By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Eight years after getting his knuckles rapped by Middletown’s foremost land conservationist over a plan to subdivide his estate, drummer Max Weinberg was back before township officials this week, asking for an OK to further slice up land that they once said should never be split again.
The timekeeper for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and former Conan O’Brien sidekick is hoping to subdivide the 16.2-acre parcel on which his home sits so he can sell nearly half for development.
So Weinberg returned to the planning board Wednesday for a bit of déjà vu, asking the board to lift a deed restriction placed on his McClees Road property in 2003, when he and his wife, Becky, subdivided their 37-acre property into four lots.
“Times change. Economics change. Conan’s come and gone,” said his attorney, Michael Steib. “One of the decisions is to market this property. And they’ve learned a 16.2-acre parcel of property is hard to market.”
To improve his prospects of making a sale, Mighty Max wants to redraw the property lines again to accommodate an additional house, Steib said.
The 60-year-old Weinberg, who purchased the Middletown property in 1997 for less than $1 million, gave no testimony at the hearing. Dressed in a tieless suit, he sat with his hands folded at the front of the town hall meeting room and listened to his professionals and board members.
To get the board’s approval, Weinberg and his team of professionals have to convince the board that allowing another subdivision is best for the community. But he met some resistance.
“Why should the board change its mind?” Chairman John Deus asked. “I remember Mr. Weinberg stating that the reason they were making the application to begin with was because of the future of their children, if I remember correctly.”
Steib said it’s simple economics: the present lot, he said, is just too big to sell in the current market. But Deus replied that the board doesn’t make decisions based on personal economics.
An architectural autodidact who’s reported to spend hours poring over deeds when not on tour with Springsteen or his own Max Weinberg Big Band, Weinberg’s 2003 request drew sharp criticism from neighbors and the late Judith Stanley Coleman, the doyenne of Monmouth County land conservation who also chaired the town’s planning board.
Though she and Weinberg sat on the board of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, she questioned his commitment to land conservation. Neighbors contended Weinberg was being hypocritical, given his reputation as a conservationist, according to news accounts at the time. Objectors also noted the timing of the request, which was made as town officials were working on an ordinance to increase the minimum lot size in that zone from five acres to 10.
The lots, collectively known as Spy Hill, have yet to be developed. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 that Weinberg was asking $8 million for the three lots of about 6.5 acres each.
As part of that approval, the board placed a deed restriction on the remaining 16.2 acres that would prohibit any future to make subdivision. The proposed zone change, meanwhile, never came to fruition.
Now, Weinberg’s asking the board to lift the restriction. Engineering consultant A.J. Garito said Weinberg plans to leave as much vegetation as possible on his property, which is set back on a narrow, heavily shaded lane off Navesink River Road. A seven-acre paddock would be carved out for one new single-family home, Steib said.
The town’s public works, health, sewerage authority and parks and recreation departments have all given OKs to the plan. The fire marshal has not yet submitted a response, but board member Tim Sodon said he has concerns about limited water resources for firefighting in that section of town.
“It’s a problem throughout that area,” Sodon said.
Board member Mary Lou Strong also voiced reservations. The property is not hooked in to the town’s sewer line, and a septic system could pollute ground water and run into downhill ponds, she said.
“I have very serious concerns,” Strong said. “Some major revision is essential to preserve this property from a decadent future.”
If the board lifts the deed restriction, the township committee would have to agree to make the decision final. The hearing was continued to the board’s August 3 meeting.