By Jay Cook |HAZLET – A nationally recognized hotel chain is looking to expand its brand behind an existing hotel on Route 35, effectively creating a hub of lodging on a roadway with a dearth of available options.At the Aug. 17 Hazlet Township Land Use Board meeting, Holiday Inn unveiled a proposal to build a four-story Holiday Inn Express hotel. It would sit behind the two-story Holiday Inn already established along the highway, across from the Cinemark and Costco shopping center.“This is a rather innocuous use,” said Calisto Bertin, project engineer for the hotel’s application. “It’s just a hotel – not a trucking terminal, not a factory.”But for some residents living on the adjacent Miller Avenue, which is actually within Holmdel Township’s borders, plans for a new hotel are unwelcome.“I think the value of our homes are going to go down,” said Holmdel resident Dean Labarca, a 13-year homeowner on Miller Avenue, after the meeting ended. “The quality of our lives are going to go down.”He was one of about 25 residents from Miller and Orchard avenues in attendance that expressed concern about this development. Earlier in the month, Labarca petitioned the Holmdel Township Committee for help to stop this project. Committee members Deputy Mayor Pat Impreveduto and Committeeman Eric Hinds said they do not like the project.According to the project application, the hotel expansion would be on a 3-acre swath of undeveloped, wooded land behind the existing Holiday Inn hotel and the Hazlet Pharmacy/Casual Male XL next door.An engineering plan for the proposed hotel expansion.The plans call for a four-story, 93-room hotel, covering 13,663 square feet. On the ground level, site plans outline a swimming pool, market, lifestyle lounge and a fitness room.Yomesh Patel, a planner hired on behalf of Holiday Inn applications, said the new hotel would “attract the right type of clients” into Hazlet, considering the Holiday Inn Express would be an “upper-scale hotel.”For Holiday Inn to even consider the new hotel for franchising, Patel said the structure would have to be four stories tall. He cited country-wide consistency and brand recognition as the main reasons why.Pending approval from the Land Use Board, attorney Jeffery Gale said the property owner would split the lots into two – the new space at 3 acres and the existing space at 3.9 acres – and the existing Holiday Inn would be sold and rebranded as a Quality Inn or similar style hotel.Holiday Inn would also be seeking a use variance on the property, oddly enough, as hotel uses are not permitted in that zone on the Route 35 highway in Hazlet. According to public Monmouth County tax records, the standing hotel was built in 1967. Gale said over the years it had been branded as a Ramada Inn and a Sheraton. He said it also is the popular overnight destination for acts performing at the PNC Bank Arts Center.Surrounding the rear of the property and abutting houses on Miller Avenue is a 6-foot-high fence, that at some points provides only a 20-foot buffer for residents from the hotel’s parking lot.And according to Gale, the 20 feet that residents have come to enjoy over the years is actually owned by the hotel. The fence line does not correctly correspond with the actual property line.But regarding where properties begin and end, Gale said, “I’d like to make it clear, because I don’t want to stir up controversy. It is not the applicant’s desire that we make this controversy or to bring it to an issue.”The Holiday Inn on Route 35 South, Hazlet.If the new Holiday Inn Express is ultimately approved, distances from fence lines to the curb inside the development would range from 7 feet to 22 feet.That lack of privacy was brought to issue by board member Vincent Solomeno, who said, “the actual situation we’re facing right now is you’re awfully close to the backs of these homes.”“I’m concerned about that, specifically, and the noise and the light,” he added.Many of Labarca’s neighbors drew on those concerns after the meeting, saying the hotel expansion would have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.“I got three kids that play in the street there every day,” said Brian Hayes, who has lived on Miller Avenue for 14 years. “This is going to increase the traffic and the cars that come down the road and turn around in my driveway.”Concerning the traffic, Hayes said cars leaving the hotel property already turn right onto Miller Avenue, where there is no way to leave the development. “No Outlet,” “Watch Children,” and 25 miles per hour signs pepper the entrance to Miller Avenue.Joe Dimari has lived on Orchard Avenue, another neighborhood behind Miller Avenue, for 28 years. He said a new hotel twice as big as the one already there would make the site significantly louder than it already is.Dimari also brought up the Monmouth County Reliability Project, a pending 230-kV transmission line proposed along NJ Transit the North Jersey Coast Line. Orchard Avenue backs up to the train tracks.“We have the JCP&L project behind us and the Holiday Inn in front,” he said. “This is our quality of life that we’re trying to protect.”Only half of the expert witnesses testified on Aug. 17, so the project was carried to the next meeting, tentatively scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7. Residents are urged to check HazletTwp.org for more information.This article was first published in the Aug. 24-31, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.