bell Labs, I represented the company in International Data Communications Standards Body meetings (I actually chaired the largest standards body of them all, a US body but half of its members were from other countries) I have friends in most tech companies in the world. I have used my contracts to spread the word that the building is available but FWIW, Alcatel-Lucent people (I assume) were always there before me. None have shown any interest. Even just one of the four buildings in the structure, is apparently too large for any one company and most companies want physically separate office/lab space.

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