JACKSON-Last month, Mayor Michael Reina and the Jackson Township Council approved the transformation of hundreds of acres of untouched pine forest along Route 539 adjacent to Six Flags Great Adventure from highway commercial-zoned land to mixed-use to allow for the development of even more high-density multifamily apartments, condos and rentals in the township.
Over the past three years, the council and mayor have approved nearly 4,500 apartment units to settle the township’s Council on Affordable Housing obligation for affordable housing. With that obligation met, the township is under no further obligation to bend rules for developers.
Since then, 1,000 residents have signed a petition addressed to Reina and the council to remove the high-density residential allowance in the ordinance to prevent anymore units beyond the original 500 apartments in an already approved project from ever being built. Reina and the council have steadfastly rejected that notion.
Despite pleas from the community at a recent township council meeting, Reina and his fellow councilmembers insisted that the multi-family component to that land’s new zoning was critical to the future success of Jackson. In fact, one project that has already been approved to build 500 more apartments, Adventure Crossing USA, has been hailed by Reina as “The future of Jackson”.
That future was once touted as a sprawling sports and entertainment complex with a cricket stadium, Top Golf sports simulation, driving range, sports fields, hotels, restaurants and retails.
After Adventure Sports was sued by local residents opposing a side entrance for the 500 apartment units, they were forced to settle their lawsuit and the developer, Cardinale Enterprises has shifted gears a little. He removed the stadium, the golf center, conference center and ice rink from the plans, blaming the lawsuit for the pullout by once-interested investors, keeping the 500 apartment units, now in a more dense configuration than originally proposed.
For the project to succeed, Cardinale needed Reina and the council to change the zoning and they did. On November 19th, Reina attended a political mixer and cocktail party hosted by attorney Sal Alfieri, whose law firm also represents the controversial “Jackson Trails” development application in Atlantic City. Reina met that night with Cardinale, who is also a close personal friend and Alfieri. After that meeting, the township council introduced the plan hatched by Reina and Cardinale to change the zoning of the land being developed by Cardinale via an ordinance to change the zoning to allow for the new things Cardinale wants in his development.
Now, with the sports component all but removed from the project save for an indoor sports and entertainment bubble, retail stores, hotels, and an MS research center. In place of the sports venues removed from the project, Cardinale boasts that he will now build three massive box-style warehouse buildings, a permitted use provided by Reina’s zoning change for his close friend, Vito Cardinale, who owns Cardinale Enterprises.
Since this petition was started, Ocean County has come to see the grim realization that with nearby Lakewood’s population set to expand to over a quarter of a million residents over the next six years, the infrastructure in Jackson and surrounding towns have been maxed out. Last week, Governor Phil Murphy announced that he is barring seasonal homeowners from occupying their Ocean County homes because the local health system cannot accommodate the massive amount of people coming in sick with COVID-19. All of the area hospitals have reached maximum capacity and locals are now resorting to taking their sick loved ones further from Ocean County to hospitals in Pennsylvania according to published media reports.
Supermarkets in Jackson Township have bare shelves with the population level in town already with only two major supermarkets servicing over 60,000 residents. In addition to Cardinale’s 500 apartments and an unknown amount of future apartments at Adventure Crossing, the township zoning board recently granted a variance to change an existing residential zone on Harmony Road to allow for a high-density condominium project. Jackson is a small town ready to transform into a full-fledged city on top of an infrastructure that has remained the same for over 50 years. Double lane county highways intersect the town’s multiple commercial centers along East Veterans Highway, Cooksbridge Road Brewers Bridge Road and Bennetts Mills Road with just one single four-lane highway, County Line Road in the northern section of town.
Jackson has no hospitals, few medical facilities, no mass transit and despite being 100 square miles, most of that land, found on the western side of town is protected from building, which would force a massive growth on the eastern side of town, which is why Reina needed to change the decade-old master plan to accommodate the high-density project by Cardinale. Cardinale’s project did not get zoning approvals from either the Ocean County or Monmouth County zoning boards, according to county officials and Reina’s change of zoning allows for Cardinale to continue the project at the planning board level. County officials have stated that Cardinale’s project would create even more traffic in one of the town’s worst traffic spots, especially during the summer tourism season as 2.5 million visitors clog the Route 539 corridor on their way to and from Six Flags Great Adventure and the Jackson Premium Outlets.
To make matters worse for the township of Jackson, two large projects rejected by the town’s land-use boards will soon gain approval. Jackson Parke South, which was denied by the town’s zoning board has received a favorable decision by the New Jersey courts, which could allow the developer, Lennar homes to build the massive 1,000 unit project. Also, Jackson Trails, for which Cardinale’s lawyer Alfieri also represents has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against the town and land use and legal experts all agree that Alfieri will have his way with the township on that matter. The two projects could as many as 4,000 new residents to the township.
The ordinance to change zoning for a developer friend, as Reina has done sets an extremely bad precedence for the town of Jackson. It was the proverbial first bite of the apple in Jackson’s pristine western Garden of Eden. The township, lobbied by the mayor and his friend and political ally, poked a gaping hole in the town’s master plan, which has been touted for years by Reina and the council as the front line defense against the future overdevelopment of Jackson Township.
Ten years ago, Reina touted another “Future of Jackson”, Jackson 21. Back then Reina spent $20,000 of township funds to promote his former vision of the future, a sprawling Shangrila of city life here in the backwoods of Jackson. It boasted theaters, a downtown shopping center, arts and culture, retail and more. That project was Jackson 21. In the ten years that have passed, the developer has no immediate plans to build anything but more high-density apartment units. It’s a future that Reina and his political allies rarely discuss these days, because Reina himself has admitted that the commercial component of Jackson 21 is not going to happen anytime soon. Leigh’s project’s goal is to build 1,500 apartment units around the Glory’s Market corner, a plot of land owned by Jackson political power players George and Clara Glory, also political allies of Reina and the Jackson Council. Glory and Reina touted the Jackson 21 project as an American “dream village” where people can work, live and play. Ten years later, the only promise fulfilled by Jackson 21 has been the “live” component.
Also, ten years after Terry Bradshaw threw a hail mary for Reina, in an election year, no large developers have nibbled at his bait, except for Cardinale, to improve the 539 highway corridor. In that video, Reina touted Cardinale’s existing Jackson Crossing Plaza, which is now being flipped by Cardinale to outside investors. Cardinale was in talks with a Lakewood investor to sell his plaza to last year, but that deal has since fallen through, according to township insiders who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal by the mayor.
Back then, Reina said he wanted to build the Route 537 corridor to attract an entertainment developer and hoteliers seeking to provide lodging for Six Flags Great Adventure. Now, with that vision slowly dying, Reina has resorted to a new hail mary that is heavily based on high-density apartment zoning along the corridor and mega warehouses. In 2013, Reina said his vision to expand Jackson includes expanding its residential base by 5,600 units. He’s almost there and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.