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Controversial Housing Development Approved

Planning board approved the application for former Wemple property by 5-2 vote on Tuesday.

With a vote of 5-2—with councilman Filipe Pedroso and Mayor Dan Hayes opposed—the planning board approved a preliminary subdivision application Tuesday for single-family home development on the former Wemple property at Twin Oaks and Steele Gap roads.

The approval came despite vehement opposition from residents living near the property, who said they believe the application is incomplete without several additional studies.

The application is for the building of 17 single-family homes on the woodlands formerly owned by the late John Wemple, and currently owned by Steven Lang.

Wemple, who willed the property to his nieces and nephews after his death in 2002, had maintained to his neighbors that he never wanted to see the land developed, and made that a part of his will, which was overturned by the Superior Court of New Jersey in 2005.

Stop 18 Homes—a group formed to oppose the application itself—has called in engineers and experts in endangered species to testify as to why the development should not move forward.

The subdivison application was approved with the understanding that the board is requiring an environmental impact statement, consultation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Dam Safety Bureau and many more conditions that must be fulfilled before any construction can begin.

"This is a very significant piece of property, and not many of this size in the township available for development," said planning board member Ron Charles. "I am satisfied with getting the DEP in and dealing with the dam situation. We have a number of safeguards put in in terms of conditions, and I know compliance is rigorous."

Planning board member Robert Albano said he believes that if Wemple had wanted the property preserved, he would have made sure it was done before he died.

"It was known to him that the property was given to the nature conservancy," Albano said to cries of foul from members of the audience, many of whom have lived near the Wemple property for decades. "I think this is with the wishes of the initial owner. He had the option of donating to the township, putting it into a conservancy that would not sell it and he chose not to."

"I think it's important to remember that, he had the option and chose the option he chose," he added.

Michael Cresitello, attorney for the applicant, said his client has done everything possible to make changes to accommodate the wishes of both the township and the opposition.

"At your request and urging, we agreed to not develop lot 63, and agreed not to develop the steep slope portion," he said. "We agreed to eliminate another lot to keep the farm structure together, and we agreed to comply with every condition this board has imposed."

"We could have taken an all or nothing approach, which is what the objectors have taken," he added. "We didn't do that, didn't believe it was appropriate. We thought it was a better course of action to work with the board and reach common ground."

In addition, Cresitello said, the proposed development is in keeping with the surrounding land and the character of the neighborhood from a density standpoint.

"We are a permitted use, and this is a proposal for 17 lots on a parcel of land that is in excess of 30 acres," he said. "There is nothing out of character with what we are proposing. This is entirely consistent with the type of development in that area."

Township engineer Robert Bogart said the board is only approving a preliminary site plan, and that additional conditions are being imposed, which will have to be met and evaluated before the applicant returns for approval from the board.

And in order to receive approvals, Bogart said, he has some conditions he would like to see followed, including referring the application to the DEP for reviewal of the dams; placing the upper part of Twin Oaks Road in a conservation easement; getting final approval from the DEP on all wetlands; making sure the speed complies with requirements on Steele Gap Road; complying with requirements of an environmental survey; and having a phase one environmental assessment done, among other conditions.

In addition, township planner Scarlett Doyle said she would like to see additional discussions on landscaping, particularly around the detention basins, among other conditions.

But those against the application painted a very different picture.

Testimony from John Thonet, expert with the opposition, centered on new drainage calculations that he received from the applicant Monday, and how the applicant has determined what is needed to handle run-off in 100-year flood situations.

Thonet said he believes the calculations were all done incorrectly.

"The spillway design was done wrong, it is 50 percent greater than a 100-year flood," he said. "[The calculations weren't] done right so the applicant cannot claim that the application's spillway has been designed with class four spillway standards."

"I don't know if it's too high or too low, it's just wrong," he added.

Foothill Road resident Carol Patullo also provided testimony about the water that flowed down on her property during Hurricane Irene in 2011, saying water came down and eroded the front of her property.

"Drainage would affect all properties behind me," she said, in answer to a question about whether the proposed drainage and subsequent dams could cause additional damage to her property and others in the area.

In his closing argument, Jeffrey Brookner, attorney for the opposition, said he believes the biggest issue is the overreliance on an engineered solution with the dams, as opposed to a natural solution.

