Like many of us who have mortgages and college tuition bills to pay, I will dutifully head to work on Tuesday, December 20, and miss arguably the most important public hearing to take place in Holmdel over the last sixty years.
That’s a shame, since I have been following the “ups and downs” of the Lucent drama for about five years now, and after reading the revised plan over the weekend, I had a few questions that I would like the Township Committee to consider:
1) What is the true economic impact of the Redevelopment Plan? At its heart, the Redevelopment Plan is essentially a proposal to change the existing zoning at the Alcatel Lucent site to provide other types of development that (according to the plan’s goals) make the area economically productive. But shouldn’t we be seeing a companion document that offers analysis and projections around potential ratables and overall economic impact before we make these changes?
For example, let’s say that the 30 new homes at the corner of Roberts and Crawford Corner Roads attract young families, and they each put two kids in the Holmdel School District. According to state calculations, the District spends roughly $14,000 to educate each child, meaning that these new residents will increase school expenses by $840,000 with existing staff. This figure doesn’t include any other additional expenditure, like adding new teachers, if the number grows beyond 60 students. And how many more students will enter the District when we add 100 multi-family dwelling units inside the building?
2) If the old Bell Labs building contains 2 million square feet of unused space, why are we proposing to build even more construction outside of the building? The Redevelopment Plan allows a new developer to build a 350,000 square foot indoor athletic field house, plus a four story building on a footprint totaling 75,000 square feet (since the building will have multiple floors, the actual commercial space will probably be at least two to three times the footprint). In addition, we are committing 30 acres for residential development and additional land for the construction of an 18-hole golf course of undetermined size. The map in the report offers a general sense of where these new structures will go, but does not really indicate the scale of all this new development.
3) How binding is this plan anyway? While the Redevelopment Plan seeks to control development on the Lucent tract, page nine contains a provision that suggests that nothing is set in stone (the bolding is mine for emphasis):
The Planning Board may grant exceptions or waivers from design standards from the requirements for site plan or subdivision approval as may be reasonable and within the general purposes and intent of the provisions for site plan review and/or subdivision approval within the Plan, if the literal enforcement of one or more provisions of the Plan is impracticable or would exact undue hardship because of peculiar conditions pertaining to this study area. No deviations may be granted under the terms of this section unless such deviations can be granted without resulting in substantial detriment to the public good and will not substantially impair the intent and purpose of the Redevelopment Plan.
What does this truly mean? I would think this highlighted phrase creates a loophole for any clever lawyer seeking a court remedy to allow his or her client to put anything they want on the site, claiming that the Redevelopment Plan is impracticable or causes undue hardship. After all, for the last five years, one constant refrain has been the impracticability of economically retrofitting the Alcatel Lucent building. In addition, who ultimately defines what represents “substantial detriment to the public good?” If the State’s top environmental watchdog, the DEP, can push for more sewers in Holmdel, imagine what a powerful developer might demand, regardless of public opinion.
We have been waiting about five years for a plan to be considered by the public, and it’s commendable that the Township Committee is ready to move forward with a proposal to bring economic activity back to the site. But why the sudden rush to judgment?
A proposal of this magnitude needs community consensus. It makes sense for our Township Committee to go out of its way to ensure a public hearing during a time slot that would encourage the greatest attendance, even if a delay requires a resubmission of the Plan by the incoming committee. Since the new Township Committee features four incumbents and an incoming member who currently serves on the Planning Board, we can assume the process will continue at a steady pace.
I would recommend that the Township Committee table consideration until the public receives a fair opportunity to ask questions and express its opinions at a meeting held at a more convenient time.