After numerous months of litigation, Ocean County has finally settled with Andrew's Corner over the terms of their taking of land necessary for their long-planned redesign of the jughandle at the Chestnut Street / New Hampshire Avenue intersection in Lakewood, permitting for road work to begin this coming fall, 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 lead-phased 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.

Under the new design, 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 - this task took years to come to fruition.

As the news was first broken here on FAA News, County officials begun the process of soliciting bids for this project at the end of March.

Following completion of this process, as the news was broken here on FAA News, the Board of Commissioners awarded the major contract for this entire project to Earle Asphalt Company for $1,615,513.13.

However, until now actual road work was delayed by SK Lakewood Associates, the developers of Andrew's Corner.

As first reported here on FAA News back in November 2022, the developers of Andrew's Corner refused to sign off on the necessary right-of-way acquisition and even refused to argue against the County's appraisal of their property.

County officials had appraised the value of the property, property rights, and site improvements to be acquired - 7,667 sq feet in total - 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 refusal of this property owner to sign off on this right-of-way acquisition delayed the County's traffic signal project, forcing County Attorney Laura Benson Esq. to file legal action in New Jersey Superior Court for approval to take the land by condemnation.

Condemnation filings are typically very routine matters that just take a few weeks of waiting for the judge to sign off on the paper work.

However, in this case, as previously reported here on FAA News, Andrew's Corner hired Attorney Adam Garcia Esq. of Giordano, Halleran and Ciesla PC to oppose the land taking.

Mr. Garcia first got the court hearing on the condemnation filing adjourned, and then he filed a Motion to Dismiss the County's request for a condemnation.

As previously reported here on FAA News, in January 2023, Ocean County Superior Court Judge Craig Wellerson denied the opposition to the condemnation, and granted the County's motion for an Order appointing 3 Commissioners to fix the compensation to be paid for the taking of the land.

The granting of the motion was not a setting of the appraisal value but rather a formal acknowledgement that the county government does have a right to acquire land for a public purpose by condemnation if needed.

Judge Wellerson assigned 3 Commissioners to fix the compensation to be paid for the taking of the land; Brick Attorney Edward Genz, Esq, who was to serve as Presiding Commissioner, Lakewood Attorney Yosef Jacobovitch, Esq, and Toms River Realtor Alan Seeland.

These Commissioners were tasked to "examine and appraise the lands, premises, property, rights or easements [taken for public purpose] and to fix the compensation to be paid therefore."

Judge Wellerson stated that if SK Lakewood Associates is unhappy with their determination, they can seek a trial by jury.

Instead of going the route of presenting their appraisal of the land taking to the 3 commissioners (and possibly seeking a trial by jury if they were unhappy with their determination), SK Lakewood Associates filed a Notice of Appeal to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.

This got the County to hold off on plans to present their matter to the 3 commissioners, and they instead sat down for a settlement conference.

Finally, after months of settlement discussions, the parties have just come to one complete settlement.

Instead of the $243,600 the County offered, the County will give them $320,000.

Additionally, the parties agreed to the following terms of settlement:

• any landscaping on property outside the taking area, and on the lands to be retained by Andrew's Corner, which is damaged as a result of the County's work, will be restored to the condition that existed prior to said work, at the County's sole expense;

• all stormwater facilities currently existing in the taking area which are impacted by the County's improvements will be reconnected to the County's stormwater facilities at the County's sole expense;

• all other utilities on property retained by Andrew's Corner, which are impacted by the County's work, will also be reconnected to the appropriate utility facilities at the County's sole expense;

• construction work will be undertaken during the overnight hours so as not to conflict with area traffic volumes

• a representative of the developers of Andrew's Corner shall be provided notice of all construction related meetings so that they can understand the construction logistics and impacts on its residents.

As the financial amount for the land taking has now been consented to, the 3 commissioners have been discharged from their appointment.

Additionally, as part of the settlement, SK Lakewood Associates agreed to withdraw their Appellate Division appeal.

Construction is now set to commence in early Fall, County officials told the Court.

Officials have estimated that once construction begins, it will be at least 12-18 months before the new traffic signal is operational.

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