By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – The township committee is slated to hold a public hearing and final vote Monday, Oct. 15, to amend a zoning ordinance that would permit Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to locate a facility here.
Township and county officials have been working with representatives of the renowned New York-based cancer center to establish a new treatment facility in the township, with plans ready to move forward.
Mayor Anthony Fiore said the center has a contract to purchase 480 Red Hill Road, a site formerly used by Lucent and located just off of Garden State Parkway Exit 114.
“There hasn’t been any formal announcement yet,” Fiore said. However, he acknowledged that he and others in the township have been working to secure the center for the township. “Our planning department is working very closely with them from a planning perspective to make sure they can operate in the manner they want to operate,” he said.
The Oct. 15 hearing is being held to change the existing zoning ordinance to permit such a facility. The location is currently zoned for office and retail use, not for medical use. Local officials and Sloan-Kettering representatives also have been working with Monmouth County Freeholder Thomas Arnone to make this happen, the mayor said.
Sloan-Kettering’s plans are in part to operate an outpatient diagnostic treatment center at the location, according to Victor Ribaudo, executive director of Sloan-Kettering’s regional care network.
The center, planned to open mid-2016, would provide such treatment and services as chemo and radiation therapies; space for visits with oncologists and surgeons; diagnostic imaging, such as MRIs and CAT scans; and support services, such as social workers and nutritional counseling.
The location also would be able to provide some on-site ambulatory outpatient surgery.
Those services would take up about 120,000 square feet of the 285,000 available in the structure. Another 50,000 square feet would be dedicated to a data center that would support all of Sloan-Kettering’s information system, Ribaudo said.
The use of the remaining space would be determined at a later date, he said.
“This won’t be a hospital,” and won’t allow for overnight stays, Fiore said.
Sloan-Kettering representatives have been in discussion with area hospitals concerning when patients may need to be admitted, he said.
Cancer center officials decided about 15 years ago to expand its services outside of its main New York City campus, opening its first one in Westchester County, Ribaudo said.
“Patients really liked the idea of not having to go into Manhattan for their treatment,” he said.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering has since opened another four such suburban centers – two located on Long Island, in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and in Basking Ridge, N.J. Plans now call for another to be constructed in Westchester. The Middletown facility will be the seventh, he said.
The analysis showed a “fairly significant portion of patients were actually coming into Manhattan from this area,” for treatment, Ribaudo said, indicating this area means Monmouth, Middlesex and Ocean counties.
“I was astonished at how many,” county residents were going to Sloan-Kettering for treatment, Arnone said.
According to Caitlin Suzanne Hool, Sloan-Kettering’s media coordinator, about 6.1 percent of the hospital’s patients would be served by this facility.
Incidents of cancer in Monmouth County are expected to grow by 17 percent over the next 10 years, she said.
Staff at the facility would be able to see about 200 patients a day, Ribaudo said.
“Cancer is primarily a disease of the aging,” he said. “And as the population ages and grows, we foresee there will be more of a demand for cancer services not only in that part of New Jersey but everywhere, nationally.”
There are plans for other centers in the future, though the locations for those have yet to be determined, he said.
“I think it’ll be a huge regional benefit,” Fiore stressed. “It’s a real win for the community in terms of our local economy,” and for those cancer patients and their families in the area who would use the facility. “I think it’s a huge regional benefit because cancer is something that affects us all.”
Arnone, who has been working with local officials and with the hospital, agreed.
“There is nobody who can say this is not a benefit to Middletown and a benefit to Monmouth County,” Arnone said. “For economic reasons, surely, but more importantly for quality of life.”
On the economic front, Sloan-Kettering would occupy a property that has been vacant for about eight years. The facility would have about 180 employees in the cancer treatment center and another 100 in its data center amounting to what Ribaudo called “a significant increase in employment in the area.”
State officials have weighed in as Sloan-Kettering has submitted an application to the state’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) to receive a state tax credit for this facility. The EDA approved the application during its Aug. 14 meeting awarding the center a $7.9 million tax credit over a 10-year period based on the project, said Austin Begley, an EDA spokesman.
The facility will still have to win approval from the borough planning board but will wait until the zoning change has been approved before submitting its application, Ribaudo said.
The proposal will have to win county planning board approval as well because Red Hill Road is a county road, Arnone said. He expected there would be no difficulty winning the approval.