The courtroom of the Bridgewater municipal building was nearly full of residents Tuesday, all concerned about the proposed plans to develop the that was sold to Steve Lang in 2011.
Lang plans to divide the 36-acre lot that rests along Twin Oaks Road, Foothill Road and Steele Gap Road border into 18 houses.
This was the first hearing for the application before the planning board, which had postponed it from an earlier date because the applicant's engineer had been unavailable. Residents have expressed concerns about the plans to develop a property that had formerly been willed to remain undeveloped by initial owner John Wemple.
Civil engineer James Mantz said that of the 36 acres of the property, about 14 acres cannot be built on because they are preserved by the national Nature Conservancy and some of the land is considered wetlands.
But the main problem with the land is the water runoff and drainage since, adjacent to Foothill Road, is a steep incline, Mantz said, and which has been an issue with drainage for years, creating and maintaining the wetland areas.
Mantz proposed that there will be drain-off areas that flow down from Foothill Road and throughout the housing complex with sewer drains, retention tanks, re-routing pipes and storm drains.
Foothill Road resident Richard Enderis said he believes the land is not equipped to handle this development.
“They’re trying to put too many houses on too steep of a slope," he said. "They need to reduce it by two houses, at least.”
The land that the former Wemple property is on is susceptible to water run-off because it’s at the bottom of the hill that is adjacent to Foothill Road.
Foothill Road resident Debbie Christian described the hill as a “black-diamond ski slope.”
"In the past five years it has seen the most rainfall on record,” Enderis said, adding that the projections for run-off are based off 50-year-old calculations. “They need to increase the water run-off calculations a lot, probably 30 or 40 percent.”
Christian said that there is a retention pond a mile up the road from the property that has overflowed at least twice over the course of the past five years, and that Mantz should reconsider the drainage for the new plans.
“The other fallacy the engineer mentioned was there’s less run-off after construction than there is before," Enderis said. "That is entirely unbelievable.”
But for most residents speaking against the application, they are concerned about the environmental preservation of it.
Twin Oaks Road resident Dana Caparoso said she is concerned with the wildlife that has made the Wemple property its home, including wild turkey, foxes, bats, birds, rodents and deer.
Mantz said in response that the wildlife would be reduced to the 14-acre land preserved in the center of the property.
Caparoso also questioned whether there is going to be an environmental impact study to be conducted about the wildlife in the area, but Mantz said that he has done that and the wildlife will relocate to the center of the site.
Caparoso said her home sits on top of the hill adjacent to Foothill Road and overlooking the Wemple property, which she purchased in 2004 under the impression that the property below her was to remain preserved, allowing her to keep her scenic overlook. She said she chose not to buy a house with a yard, but with a view, and that the proposed development of the land will cause her view to be replaced with rooftops.
Morningstar Drive resident Donna Rinaldo asked about the trees that were going to be chopped down, but be replenished in other areas of the property.
Mantz said that they’re going to only replace 8-inch mature trees with sapling trees. Trees on the property that are less than 8 inches do not need to be replace, he said, in accordance with mandates from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Steele Gap Road resident Stanley Stempien said he is concerned about what will happen to a spring that is currently on the Wemple property.
The spring, which has been flowing through the property for the past 200 years Stempien said, has been a home for eels, shad, bass and trout. Since the spring on the Wemple property is connected to the Raritan River and flows into the ocean, he said, it needs to be protected by the DEP.
“DEP states the expansion of the preservation of spring vegetation to 50, 150 and 300 feet on either side of a spring," he said. "Its width is determined by the environmental resources being protected with the most protected 300-foot applications designated as category one. Certain waters supporting trout or supporting habitat of threatened or endangered species receive 150-foot variance zone.”
These statements and regulations, Stempien said, mean that the planners for the development on the property need to revamp their procedures to build these houses.
Mantz said that there would be 50-foot buffers between the wetlands and the houses, but he did not mention that there was a spring on the Wemple property.
The board requested changes to the application concerning drainage, which will be presented at the next hearing on the Wemple property application, scheduled for 7 p.m. June 25 at the municipal complex.