"This is something that has to be decided at the preliminary stage, and it is up to the board to decide whether these plans comply," he said. "If you are going to propose an engineered solution, you have to explain why you are not using a natural one."

Brookner said he objects to the applicant's inability to provide a full environmental impact statement, as well as the violation of the township's overflow regulations as described in testimony about the dams.

According to Brookner, it is that lack of feasibility and the fact that the applicant has not provided all studies, that should result in a denial of the application. In addition, he said, the applicant has shown that he cannot comply with certain regulations concerning overflow, dams and much more.

"Here, we are talking about feasibility," he said. "The applicant is not required to show he can comply with every last regulation, but he is obligated to show that, with a reasonable degree of certainty, he can comply with all standards."

"He has talked about some standards he can't meet," he added.

Pedroso said he is concerned with the lack of some studies, and believes more investigation is needed before approval can be given, which is why he voted against the application.

"We have ordinances that provide very specific guidelines, and feel there are questions raised that warrant further investigation," he said. "I agree with the opposition that these should be investigated. I feel the applicant should comply and provide a complete environmental impact statement."

"I do believe the board has the right to look into issues and the preliminary site plan," he added. "I don't feel the application has met the burden of proof, and I concur that the applicant did not satisfy the obligation as to why it cannot comply with natural solutions. I don't feel the case should be granted as is."

But the preliminary site plan was approved by a majority vote, and the application will move forward pending all the conditions placed on it by the board and township professionals.

