2005-03-09 / Front Page

Elaborate Village awaits town’s action


Staff Writer

Calling western Monmouth County “one of the sweet spots in the country” where the average household income exceeds $160,000, developer Richard J. Brunelli has a vision that he wants to bring to life.

His vision is the development of The Village at Manalapan, a mixed-use commercial, residential, entertainment project to be built on a 135-acre tract at the intersection of Route 33 and Millhurst Road in southern Manalapan.

Brunelli described the project to the members of the Township Committee at a recent meeting of the governing body. He reviewed the plan during a subsequent interview with the News Transcript.

Department storeDepartment store Speaking about residents of western Monmouth County who, according to Brunelli, enjoy visiting downtown areas such as Red Bank, the developer said he wants to provide that type of atmosphere. He is proposing a $200 million project that would provide annual local tax revenues of approximately $4.17 million.

“This is Manalapan’s opportunity to have real tax relief,” Brunelli said, noting that at one point during a committee meeting a resident specifically mentioned how quickly his property taxes were increasing.

Main StreetMain Street Brunelli is asking the Township Committee to make several zoning changes on his property in order to eliminate the need to seek variances from the Zoning Board of Adjustment for elements of the plan that do not conform to the zoning.

Specifically, the elements that do not conform to the present zoning include a planned hotel; residential units above stores in the proposed Main Street section of The Village; and the Home Design Center portion of the tract. The home design area would include a mix of upscale retailers specializing in furniture, flooring, cabinetry, high-end kitchen appliances and other home improvement products, according to information provided by Brunelli.

EntertainmentEntertainment The developer also needs agreement from the township to permit access to the property from Route 33.

“We’re asking the township to move the project along,” Brunelli told the News Transcript.

The developer said he is prepared to spend $2 million on off-site improvements — specifically at the intersection of Route 33 and Millhurst Road — to make the project work.

Lifestyle southsideLifestyle southside Brunelli said he was approached by representatives of the Monmouth County Arts Council and asked if he would support a plan for a performing arts center. He said the developers would donate $1.5 million to $2 million toward a performing arts center at the site, which would be surrounded by art, dance and music studios. Brunelli said he would consider providing land for the Englishtown-Manalapan First Aid Squad at The Village, and said he is prepared to work with the township on additional requests for community amenities.

Lifestyle northsideLifestyle northside The design for The Village at Manalapan is a sweeping concept put forth by the man whose firm, R.J. Brunelli and Co. Inc., Old Bridge, was involved in the conception, development and leasing of The Grove at Shrewsbury, in eastern Monmouth County. More recently, the firm directed the leasing on The Commons at Holmdel lifestyle center in northeastern Monmouth County.

At The Village at Manalapan, The Grove would essentially be copied and placed on the Route 33 frontage, according to Brunelli. This is the area the developers are calling the lifestyle center — 99,000 square feet of leasible area for national and regional merchants.

Main Street in The Village will be built as a downtown area behind the lifestyle center. The street’s two- and three-story buildings will contain ground level restaurants, cafes, specialty shops and boutiques.

In addition, approximately 70 1,000- to 1,200-square-foot loft-style apartments would be built above the Main Street stores. Tenants would be provided with underground parking. Brunelli estimated that these apartments could be sold for between $250,000 and $350,000. He said the development of the Main Street apartments would be in keeping with the desire of some young professionals to live in a “hip” environment.

Other aspects of The Village include a community shopping center (major supermarket, department store, several subanchors) that developers believe would meet the needs of current and future residents of southern Manalapan and neighboring Millstone and Monroe townships; a hotel (100 to 140 rooms) with underground parking; a multiplex cinema with stadium seating; an 84,000-square-foot tennis complex, including a stadium court; restaurants; and public space to include a playground, town green, band shell, outdoor ice skating rink and athletic fields.

Brunelli said it would be possible for the tennis facility, in conjunction with the hotel, to host a residential tennis camp. The tennis stadium could be used for tournament-style events, he said.

He explained that the presence of the multiplex cinema will help drive the restaurants and other retail uses that make up the project.

Plans also call for creating a specially designated parking area for weekday commuters traveling to New York City, complete with a bus drop-off/pick-up area and an adjacent 10,000-square-foot children’s day care/learning center.

The final residential component calls for three three-story apartment buildings. Two of the buildings would be only residential and the third building would have medical offices on the first floor and two floors of apartments, according to Brunelli.

He said there is a possibility of offering affordable housing units on-site. Affordable housing units as defined by the state are homes or apartments sold or rented to an individual who has an income that meets regional guidelines established by the state. These affordable units are rented or sold at below market rates.

Present zoning allows for the development of 500,000 square feet of commercial space. The developer has submitted an application to the Planning Board for that space and is waiting for the application to be deemed complete. Once that occurs, the board will schedule public meetings and begin to hear details of the project.

Brunelli is also waiting for an answer from municipal officials on his requests for Route 33 access to The Village and zoning changes. He has acknowledged that without the Route 33 access, the project cannot be built.

The entire project as proposed calls for the development of 800,000 square feet of space. In his review of the project with the News Transcript, Brunelli called The Village at Manalapan “a new town center that creates a sense of place.” He said it is not a mall and that no aspect of the development is enclosed. He said he has been studying the concept for several years. His firm took title to the land in 2003 after a previous development entity could not get a project off the ground.

“The Village at Manalapan has been created to allow our tenants to be successful. It has been designed around the tenants’ needs. We need to have people who want to come and enjoy it,” Brunelli said, adding that he believes the homes of nearby property owners will be worth 10 to 20 percent more following the construction of The Village. “Manalapan will be the envy of towns throughout New Jersey,” he said.

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