Zach Patberg of the Asbury Park Press reports: With a 164 percent population jump projected for the township by 2030 – to a total of 230,000 people – the question is whether such growth should be stunted or encouraged. That debate was conducted last night as nearly 400 people groaned, applauded, held no-growth signs and took to the microphone during a public hearing on the township’s proposed plans for guiding future development.The Lakewood Smart Growth Plan – which projected the population increase – walks a tightrope between appeasing the state agencies needed for future grants and bureaucratic streamlining, and meeting a population explosion that will require nearly doubling the town’s housing stock over the next two decades.
“The key issue facing Lakewood is where these housing units can and should be located,” the plan states.
The 20-year plan calls for keeping most future development to a handful of clustered centers: the downtown, the area around the BlueClaws stadium, Oak Street, and the area around Cross and Prospect streets. These centers are to include a range of uses, from offices, storefronts and schools to affordable housing, walkable neighborhoods and parks.
Seniors, by and large, have viewed the plan as a blueprint for a metropolis. They fear losing the quietness and openness they moved here to enjoy.
“This is not my vision for Lakewood’s future,” said Marilyn Fontanetta, 67. “It is unfair to the third of households that comprise the senior community since they will bear a large burden for this expansion but not benefit much from it.”
Reactions from the Orthodox Jewish community have been largely positive. From 2000 to 2007, Lakewood went from the 20th to the eighth largest municipality in the state and the second youngest by age in the country, according to census data. Those changes can largely be attributed to the rise of the Orthodox population, which last year enrolled more than 15,000 children into private schools. Beth Medrash Govoha, the largest yeshiva in the country, alone accounted for 72 percent of all new Lakewood households in the last 20 years, according to the yeshiva.
“We need open air space; we need to move out of the heart of Lakewood and expand our horizons,” said Yosef Posen, executive director of Lakewood Cheder, two private schools with 3,200 students.
Beth Medrash CEO Rabbi Aaron Kotler said the plan was “a good step in the right direction toward coordinated planning,” yet close monitoring during its implementation will be crucial.
“Approving the plan and not using it to bring those resources (infrastructure improvements to roads and transportation) to Lakewood . . . most likely will result in failure,” he said in an e-mail.
Still, some others feel the plan caters too heavily to private schools and not enough on minority housing.
“We want to know where’s our slice of the pie,” said pastor Glenn Wilson of Unified Neighbors for Improving Today’s Equality, or UNITE, which has recently been a vocal advocate for public school reform.
Environmentalists expressed concern. Helen Henderson of the American Littoral Society said such expansion would require the entire town to switch from septic systems to sanitary sewers, which would invite development that would threaten environmental resources like wetlands and endangered species that are state-protected.
The plan eliminates all rural zoning, allowing suburban development into what remains of farmland to the west that’s not preserved, she noted.
“It (the plan) is dead in the water in terms of moving forward with any state planning process,” Henderson contended, adding, however, that “it’s a step in the right direction but still not there yet in balancing resource protection and growth.”
Mayor Robert W. Singer also sees virtually no rural land left but points out that the smart growth plan to create more than 1,000 acres of parks and open space is unprecedented. Singer accused self-interest groups of spreading misinformation about what the plan intends to accomplish.
For example, he said, “Seniors are being told that if this plan is denied nothing will be built. What they should be told is that if we don’t have a plan, what will be built will be hodgepodge.”
On the complaints about schools, Singer said public school enrollment has not risen in years. Conversely, private school attendance has skyrocketed.
Another college with an interest in the town’s growth is Georgian Court University. Its own smart growth plan includes a build-out of its 156-acre campus and capping its resident population at between 550 and 600 people. The population now stands at 430.
No new construction beyond the campus walls is anticipated, and any offsite expansion would be limited to existing buildings, said Ruth Ann Burns, university vice president of marketing and external affairs.
“Georgian Court University supports the principles of smart growth particularly as it effects reducing the carbon footprint and other environmental concerns,” Burns said in an e-mail.
However, a recently adopted ordinance that sets parameters for colleges when building dormitories and other residential facilities will have an impact on accommodating more students in the future, university officials said.
If the smart-growth plan is adopted and Lakewood gets what is called a state endorsement, revising the township’s master plan and adopting the necessary ordinances to implement the plan will take at least another two years, Mayor Robert Singer said. The township has long been pursuing an endorsement from the state’s Office of Smart Growth, which would help subsidize its efforts guiding its growth.