Fort Monmouth Redevelopment Taking Shape
- In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Defense will close Fort Monmouth, the 1,126-acre military base that occupies parts of three Monmouth County municipalities: Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls.
- To prepare for this eventuality, the Legislature in 2006 established the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Planning Authority “to plan for the comprehensive conversion and revitalization of Fort Monmouth, so as to encourage enlightened land use and to create employment and other business opportunities for the benefit of the host municipalities.”
- The task of carrying out this plan now falls to a new agency, the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, staffed by the state Economic Development Authority and empowered, among other things, to undertake redevelopment projects, adopt development and design guidelines and land use regulations, acquire property (including by condemnation) and supersede the master plans, zoning maps and land use ordinances of the host municipalities.
Transforming an Abandoned Base Into an Economic Engine
With New Jersey Future’s sixth-annual Redevelopment Forum coming up on March 4, the tale of how New Jersey is going about the process of converting soon-to-be-mothballed Fort Monmouth from a military base to a civilian residential, commercial and retail center is instructive.
From the moment the Base Realignment and Closure Commission announced in 2005 that its hit list included New Jersey’s venerable Fort Monmouth, the shock waves were felt throughout Monmouth County. The base, established in 1917, was not only a major employer in the region, but also the source of a large customer base for many nearby businesses. The loss to the state’s economy precipitated by its closure was projected at $3.3 billion.
The Legislature responded by passing the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Act, signed into law by then-Gov. Jon Corzine in 2006. The act created the planning authority that drew up the “Fort Monmouth Reuse and Redevelopment Plan,” submitted to the Department of Defense and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2008. With input from the host municipalities, Monmouth County, state departments and agencies and the general public, the plan laid out three core objectives for the redevelopment of Fort Monmouth:
- Promote, develop, encourage and maintain employment, commerce, economic development and the public welfare;
- Conserve natural resources; and
- Advance the general prosperity and economic welfare of the people in the affected communities and throughout the state.
In August 2010, the Legislature dissolved the planning authority and created the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority to implement the plan. In addition to the powers enumerated above, the authority may enter into a master redevelopment agreement with the Economic Development Authority to act as the designated redeveloper of the Fort Monmouth site. It is also empowered “to consent to a request by a host municipality for, or request that the host municipality consider, the designation of portions of the project area as being in need of redevelopment or rehabilitation in accordance with the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.” The host municipalities retain authority over applications for subdivision or site plan approval — but even these applications are obliged to abide by the authority’s guidelines and regulations.
The authority is chaired by Colts Neck resident James Gorman, one of three gubernatorial appointees, and includes EDA Chairman Al Koeppe, another member of the executive branch, a Monmouth County resident appointed by the freeholders and the mayors of Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls. Serving as ex-officio non-voting members are the commissioners of Labor and Workforce Development, Environmental Protection, Community Affairs and Transportation.
Newly hired as the authority’s executive director is Bruce Steadman, who, as chief executive officer of the Plattsburg Airbase Redevelopment Corp., turned a shuttered Air Force base in upstate New York into a site for businesses, nonprofits, residential neighborhoods, community college facilities and a new international airport.
The authority’s immediate task is preparation of a business plan covering all issues related to the closure, conversion, revitalization and future use of Fort Monmouth, including analyses and strategies dealing with such matters as the economic impact of the project, job creation, cash flow, investment and financing strategy. And it must deal with the important issue of affordable housing. Last October, in a decision that could also have significant implications for the Pinelands, Highlands and Meadowlands, a state appeals court ruled that the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, because it has regional planning responsibilities, is required to address regional, rather than municipal, obligations in an affordable-housing plan.