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Friday, February 09, 2007

Latest Press MAC story/for Satrurday Press

Note to all..I am writing more on this tonight from a sports angle and will also review today's MU men's hoops practice...


WHAT"S NEXT? Monmouth University must wait for the board to officially memorialize its approval, then begin the permitting process and select contractors. If all goes well, work on the center could begin this summer.

By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU

WEST LONG BRANCH… The deciding vote came from John M. Aria, who moved from opposing Monmouth University's plan for a multi-purpose activity center in December to supporting it Thursday.

His became the pivotal fifth vote needed for the application which included use variances. In December, he voted with board alternates Ellen Anfuso and Douglas Bostwick to oppose the $34 million center, resulting in a 4-3 vote that effectively doomed the plan.

But Monmouth University President Paul G. Gaffney II came to the Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting to - in his words - ""take responsibility'' for a new scaled-down proposal. Parking was reduced and the center lost 720 seats.

""Those conditions (the board imposed on the operation of the center) will not be abstract to me,'' said Gaffney, noting he and his wife attend most of the university events. ""They will be real. I think the community will be proud of what we build.''

Gaffney said later he pushed university officials to come up with a compromise plan.

""The reason I did that was I noticed we have been neighbors for 50 years,'' Gaffney said. ""It is unlikely West Long Branch is going to move away and Monmouth University is not going anyway so it behooves us to improve trust with this organization.''

Before Gaffney addressed the board, Police Capt. Lawrence L. Mihlon testified about a new formalized traffic and parking plan being implemented by borough and university police.

Aria said he still had concerns about potential traffic problems ""but I believe we have to defer to our police department who say there isn't going to be a problem.''

Bostwick did not agree. ""After listening to everything here tonight, I'm still stuck with the impact on the community and the burden placed on the police department who are going to have to do a lot of extra things and the burden on the council...I'm strongly against this application.''

Anfuso and Bostwick's position were supported by opponents like Zahava Sher of Larchwood Avenue and John Berrian of Coolidge Place but overwhelmingly, the room was filled with project supporters.

""Once the MAC is built, it is here to stay,'' Sher said. ""If our fears do come true, what recourse do we have?''

Anfuso, who acknowledged the college should offer improved facilities for its students, said the proposed MAC - at 4,122 seats - was simply too large. Although university traffic engineer David Shropshire previously had testified parking and traffic controls are adequate, a position confirmed by the board's own traffic engineer, Anfuso said she remained uncomfortable with the traffic study, whose data was collected during four basketball games. She said the university should have used other events, such as Homecoming, which generate larger crowds, upon which to base its study.

""The students deserve better, Boylan Gym is old,'' Anfuso said. ""I get it. Nobody (in the same athletic conference as Monmouth) has the number of seats'' the university is proposing.

Board Secretary Irven Miller moved to approve the application, saying the state's Municipal Land Use Law required board members to base their decisions on the law, not emotion or politics. His measure was seconded by Board Member Samuel Guidetti. Board Chairman Rocco W. Christopher, Aria and Board Member James V. Meola made up the remaining affirmative votes.

Miller said if the university filed a lawsuit to force the construction of the MAC, it would likely prevail, considering institutions like schools are considered by zoning law to be ""inherently beneficial'' and that applies to auxiliary uses, such as a sports center.

""It is not just a basketball arena,'' Christopher said. ""It is an integral part of the institution.''

Miller said the university has reduced the detriment on the community, agreeing to a number of conditions, such as the college would only use the MAC for 12 ""capacity'' events a year, those described as having 4,000 or more attendees.

Community groups and local schools could petition to use the MAC, but if they involve capacity events, they would have to approved by the Borough Council.

Monmouth University also agreed not to lease the MAC to commercial ventures such as home or boat shows.

For any event … MAC-related or not - in which 3,000 or more attendees are expected, the traffic plan will kick in, which means at least seven days before the event, Monmouth will begin to coordinate with local police. This will include decisions about on which side streets to place ""no parking'' signs and where to place police barricades.

During the event, Monmouth University police will join borough police in patroling borough streets for traffic enforcement. (Campus police have the same traffic enforcement powers.)

After the event, departing spectator traffic will be directed toward three separate exits including Cedar, Larchwood and Norwood avenues. Traffic will be diverted onto Norwood by having police officers change the flow of traffic onto Lake Road, which is on campus, to direct vehicles onto Norwood Avenue.

Mihlon said this plan will clear borough streets after capacity events within an hour.

""I don't think it is going to kill us,'' he said of managing capacity events.

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