Developer Joe Spano seems to be resigned that the property he owns at the corner of Route 33 and Millhurst Road will remain a farm, after being thwarted in numerous attempts over the last thirteen years to get an acceptable development approved by the Manalapan Township Committee. But soy beans and corn crops are not coming close to covering expenses and providing a fair return on the roughly $20 million Spano says has been invested in the property through his former company, Manalapan Retail Realty Partners, and his current company, Village at Manalapan Properties.
Spano is in discussions with one of the nation’s largest pork producers which is looking to increase their distribution on the east coast. He presented plans on Friday to Manalapan’s Zoning Officer and its Board of Health today for a pig farm on the property. Spano has also been in touch with the Monmouth County Planning Department for their input and guidance.
“We are in preliminary discussions,” Spano said in a phone interview. “We want to do this professionally and to make sure we’re in compliance with all the various rules and regulations. It is not a change of use, so there should be no variances required. There has been very little new livestock farming in Manalapan or Monmouth County for many years. Some of the rules have changed and many have been forgotten. We’re going to take our time and do this right.”
Spano said that the current crop of soy beans which are on the property will be harvested in October. He hopes to be able to place a small herd of pigs–which won’t require a permanent structure — along Route 33 before the end of September. Such a small herd is governed by Manalapan’s Right to Farm ordinance and New Jersey’s Right to Farm statutes and will be managed by a local farmer. “We’ll start off small but expect to grow rapidly,” Spano said.
Separately, Spano has filed and been accepted as an intervener in Manalapan’s affordable housing planning in Monmouth County Superior Court, but that litigation could take years to resolve.
By the time the soy crop is harvested in October, Spano hopes that all the Board of Health and State permits are in place. At that point a swine barn and a feed tower will be erected along Millhurst Road. The farm area will be approximately 100 acres of the 123 acre property and will have a sounder of thousands of swine being raised for market.
Over the years the property has been known as the Probasco Farm, Village of Manalapan and most recently Manalapan Crossing. Spano said that the township has given two approvals for development of the property since 2003; a 500,000 square foot retail development about ten years ago which proved not to be commercially viable and a general development plan which was approved several years later, but which has also proven not to be commercially viable.
“Almost every developer that has looked at the property, and there has been about one hundred, says a residential component is necessary to make a development economically viable,” Spano said. “The township does not want homes on the property. So we seem to be stuck with a farm. I need a farm that generates more income than soy beans or corn can provide.”
The property is now zoned for 500,000 square feet of commercial/retail. The historic farm use is a grandfathered permitted use.
The most recent commercial development attempted was known as Manalapan Crossing. It was proposed by Vito Cardinale of Cardinale Enterprises in Jackson. The development as first proposed would have had 500,000 square feet of retail stores with roughly 900 high-end residential rental units, a hotel, affordable housing units for veterans and a medical research facility. Cardinale, the principal benefactor of the Multiple Sclerosis Center named for his late wife Linda, designed the development to be a perpetual source of funding for the MS research center he wanted included in the development. Cardinale was twice rebuffed by the Township Committee on rezoning proposals; once last November after the development became an issue in the local elections and again in January after downsizing the proposal to approximately 500 residential units. In both cases Cardinale believed he had the support of the Township Committee for his proposal, only to be let down upon the final vote. He has since filed a tort notice with the Township reserving his right to litigate based upon his belief that he was not dealt with in good faith.
The Manalapan Crossing plans provided $10 million for road construction which would have improved upon the current traffic situation at Route 33 and Millhurst Road, even with the new development. Cardinale said there would have been less than 60 school aged children living in the development and that it would have generated over $ 5 million per year to Manalapan’s treasury.
Cardinale proposed a compromise plan earlier this summer which would have been an extension of adjoining Four Seasons Development, a 55 and older community and approximately 100,000 square feet of commercial/retail space. Cardinale submitted plans to the Zoning Board for approval, but declined to pursue the project after the Township Committee informed the Zoning Board that they were opposed.
“I’m done with trying to develop Manalapan Crossing for the people of Manalapan,” Cardinale said.
Cardinale said he is looking at other properties in Monmouth and Ocean Counties for the MS research center that he is committed to creating and providing for in perpetuity.
“With Manalapan Crossings denied and with the affordable housing litigation likely to drag on for years, the farm needs to be sustainable,” Spano said.