BARNEGAT, NJ – The Compass Point Cottages are back on the Barnegat Planning Board’s agenda on Tuesday, February 25th.  Last month, Developer Chris Vernon completed his presentation regarding Phase 1 of the project.  Before the decision is made, the board will allow members of the public to share comments and ask questions.

Vernon’s company, 1111 West Bay & Nautilus Associates, purchased the old Shoreline Sand and Gravel location in 2012. The developer initially planned on introducing a unique concept to the community.

“The idea was to set up “age in place” housing,” explained Mayor John Novak. “Potential customers gave overwhelming positive feedback.”

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According to Novak, cottages would be grouped on cul-de-sacs in an age-restricted community. If a spouse died or someone was unable to take care of themselves, they wouldn’t need to leave familiar surroundings. They could choose from a menu of service levels to get the necessary help. This could go as far as moving to an assisted living facility right on the same grounds.

As the developer was getting plans in place, the township faced other issues. Like many Ocean County municipalities, Barnegat wasn’t meeting its obligations under the state’s Fair Housing Act. It needed to come up with a solution.

Township officials say they negotiated a deal. Vernon agreed to build affordable housing at the site previously owned by Sweet Jenny’s. The result meant saving the town millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, Vernon would still build cottages – without the “age in place” concept.  Under the current plan, the cottages start out at $270K and come in on wheels to be placed on a pad. Since the homeowners don’t own the land where their cottages sit, they don’t pay property taxes. Instead, it’s up to the landowner to make the payments.

The concept has already received approval. However, that doesn’t mean that community members still don’t have questions. Charles Cunliffe has plenty of them.

“I’m wondering if the committee and the board understood what cottages meant in the first place,” said Cunliffe. “Did they realize these are essentially mobile homes when they approved this?”

As a former mayor in another Ocean County community, Cunliffe also finds another part of the approval process troublesome. “Al Bille and Marty Lisella both participated in this,” said Cunliffe. “At the time, they both worked for Van Dyk Realty.  I think this represents a conflict of interest.”

Township Administrator Marty Lisella was on the township committee when the Vernon matter was decided.  “I was a broker (for Van Dyk), and Al (Bille) was an agent,” Lisella shared. “It wouldn’t have affected Al at all. And, the agency wasn’t offered an exclusive with the property.”

According to Lisella, there was no conflict. However, Cunliffe disagrees. “The law says anything that creates a justifiable impression that trust is being violated is the issue. Even the fact that the two township officials could be involved in resales could create that impression.”

At last month’s planning board meeting, a number of people wanted their time to express their discontent with the project.  Some voiced concerns about increased traffic. Another resident felt the project would shortchange the township as far as tax revenue.

The planning board attorney reminded residents that the project had already received general development plan approval. As it now stands, Vernon wants to get started once the Phase 1 particulars receive a nod of consent from the planning board.

Tuesday night’s planning board meeting won’t be the only hot one in town.  It rivals timewise with the final vote on school reconfiguration for the Barnegat School District.