TOMS RIVER, NJ – This week a sixth plan by Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill to transform the sleepy village of Downtown Toms River into a destination city was announced. Hill applied to the state Green Acres commission to de-commission open space in Huddy Park, the picturesque delta where the long and winding Toms River opens up to the large body of water most are familiar with. Hill requested to remove a portion of Huddy Park from the Green Acres land preservation inventory and, according to town hall insiders, is looking to sell that property to developers to build more high density apartments, commercial space and a multi-deck parking lot.
Change in a community is inevitable. As time goes on things change and Toms River is no stranger to change and growth. From a small chicken farming community where eggs were the major industry at the turn of the twentieth century, Toms River changed into one of the largest bedroom communities in New Jersey in the mid-twentieth century driven by the construction of the Garden State Parkway and the booming Jersey Shore tourism industry.
By the 1980s Toms River had grown out of its earlier self as a rural farming community into a nearly endless suburban sprawl.
1950’s and the Garden State Parkway
Constructed in 1947 the Garden State Parkway accelerated the growth of Toms River. With the end of World War II and car ownership on the rise, many from New York and North Jersey relocated to Toms River, connected to their jobs by the Parkway which allowed for an acceptable commute to points north as Toms River’s business economy had not yet begun to flourish. Eventually businesses such as Ciba Geigy, Over the next four decades Toms River would grow into the 8th most populated city in New Jersey.
Mo Hill’s plan to build a city
In 2019, Toms River residents elected Mo Hill, a lifelong resident of Ocean Couty with many political connections and alliances with some of the largest developers in the county. Mo Hill ran for office on a political campaign to bring Toms River into the spotlight in New Jersey and to grow the community into a city. Hill challenged anti-development candidates and won. Hill unveiled his plan for the future which included a major investment into Downtown Toms River, redevelopment of the now-abandoned Ciba Geigy Superfund site, and a new alliance with progressive Democrats that aims to radically alter the township once again.
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6 Plans that will radically alter Toms River forever
Hill and his new political allies in the Democrat party, along with his relationship with Downtown developer Matt Lotano, whose family owns and builds apartment complexes, including the Legion Square apartment building Downtown.
The group has announced plans that will encourage rapid growth in the community. Hill hopes one day Downtown Toms River will be a thriving downtown city center that will draw tourists to hotels, bars, restaurants and to create a vibrant nightlife downtown. The idea that Toms River is a bedroom community is no longer the case.
- Downtown City – In drawings and renderings produced by Hill and his allies on the Town Council, Toms River would soon be a city with 7 and 8 story apartment towers. Every available lot in Downtown Toms River would be either affordable housing or affordable apartments and townhomes. The renderings produced by Toms River Township in a recent redevelopment plan show Water Street lined with four and five-story housing complexes and several buildings that reach the height of 7 and 8 stories. Toms River will have a skyline visible from several high points around the county. The renderings produced by Hill and his administration make Toms River look similar to New Brunswick. Hill has chosen the North Jersey developer Capodaglia Properties to start the construction of the city. The firm has experience building city-like urban centers to spur commercial and residential growth. Train service along the western corridor of Route 37, along with Hill’s plan to redevelop Ciba-Geigy could transform the last untouched region of Toms River into a bustling urban manufacturing and business center.
- Turn Huddy Park Green Acres Apartments and Shops – Hill recently went to the New Jersey Green Acres Commission to try to get a large portion of Huddy Park’s Green Acre designation removed. If successful, Mo intends to turn the lots that are currently protected into a land sale to a developer in order to build hi-rise apartments and a parking garage. The land was seized via eminent domain in the 1960s to remove aging and crumbling urban decay on the south side of Water Street to give Downtown Toms River an open and unobstructed view of the river. Now, Hill wants to build a higher and raze part of the park in order to fulfil his goal to ‘revitalize’ Downtown Toms River by adding more high-density structures.
