Long planned installation of a traffic signal at the Chestnut Street / New Hampshire Avenue intersection in Lakewood is again stalled as an adjoining property owner has further delayed the project in court over a dispute regarding the appraisal of the land taking and easements, FAA News has learned.

The Ocean County Engineering Department has been working for numerous years on a plan to improve the congested intersection of Chestnut Street and New Hampshire Avenue with a modified jughandle combined with two new traffic signals.

If the county would simply install a standard traffic signal with a leed northbound left turning arrow, southbound traffic would become an even major disaster as they would need to wait longer for their green signal.

Instead, County Engineers have worked for years designing a plan to completely redesign the existing Route 70 westbound exit ramp to meet up with a new T intersection with New Hampshire Avenue. This new intersection will get its own traffic signal to allow for safe right and left turns onto Chestnut Street. This way, the intersection of Chestnut Street and New Hampshire Avenue will receive its own traffic signal which will permit safe turning from Chestnut Street onto New Hampshire Avenue, but no left turns from New Hampshire Avenue northbound onto Chestnut Street, as northbound left turning traffic will use the redesigned jughandle. Traffic flow on New Hampshire Avenue southbound will be further enhanced with installation of a new right turning lane onto Chestnut Street.

Both Chestnut Street and New Hampshire Avenue are under County jurisdiction, however due this intersections proximity to Route 70 and because the project includes modifying the existing Route 70 westbound exit ramp, the project required approval from the New Jersey Department of Transportation - not a simple thing to acquire.

Traffic Expert Scott Kennel recently told the Lakewood Zoning Board that he was informed by county officials that this prerequisite State approval has been finalized. [Though a report on Lakewood News Network disputes this statement.]

County officials have begun the process of acquiring the adjoining rights-of-way necessary to install the infrastructure and utilities, with the anticipation that they would be in position to solicit bids for a contract for the project in the first quarter of 2023, and commencing road work in the upcoming Spring.

However, an adjoining property owner appears to be delaying the project as they have refused to sign off on the right-of-way acquisition. This has forced the County to seek Judicial intervention in the matter in order to keep their traffic signal project moving ahead.

This property owner is now fighting back in Court, further delaying the project.

In April 2021, County officials notified SK Lakewood Associates, the owner of Andrew's Corner Apartments, that they were going to visit the site to do an appraisal of the right of way which they need to acquire. Representatives of Andrew's Corner responded that they wanted to be present during the appraisal. The appraisal was done shortly afterwards.

In September 2022, due to continuation of the project design work, County officials determined that they needed to do a minor revision to the acquisition map and legal description. They forwarded this information to the developers of Andrew's Corner for their signature of approval. The developers have not given any response.

At this point, County officials have appraised the value of the property, property rights, and site improvements to be acquired to be worth $235,000. The County will additionally acquire temporary rights to a construction easement area for a limited period of time during the construction process, at an annual rent of $8,600. The total property area to be acquired is 7,667 sq feet.

The refusal of this property owner to sign off on this right-of-way acquisition has delayed the County's traffic signal project.

In response, as first reported here on FAA News, on November 8th, Ocean County, represented by Attorney Laura Benson, filed in Superior Court for an Order appointing 3 Commissioners to fix the compensation to be paid for the taking of the land.

Essentially, once the judge signs off on everything, a Board of 3 members is tasked with fixing the compensation to be paid for the taking of the land, and then once that amount is set, the property owner will get notified that they can come pick up the check.

On November 18th, Super Court Judge Craig Wellerson signed the Order to Show Cause, setting a hearing on this matter for Friday.

However, the property owners have now retained an attorney to object to the entering of the Order appointing 3 Commissioners to fix the compensation to be paid for the taking of the land, - further delaying the project.

Adam Garcia Esq of Giordano, Halleran and Ciesla PC wrote to Judge Wellerson seeking a postponement of the hearing until January 20, 2023.

Mr. Garcia wrote that State Law requires a condemnor such as Ocean County to "specify the property and interest to be acquired", and while their appraisal identifies a temporary construction easement of 3,175 sq feet, as well as permanent drainage and other easements within Andrew's Corner, it does not specify the location within the property over which the County seeks an easement. "The lack of detail is highly concerning, and goes directly to the heart of the proposed taking, as the current use of the subject property is as a fully occupied apartment complex."

"Given the plainly apparent ambiguities in the County's application for the condemnation, we requested the County's consent to adjourn the Order to Show Cause in order to provide time for us, in conjunction with the County, to address and hopefully rectify the deficiencies without needing to run to Court...

"Although we have explained such deficiencies in detail to the County, as of this writing, the County has not responded substantively, merely indicating that it would not consent to any adjournment.

"Notwithstanding the County's apparent objection, we request adjournment of the Order to Show Cause to January 20, 2023 for us (and hopefully the County if it will participate) to address the deficiencies, and if resolution is not possible, then to oppose the Order to Show Cause on the merits."

Judge Wellerson has granted the postponement until January 20, 2023.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is not clear:

Why is he postponing in court??? Is he seeking money ?? What is his issue with this
Is the county taking away someones property or is this all being done on county property> ?
What is the real name of the owner?