A plan to scale down two 10-story apartment towers that constitute a major portion of Toms River’s downtown redevelopment efforts – and a source of political dispute – must be presented to the township’s planning board before construction can begin.
The revised plan to scale down the towers fro 10-stories to six was first revealed at a campaign fundraiser for Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill at the home of local attorney Robert C. Shea, who also represents the developer of the property, Capodagli Group. That, in and of itself, caused some anger at a council meeting Wednesday night, however Hill said after the meeting that a rendering was shared at the event and will be presented to the board, where the public will be able to cross-examine witnesses and provide public comment. Republicans for Toms River, the primary ticket on which Hill is running in the GOP’s bitterly-contested race this year, shared the image on social media almost immediately after the fundraiser, praising the idea.
Hill, on Wednesday night, said the complex will maintain the same number of units for which it had been approved earlier, but the buildings will be re-shaped to fit the units on six floors instead of 10. When the complex was approved by the board in Dec. 2021, its representatives said it would contain 46 studio apartments (rent: $1,275/mo), 161 one-bedroom units (rent: $1,600/mo) and 32 two-bedroom units (rent: $1,850/mo). The building will also include three, three-bedroom units rented at market rates ($1,950/mo), but only to comply with state housing laws that apply to redevelopment projects.
“It’s now a figure-eight shape,” Hill said. “It’s in the same footprint, but instead of going up with a green area in between, it’s more like a box with crossings going from side-to-side. They can fit everything into six stories.”
The complex will retain the same size for an outdoor amphitheater, an outdoor walkway along the Toms River and space for restaurants and retail on the first floor – all open to the public.
Geraldine Ambrosio, a candidate from another GOP faction seeking the nomination for the mayor’s seat, questioned showing the rendering at the campaign fundraiser.
“This was shown at a fundraiser at the home of Robert Shea, the attorney for the developer,” she said. “Is it your private secret? Is it not for public consumption?”
Her running mate for council, R. Garry Mundy, a retired assistant township attorney, voiced similar concerns to the current township attorney, Gregory P. McGuckin.
“Don’t you see some sort of conflict with this?” he asked. “I think it violates a sense of impropriety, certainly, but was this even checked out?”
“The mayor did absolutely nothing wrong,” McGuckin replied. “As far as Mr. Shea, I don’t know what his thoughts are, but the mayor is allowed to attend a fundraiser.”
Hill said the rendering was released publicly and the planning board will take public comment into account when they consider the redesign.
“It’ll be vetted by the planning board, everybody will have a chance to speak,” said Hill. “Everyone’s concerns will be addressed there – that’s why they meet. It has to go back for review.”
Council President Matthew Lotano, a Hill ally, pushed back at criticism raised by one resident that the site on which the complex will be constructed was purchased by taxpayers for $3.3 million and then turned over to the developer for $1. The site previously was home to a derelict motel, known as the Red Carpet Inn, that was a near-constant source of criminal activity, drug use and other problems.
“They’re going to sink $3 to $4 million dollars into the public portion of the property,” said Lotano. “I know the music company next door and Exit 82 [Theater Company] are looking forward to using that space, and I’m sure the schools will be happy about that too.”
The massive public portion includes an elevated walking path along the riverfront, from which restaurants and other park amenities can be accessed. The amphitheater can be used for public arts performances and other events, while the entire area will fit into the downtown “loop” which will make pedestrian access easier, officials have said.
“The point of this project is to draw good residents downtown that will pull more businesses in,” said Lotano. “The value of this project is going to be shown in years to come, with the addition of restaurants, businesses, all over the long term.”
No date has been announced for the presentation of the revised site plan to the planning board. The footprint of the site will not change – only its layout.