- Ciba Geigy Redevelopment – Hill, on many occasions, has promoted his vision of urbanizing and developing the thousands of acres of forest around the Ciba Geigy Superfund site, including creating a busy commercial corridor along Route 37 west that stretches from the Joint Base to the Parkway. Hil envisions this corridor to be full of high-tech industry, manufacturing and city-like plots of townhomes and affordable housing. That development would be accelerated if a plan supported by Hill to return NJ transit train service to the old rail line would reconnect Toms River, Manchester, Jackson and Lakewood to the Jersey Shore Line in Red Bank. Portions of that line today are used for freight service and some parts of the line were rehabilitated several years ago for use by the Clayton company.
- North Dover Urbanization – One of the hallmarks of Hill’s plan for the future is to pave the way for North Dover to be an extension of his hometown, Lakewood. Hill was born and raised in Lakewood and was a football star at Lakewood High School before playing some college football at Rutgers. In the past few years, North Dover has seen a rapid rate of growth and Hill, a former member of the Toms River Planning Board has paved the way for the growth of North Dover. North Dover has a large Orthodox Jewish population because it has become an attractive alternative to living inside the crowded and congested city of Lakewood to the north. Hill and his allies in town hall have allowed for several large tracts of land to be developed and settled a few longstanding court cases where the town was trying to block major development projects on the north side of town. Hill has been working behind the scenes to change religious zoning laws in Toms River to accommodate the growing community to build religious buildings on smaller lots. Currently, the town requires 10 acres to build a church or other house of worship. Hill and township Democrat Laurie Huryk have been aggressively working against opposition toward reducing that acreage restriction.
- County Homeless Shelter – As Toms River turns into a city, the township is also preparing for city problems. Democrat Councilman Terrance Turnbach wants to build a homeless shelter in Toms River and make the township a leader in New Jersey when it comes to social services for the underserved residents of the state. Turnbach, who is a criminal defense attorney specializing in defending rapists, child molesters, human trafficking and violent criminals has a large heart when it comes to providing for the needs of those who most of society has abandoned and forgotten. A homeless shelter in Toms River would vastly improve housing for the county and state’s homeless populations to seek residence in Toms River. At this point, Turnbach and Hill have not told the township where they want to build the facility.
- Social, Gender and Racial Equity – In the wake of the 2020 George Floyd riots, Democrat Councilwoman Laurie Huryk condemned Toms River for not being accommodating enough to people of color, the LBGTQ community, and other minority populations. “We can do better,” Huryk lectured the town and said Toms River needs to create more services and a more welcoming atmosphere that will turn Toms River from a predominantly white bedroom community into a vibrant city of multiculturalism. The township held its first-ever multicultural awareness event in 2019 and it was a success. Huryk envisions Toms River to one day becoming a melting pot, even suggesting that Toms River is too white as it stands today. Huryk and Turnbach’s influence in the Toms River Council aided in the LBGTQ rainbow flag being raised above Toms River Town Hall for the first time in its history. The two, along with Hill and township Republican Kevin Geoghegan have ushered in a cultural revolution in Toms River. For the first time ever Toms River held its first “Gay Pride Day” and on Valentine’s Day weekend this year, the town hosted a drag queen review downtown, something that would never have been imaginable just a few years ago. Toms River’s cultural revolution has indeed begun and Huryk, Turnbach, and Geoghegan may one day be viewed in the same light as Joshua Huddy as unafraid social pioneers willing to buck the social norms of the day to usher in a new era in the community.
Building the foundation
Mayor Hill is starting to build the foundation for the downtown city in Toms River. He recently pushed for a project that would begin transforming a relatively unused road, Herflicker Boulevard into one of the main arteries that will bring traffic into the downtown area. Herflicker Boulevard connects Highland Parkway to Route 166 to the south. Hill has ambitious plans for Toms River and as of now, the majority of the Toms River Council is in agreement with him. In ten years, Toms River could become the largest city in Ocean County and move up the ladder as one of the top five largest cities in New Jersey.
What you need to know about Mayor Mo Hill
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