With only time for about an hour of testimony on the Lang application at the previous meeting, the planning board heard the cross-examination of the opponent’s expert on endangered species, and is expecting to wrap up the application at Tuesday's meeting.
This portion of the meeting was originally scheduled for a special meeting Oct. 29, but it was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.
“Barring any unforeseen event, this case will likely be concluded at the next meeting,” councilman Filipe Pedroso said in a statement after the most recent meeting. “The planning board has been hearing this case since the springtime, and has certainly given both sides an opportunity to present their case.”
The application is for the building of 18 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.
Although the applicant has already rested his case, 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.
After spending the most recent meeting hearing from environmental expert Blaine Rothauser about the study done by the applicant on the possibility of endangered and threatened species living on the land, the applicant took an opportunity to cross-examine.
Much of the questions for Rothauser centered on his credibility, and his thoughts on whether all development should be stopped because of the concerns of the possible appearance of endangered species on the property. The applicant, in his questioning, said Rothauser has, in prior cases, refused to provide favorable reports for such development, and his credibility in this case was questioned.
Rothauser has testified that, in his study, he found threatened and endangered species on nearby properties, and the condition of the Wemple property is such that endangered species could live there as well.
Rothauser said he has not been granted permission by Lang to examine the property itself, and therefore has not found actual evidence of the animals there.
During the questioning, Pedroso asked whether a citizen can report a potential site of endangered species to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to which Rothauser answered that that is allowed.
Pedroso questioned why this has not be done by any members of the opposition.
Rothauser said he is working with the members of Stop 18 Homes on this, but the treasurer of the organization has been away and a decision has not been finalized because of the additional costs necessary to submit reports to the DEP.
Those against the application said they believe there needs to be additional studies done on the property because they do not have actual proof there are endangered species there since they have not been allowed to examine the property on their own.
Following the cross-examination, John Thonet, the engineer hired by the opponents to the application, began his testimony talking of wetlands and drainage, but only had time to talk of his qualifications and submit some reports as evidence.
The meeting was adjourned before testimony could continue, and it will continue Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the municipal complex. A decision about the application is expected that evening.
“I had the opportunity of walking the property, and even took a sip from the natural spring on the northern end,” Pedroso said after the meeting. “It is a magnificent piece of open space in the center of our township. I have followed the case with great interest and detail, and ultimately make a decision on all cases that is fair, just and proper, giving consideration to both sides of the argument.”
Pedroso said he often drives down Foothill Road, and still sees a neighborhood similar to the one that was there 30 years ago when he was playing there as a child.
“I think the governing body and the residents have done a wonderful job at maintaining the character of the neighborhood for all these years,” he said. “Protecting the splendid, charming character of our beautiful residential neighborhoods has always been a paramount concern of mine.”