A proposal to split a Hooper Avenue building — once home to a video store — into multiple retail spaces was met with resistance by Planning Board members, leading the applicant to reconsider the plan until next meeting.
The applicant, Toms River Equities, needs a use variance to divide the former home of Coconuts Music and Movies at 1258 Hooper Ave. into at least three spaces, two of which would house a Jersey Mike's Subs and a Chipotle Mexican Grill. But board members had concerns Monday evening that the plan may turn what was meant to be a single business site across from the Ocean County Mall into a strip mall.
"I just don't see this building working divided into two or three units, or five units," said board Chairman Bill Suchodolski. "It would be nice if it could be divided in half, though I can't tell you to do that."
Applicant planner Brett Skapinetz contended that the space had adequate parking and would not resemble a strip mall. Further, finding one retailer to occupy the space, which has been vacant for about two years, would be more difficult than attracting several smaller businesses.
"There are fewer tenants than there used to be in that mid-size range," Skapinetz said. "If it's multi-tenant, it doesn't become a strip center. It's the same building that's already there. All of the characteristics of the neighborhood stay the same."
Suchodolski compared Hooper Avenue to other busier areas around both Toms River and the state and said that allowing for the multiple divisions could lead to more congestion on the roadway and the beginning of a change to feel of the area.
"Hooper Avenue is pretty darn nice," he said. "Subdividing a building like this is going to lead to [a change]."
With two restaurants in the space drawing constant traffic, board member Maria Maruca said that she is concerned parking could become a problem for any other businesses that may move in.
But parking is up to code, the applicant's engineer said, and it may be possible to move a landscaping island to the rear of the building, making room for about 3-4 spaces. Township Planner Jay Lynch said that plan, however, may conflict with the entrance to the building.
Board member David Ciccozzi said that he may be agreeable to dividing the building into two spaces.
"I might be persuaded if you could do that," he said. "But no more."
When it appeared as though the application as is would not win the board's approval, the applicant asked for a continuance to the next meeting on Dec. 19 so that they can consider other options. The request was granted by the board.