Traffic from mall’s planned redevelopment has residents expressing concern

Residents of Eatontown are continuing to take issue with the anticipated increase in area traffic that would follow the redevelopment of the Monmouth Mall.

A fourth hearing regarding the mall’s proposed redevelopment was held on June 4 before the Planning Board at the municipal building in Eatontown.

No decision on an application that has been filed by Eatontown Monmouth Mall LLC was reached that night. A fifth hearing on the matter has been scheduled for June 18.

Eatontown Monmouth Mall, a joint effort between Kushner Companies and Rouse Properties, is seeking municipal approval to remodel, renovate and repurpose the Monmouth Mall for commercial and retail use, according to the Planning Board.

The proposed residential apartments on the premises, to be called the Heights of Monmouth, are permitted in the southeast corner of the premises by municipal zoning.

The Heights of Monmouth is a multi-use building designed to accommodate 340 one-bedroom, 340 two-bedroom and 18 three-bedroom apartments.

On June 4, traffic engineer Gary Dean continued to discuss the impact the mall’s redevelopment would have on the local road network. Dean began his presentation during the previous meeting that was held on May 4.

Dean said there would be “minor differences in the level of service,” in reference to the amount of mall-related traffic that would enter and exit the site if the construction is completed as proposed.  

Dean said he studied the roads outside the mall property at the intersection of Route 35, Route 36 and Wyckoff Road and concluded there would be a 40 percent increase in area traffic to and from that location. 

“The system can handle it,” he said. “The road system, given the nature of Route 35, Route 36 and Wyckoff Road, has the adequate capacity to continue to carry traffic from the mall.” 

Dean said that if the planned construction takes place, the ring road surrounding the mall would no longer follow its previously established route around the perimeter of the 1.5 million square foot property. Instead, Dean proposed the ring road to be rerouted and designed to bisect multiple areas of the west side of the mall.

Eatontown Zoning Officer Erik Brachman described the ring road as an “internal circulation path” that will be reconfigured to better accommodate the increase in vehicles that will be entering and leaving the premises, after all development has been completed.

“This site plan has included a number of high-visibility pedestrian crossing locations,” Dean said.

Dean said the proposed pedestrian access routes along the perimeter of the mall and around the proposed apartment complex will continue to be an ongoing issue for the project’s architects.

Dean said when all of the planned development has been completed, he would expect to see an increase in the number of vehicles accessing the site from the southwest side of the mall, via Wyckoff Road. And, the apartment building is planned to be near Wyckoff Road.

Dean said he was asked by representatives of T&M Associates, which represents the Planning Board, to consider Grant Avenue as a bypass for Route 35, Route 36 and Wyckoff Road to accommodate residents of the apartment building.

Dean said in that scenario, a driver might exit Route 36 to Grant Avenue and follow Grant Avenue to Wyckoff Road, before turning onto Wyckoff Road to reach the apartment building.

Residents previously expressed concern about what they said is a high volume of traffic on Wyckoff Road.

During the June 4 meeting, residents took new issue with the idea of Grant Avenue becoming a high-volume traffic route. The residents said Grant Avenue is a shortcut they often take to avoid mall traffic.

Dean said traffic calming measures would be introduced in the area to ensure safe passage for motorists and pedestrians, and to maintain access to the mall property.

Referring to previous testimony about traffic, resident Matthew Jacobs, who is a member of the Eatontown Environmental Commission, said, “You are only studying two hours of traffic per day and are assuming that is the average traffic for the whole year.”

“We look at seasonal adjustment factors … We sample on a representative day that does not deviate from typical traffic,” Dean said. 

“The traffic on Grant Avenue is unbelievable in the morning,” one resident said in response to Dean’s suggestion that the road could be used as an alternate route from Route 36 by residents of the Heights of Monmouth apartments.

Dean’s testimony prompted resident Ted Lewis to ask the applicant’s representatives, “Do you find that the professional witnesses tend to come up with the rationale their clients want them to?”

His question was not answered.

Following Dean’s testimony, attorney Patrick McNamara, representing the applicant, called Anthony Agresti, project manager at Lewis S. Goodfriend and Associates, to testify.

Agresti said he conducted a noise assessment regarding the placement of 720 air conditioning units on the roof of the apartment building and from 21 exhaust fans in a planned multi-level garage.

“New Jersey has a noise standard that is applicable to the project,” Agresti said.

After conducting an experiment using a sound simulation model, Agresti said he evaluated the highest level of sound that was emitted from the air conditioning units and the exhaust fans.

Agresti described the southeast corner of the mall as “acoustically reflective.” He said the conclusions drawn from the computer simulation indicate that excessive noise will not be an issue to surrounding neighborhoods.

In a subsequent interview, McNamara said Jeffrey Otteau, a financial consultant, and Christine Cofone, a professional planner, will provide testimony at future meetings. McNamara said that as the hearing proceeds, he may need to recall witnesses who previously testified in order to address a number issues that have been raised by residents.

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