Brick residents and professionals hired by a developer seeking to build 59 homes on a parcel of land off Laurel Avenue squared off during the cross-examination of a traffic expert Monday night. The meeting, at some points, became heated, prompting officials to advise residents to maintain decorum.
The planning board meeting Monday night was the latest at which the proposal by D.R. Horton, a national home builder, was heard by board members. Residents of neighboring streets are opposing the development due to what they see as the degradation of an undeveloped parcel as well as a new factor that could contribute to traffic woes. Testimony on the environmental sensitivity issues on the 30-acre parcel was postponed, leading the board to take up the entirety of the three and-a-half hour meeting on traffic.
The property, owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton, by way of the Church of the Visitation, is under contract to be sold to D.R. Horton should the Austin, Tx.-based company obtain approval to build the homes. It is located off Laurel Avenue, and spans portions of a wooded area situated north of Drum Point Road.
Observers who frequently attend board meetings would have likely concluded that testimony on traffic would be brief, since impacts, based on traffic studies conducted by the developer and reviewed by the township’s engineering staff, were forecast to be minimal. Dozens of residents, however, repeatedly peppered D.R. Horton’s traffic engineer with questions on impacts as far-ranging as delays at the Mantoloking Bridge and evacuations during hurricanes – issues that were outside the scope of a planning board hearing on a residential development. But they doubled down on their belief that adding the blocks of homes would cause traffic tie-ups on Drum Point and Mantoloking roads.
Township officials, for their part, confirmed that the proposed 59 homes conform with the township’s zoning ordinance, which allows for single-family homes with lot sizes of at least 15,000 square feet. The roads surrounding the development are all under county jurisdiction. The county has asked the company to expand Laurel Avenue by eight feet near its entrances, the company’s attorney divulged during one exchange with a resident.
The back-and-forth led to some tense moments as both the developer’s attorney as well as the board’s own attorney advised some speakers that personal questions of professional staff were not to be tolerated, with the former objecting to several lines of questioning.
John Ray, a local traffic engineer hired by D.R. Horton, conducted traffic studies during May 2021 and also utilized pre-pandemic data from the state Department of Transportation to build estimates of road utilization should the project be approved.
Ray testified that during the AM peak rush hour, the development would produce 12 inbound and 34 outbound trips onto Laurel Avenue. During the PM rush, there would be 38 inbound trips and 22 outbound trips onto the Laurel. The development would have two access and egress points – both onto Laurel – near the road’s current intersections with Applegate Avenue and Victory Avenue.
“When you look at the traffic impact and the hundreds and hundreds of homes that utilize these roads, the addition of these homes is something that can be absorbed without creating significant impact,” Ray testified.
The one issue which raised a red flag with officials is a turn outside of the proposed development itself: a left turn onto Mantoloking Road from Laurel Avenue.
“The volumes are so heavy that making a left turn onto Mantoloking Road experiences a significant delay during the evening rush hour,” said Ray. “But the left turn volume is very light. It appears as though the people who use Laurel Avenue on a regular basis are aware of the situation and try to avoid it.”
When asked by a resident whether the intersection would qualify for a traffic signal, Ray said Ocean County officials would make the determination, but about 10 times the current level of turning traffic would need to be present in order to meet the parameters for a traffic light.
Another controversial aspect of the project is an access point that will be created onto Aarons Way, an existing street off Drum Point Road. Residents – as well as professionals – seemed split on the matter. Ray testified that there is no compelling need for the access road, however township officials suggested a third way for emergency vehicles to be able to enter the development. After Monday night’s testimony, an option will be explored that would make the access point for emergency use only.
“As a traffic engineer, my opinion is that since we already have two points of access to Laurel Avenue that function properly, it is not necessary to have a third point of access for the everyday needs of the community,” said Ray. “On the other hand, it would always be beneficial to have an access for emergency vehicles directly to Drum Point Road.”
The hearing will continue with additional testimony on traffic issues, as well as environmental consultants and planning experts. Also, objectors have hired at least one attorney who plans to call witnesses, presumably to rebut portions of the developer’s testimony.
Stuart Lieberman, an environmental and land use attorney from Princeton, has been hired by local environmental group Save Barnegat Bay to object to the application. Lieberman limited his contributions Monday night to asking about the density of the neighborhood. His main focus will be on the environmental issues surrounding the site, which may include matters concerning wetlands and sensitive species.
The hearing will continue May 16, when the board will hold another meeting at Civic Plaza, 270 Chambers Bridge Road, at 7 p.m.