Mike Umbris December 12, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Very sad.. Doesn't matter which board you are in front of in Bridgewater. Zoning, Planning or Township Council., the almighty dollar always win and citizens lose. Looking forward to our 6.5% tax hike next. Bridgewater will be another Edison in no time. Great work Mayor.
Harvey December 12, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Hayes & Pedroso - Can I get my votes back? You won't get it next time that's for sure. C'mon, with all the disgusting looking solar projects in this town that have been approved, Why would you oppose new homes? That area of Bridgewater is about as bad as it gets for newer housing stock - people only move there to buy fixer-uppers. Every section of this large town needs diverse housing options or eventually that part of town would just die. Busy roads, old cramped houses with no amenities - sorry to those who live there but it's true. The new homes will be a welcomed option to anyone considering moving to our town or anyone wanting to "move-up" to something with greater square footage & 21st century architectural style.
notanative December 12, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Agreed. Very sad. I moved here 25 years ago for the "ruralness" of the area and cannot believe the changes over the years. I wonder what the point of the planning board is; seems their job is to plan out development. The property the township deems valuable for purchase or protection usually is the kind that can have a sports field put on it, not a mature environmentally interesting parcel of wetland. Given the affect of the recent hurricane, I have to question the thought process of anyone that would develop a wetland or allow one to be developed. I disagree with Mr. Albano. Mr. Wemple did indeed believe he protected the property from development by stipulating it in a legal document, his will, which was overturned. He probably believed the legal system would protect his wishes and thought that was all he needed too do.
notanative December 12, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Also find it ironic that they are talking about landscaping the retention basins! Take paradise and put in a parking lot. There are plenty of McMansions in town if you want to move up Harvey. Some people like "fixer uppers" because they are interesting structures.
Jimmy December 12, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Hayes and Pedroso will absolutely get my vote again! I just wish the mayor spoke up sooner, and supported Mr Pedroso's view sooner, to keep the issue from going up for a vote. I moved to Bridgewater 20 years ago because of the beauty and character of the area. At least Mr Pedroso had the guts to speak up, and showed that he has the best interest of the residents in mind! We don't need any more McMansions, and certainly not on that parcel of land! They may only be building 17 homes, but let's not forget about the 2 roads with sidewalks and streetlights, and the 3 Dams and retention basins! Why on earth do we need all that just to build a "few" houses?? That doesn't leave much room for "open space"! I'm also extremely nervous about the many mistakes that the developer's engineer has made throughout this project. Those mistakes could cost many of us our homes due to flooding! Yes the new owner has the "right to build', but what about my right to protect my property! There are enough people wanting to move to Bridgewater. Projects like these will cause people to move OUT of Bridgewater!
denise December 12, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Horrible decision-the last thing bridgewater needs is more houses-all members on board who voted in favor of this project should not be re-elected at election time
Nicholas Clark December 12, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I'd like to know why Mayor Hayes didn't second the motion to deny the application made by Councilman Pedroso? I sat at this meeting and was intrigued why a mayor would vote "no" on an approval motion, but not second the motion to deny. Instead, the motion to deny fell on deaf years. When another motion was made, this time to approve the application, by the time the mayor voted, being the 5th vote, the application was already granted with 4 votes (out of 7). His "no" meant basically nothing at that point. I don't understand why the mayor would remain completely silent before the motions, isn't the entire Planning Board -- short of Mr. Pedroso who's the Council representative -- hand selected and picked by the mayor?? Then, if the mayor had seconded the motion by Councilman Pedroso, he could have influenced this Board to vote against the application. Instead, his silence throughout the proceeding was an approval of the application. His no vote at that point was simply showbiz to an audience who was outright against this application. I just sat there and shook my head. What a shame that the mayor was spineless. Thank you Councilman Pedroso for listening, understanding the issues, and speaking out in support of this neighborhood and its residents.
stewart resmer December 12, 2012 at 06:59 PM
says you nick, says you
steven lang December 12, 2012 at 10:12 PM
this is great vote we are looking forward to all the new homes that they will build!!!
Golden Gal December 13, 2012 at 03:51 AM
What a tragedy. Only councilman Filipe Pedrosa,and Mayor Hayes voted no on the Lang application. The rest of the board lacked the courage,in my opinion to do the right thing.. I will be talking about this to all who will listen. Bridgewater needs unbiased people on the planning board who get ALL the facts before arriving at a conclusion. I was proud to be able to shake Mr Pedroso's hand last night. He has courage,and a conscience,and showed me that he really cares about Bridgewater.!
Jimmy December 13, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Good point Nicholas - apparently Mayor Hayes was truly playing politics! He will now have to work much harder for my vote next time! And Green Eyes - you are so correct! Mr Lang is a very selfish and greedy man who could care less about the impact to the area. He will someday get what he deserves. What comes around, goes around Mr Lang.
Virginia Kline December 13, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Mr. Lang isn't greedy! He's a smart investor. There is no reason not to develop that land. I think the prospect of a new development is exciting and could benefit the entire community. Congratulations to Lang and his team. Does anyone know when the lots will go for sale or who the developer will be?
Jimmy December 13, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Virginia, you obviously are not from that neighborhood! It certainly would NOT benefit the neighborhood! Did you attend any of the meetings? Did you hear and understand any of the opposition? I think not!
Golden Gal December 13, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Virginia, I guess you have not been following this saga. This land was never intended for development,and with good reason. If you had attended the planning board meetings you would have heard about all the concerns the neighborhood has with this development. All the questions about it's effects on the area have not been resolved,and it will be some time before this development reaches final approval,if it ever does!
Your Neighbor December 14, 2012 at 05:29 PM
The only people you can vote for are the ones who voted against the plan. § 126-4. Composition. The Planning Board shall consist of seven members, who shall be divided into four classes for convenience in designating their manner of appointment, as follows: A. Class I: the Mayor. B. Class II: one of the officials of the municipality other than a member of the governing body, to be appointed by the Mayor. C. Class III: a member of the governing body, to be appointed by it D. Class IV: four other citizens of the municipality, to be appointed by the Mayor. The members of Class IV shall hold no other municipal office, except that one such member shall be a member of the Environmental Commission, as required by P.L. 1968, c. 245, § 1 (N.J.S.A. 40:56A-1).
Sadie December 16, 2012 at 02:45 PM
It is a complete disgrace! The greedy nephews and nieces should be ashamed...as should those that voted yes to developing this property. the good earth novel of greed is coming to life here in bridgewater....overcrowded disconnected bridgewater.
sharyar December 16, 2012 at 03:05 PM
well, next time when public has to vote, we will see how many of these councilmen/women and Mayor will be re-elected! My vote is re-elect Councilmen Filipe only! Thanks to comment by "Nickolas Clark", Mr. Mayor's intentions are clarified!!! Public will define our future with who should be our leaders...
nc3000 December 18, 2012 at 03:56 AM
I am disappointed in the planning boards decision to approve this project. Based on the expert testimony, there are a lot on errors in Mr. Mantz's calculations that need to be checked. Three detention basins on this property is an awful lot of water just waiting to cause flooding and damage. I only hope that the Department of Environmental Protection takes a close look at the design and tells them to go back to the drawing board.

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