HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - The public’s response to a pair of online petitions for and against the proposed APEX Sports & Events facility are running 10 to 1 in favor of the 210,000 square-foot indoor/outdoor athletic complex, proposed for a 40-acre site on Mountain View Road adjacent to the 369-acre Mountain View Park.

In addition to three lighted, outdoor synthetic turf athletic fields, the centerpiece of the complex will be the indoor arena.

Township resident Jill Darby posted the “No Dome in Hillsborough” petition opposing the plan online at change.org, on Saturday, and as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, had recorded 72 signatures.

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Township resident Steve Ostergren posted the “Steve Ostergren: We Want Apex in Hillsborough” petition in favor of the complex on Tuesday, and In a  little over 24 hours, 572 supporters of the plan had signed his petition backing developer Gregg Wilkie’s plan.

The petitions are gathering signatures in advance of a March 27 public hearing on two ordinances in support of the proposal at a Township Committee meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at the municipal complex, 360 South Branch Road.

The plan will be discussed at  March 26 Environmental Commission meeting, and is scheduled for a hearing at the Township Planning Board April 5. The plan must be approved by several agencies if it is to be built.

An introductory paragraph on the website of the petition against the proposal reads:

“While we can all appreciate the possible need for a facility, why do we need one in a middle of a residential area? Is there no other area that this eyesore can be built that would not drop the value of the houses in the area?

“This once peaceful area has had over 2 years of remediation work going on, all with the promise the land would be returned to its previous state. We now know that is not true. Traffic will be a nightmare, and this complex will not only be an eyesore but will have bright lights on at night and we can expect this to be a regular occurrence.

"We need to stop this!”

The petition also includes a list of email addresses for Mayor Gloria McCauley and the four other members of the Township Committee: Deputy Mayor Doug Tomson,  and councilmen Greg Burchette, Frank Delcore and Carl Suraci.

Ostergren opens his online petition with the following message:

“For those of you who know me, I am certainly not a frequent Facebook user, but I understand the importance of it, and I whole-heartedly believe in the Apex concept. This is why I’ve started this petition. We Want Apex in Hillsborough!”

Both petitions include an artist’s rendering of the Apex facility, and highlight the features planned. Ostergren’s presentation is more detailed.

The Apex project would be built adjacent to Mountain View Park.a 369-acre outdoor sports complex owned jointly by the township and Somerset County, dedicated in April, 2017.

As was the township/county complex, Apex will be built on remediated property that had been part of the Belle Mead Government Service Administration Depot, formerly owned by the federal government.

Wilke hopes to open the outdoor turf fields in the spring of 2019 and the indoor complex later that year if approvals are granted.

Apex Land Associates LLC is purchasing the property from the Somerset County Improvement Authority. Once the deal is closed, Wilkie will turn over a 19.5-acre tract of property on Hillsborough Road to the county where he had originally proposed to build the Apex complex.

The Hillsborough Township Committee introduced two ordinances at its March 13 meeting signaling its intent to partner with Apex. The first authorizes a lease agreement with Apex Land Associates for an outdoor synthetic turf field to be installed at the complex for the exclusive use of township sports organizations; the second ordinance authorizes execution of a five-year tax exemption and abatement agreement with Apex.

The five-member Committee also voted unanimously March 13 to designate Apex as the redeveloper of the property.

In addition to the synthetic turf field designated for use by township organizations, there will be two other synthetic turf fields installed by Apex on the 40-acre expanse.

The centerpiece of the project will be the 210,000 square foot indoor facility including two domes, one 75 feet high, and what Wilke described as a hard shell building.

The larger of the two domes will enclose a full-size indoor soccer field, also suitable for lacrosse and football.

The smaller dome will be used for training programs, workouts, and fitness training. There will be indoor basketball and volleyball courts, batting cages and pitching tunnels, a mezzanine viewing area, café and concessions area, multi-purpose rooms, team rooms and space for other activities, including a kids’ adventure area with rock climbing and other family-friendly activities..

Apex will compliment the adjacent Mountain View Park facilities, creating a massive sports and recreation destination not only for township sports leagues and clubs, but for similar organizations from surrounding towns and throughout the state. It will rival similar facilities in New Jersey, according to Wilkie.

“The idea of Apex started five years ago while watching my kids on the lacrosse and soccer fields,” Wilke explained.

He and his wife Jennifer, who was born and raised in Hillsborough, have four children.

“My wife and I were exhausted from spending so many hours each weekend on the road traveling to towns throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania so they could participate in their sports,” he continued.

“At Apex, our mission is to create a state-of-the-art unique competition and training facility for Hillsborough that serves the year-round sports and recreation needs of the local families while promoting a healthy lifestyle for the community and assisting in the development of our young athletes," Wilkie added.

Several representatives of township athletic organizations spoke in favor of the Apex facility at the March 13 meeting, including Jamie Moore, director of the Junior Raiders Youth Sports organization.

“Our local sports families are currently traveling to other towns including Flemington, Branchburg and Bridgewater to find field and court space to support their teams’ practices and games,” he said. “A sports and recreation facility such as Apex has long been the talk of the sports clubs in towns, and we are very excited to keep our families local and playing in a premier facility located in Hillsborough.”

Rick Mantz, director of High School Relations for the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights football team and a graduate of Hillsborough High School also spoke in favor of the Apex complex.

“The need for this kind of facility in Hillsborough cannot be overstated. Sports and recreation are vital to the overall health and well-being of our youth,” he said.

“All over the country I see communities creating facilities that offer these opportunities, and it’s great to hear that Apex will bring them to Hillsborough. Mountain View is the perfect location for this indoor and outdoor athletic complex.”

The township and Apex have formulated an arrangement that guarantees 400 hours of reserved prime time for the township Parks and Recreation Department on the dedicated turf field; in addition, Hillsborough-based 501C3 non-profit organizations will be able to rent playing time at a 50 percent discount, according to Mayor Gloria McCauley.

“We are thrilled to have Apex come to Mountain View Park,” McCauley said. “It’s going to play a key role in satisfying the need for additional sports activities for our residents.”

Deputy Mayor Doug Tomson also spoke in favor of the facility.

“This is a perfect example of a public/private partnership,” Tomson said, noting that the township would be unable to afford costs associated with building a similar facility as it is faced with state-imposed spending limitations.

“This just couldn’t happen under a two percent budget cap,” he added. “Hillsborough comes out so far ahead.”

Two residents with concerns about the height of the dome and increased traffic also addressed the committee during the public portion of the meeting; members of the committee suggested they bring those concerns to the Planning Board, which must first review plans and make recommendations before it can render a decision on the proposal. The application then moves on to the Township Committee for a final vote. The process is expected to take several months.

“I do understand some of the local residents’ concerns about additional traffic on Mountain View Road and the height of the dome,” Ostergren writes in his petition introduction. ”These questions/concerns will need to be addressed by Apex and the township during the planning board process.

“But bottom line for me is that Apex is a perfect compliment to the outdoor sports and recreation activities that will be offered by the township at Mountain View Park. Why would we want it anywhere else? I mean, this park was conceived to bring recreation and sporting activities to the community, all in one area, and is the ideal location for a state-of-the-art athletic and recreational facility such as Apex!

“For your information,” he continues, “this 40 acre plot of land that is adjacent to Mountain View Park is currently zoned “Research and Development” which means factories, warehouses, and pretty much any commercial and/or industrial operation could go there. I think a state-of-the-art athletic and recreation facility that supports the development of our youth and an active adult community is better. Don’t you?”

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