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Environmental Report to be Written on Wemple Land

The report was initially going to be only verbal testimony.

With the environmental expert expected to testify on the at the July 23 meeting, the planning board requested Tuesday that the expert also prepare a written report for both board members and residents to read.

The expert for the applicant was expected to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, but had to postpone his testimony due to a scheduling conflict.

The application is for the building of 18 single-family homes on 36 acres of woodlands on Twin Oaks and Foothill roads, formerly owned by the late John Wemple, and currently owned by Steve 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.

Click here to read about runoff concerns from opponents to the application.

Questioning of the applicant’s engineer—James Mantz, who completed testimony during the June 25 meeting—at Tuesday’s hearing veered into environmental territory concerning wildlife and other similar aspects. But it was requested that those questions be held for the other expert.

Originally, the board had determined that oral testimony from the environmental expert would be sufficient, but with a postponement on his appearance, questions emerged.

“We had made a comment regarding the oral testimony because he wouldn’t have time to prepare a written testimony,” said Bridgewater Township Mayor Dan Hayes. “But since he is not here, is there enough time to do a written report?”

The attorney for the applicant said it is normally preferred to have reports 10 days before meetings in which they will be presented. To provide a written environmental report, it would have to be ready Friday, which is not enough time.

And members of the planning board said they would also like to have the possibility of hearing from the Bridgewater environmental commission or other township employees concerning environmental issues on the property.

“If we want an opinion from that group, they won’t have anything to read to render an opinion,” said township engineer Robert Bogart. “They don’t attend meetings.”

Township planner Scarlett Doyle said it would also be especially helpful for her to see a written report before the meeting.

“It would be very helpful for me to look at and ponder, and come up with intelligent questions when the applicant has the expert here,” she said. “I would encourage the board to require it, I for one would profit from having it even a few days in advance.”

The board opted to require a written report to be submitted by the Friday before the July 23 meeting, when the application’s hearing will continue.

Berrywood Lane resident John Sullivan said he is in favor of a written report.

“People are spending a lot of time and money on this,” he said. “To not have an environmental statement prior to the board meeting would be unfair to the objectors and others. The more input the board can get in connection with that will be helpful in moving forward.”

Attorney Jeffrey Brookner—who is representing the members of Stop 18 Homes, a group of more than 60 residents opposing the application—said his clients are also looking to hire their own environmental expert to provide testimony on the property.

Board members also determined at the meeting that they would do site inspections on the property, and determined that there would be four members going on one day and two on another, thus eliminating the need for the dates to be determined as public meetings because there will not be a quorum of members.

The applicant agreed to allow the board members on his site, but declined to allow Brookner on the property.

Brookner argued that his clients will be hiring an environmental expert to do a study and will need access to the property, but the applicant’s attorney said that right now that is not even an issue because an expert has not yet been hired by the residents.

Planning board attorney Thomas Collins said that situation will have to be worked out by the two attorneys.

The application’s hearing was continued to July 23 at 7 p.m. in the municipal complex.

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