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18 Homes Application Misses Key Studies, Expert Says

Opponents' expert John Thonet says proposal to develop Wemple property is incomplete.

John Thonet, hired by those who oppose the Lang application for homes to be built on the former Wemple property, said Monday that the applicant has failed to submit key required studies that would deem this application complete.

Those studies are, Thonet said, one to determine the historical significance of the property and another to classify the type of dams to be built.

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.

Once change to the application, according to applicant engineer James Mantz, is that they have eliminted one property, so it will actually only be 17 single-family homes.

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.

Mantz testifed at Monday's hearing that there was a change made to the plans in terms of the shape of the detention basin, because the original resulted in a high berm that could have been considered dangerous.

"It's a bigger inflow now, but also allows for bigger outflow," he said. "We were asked to assume there was a ditch along Twin Oaks Road, and were asked to look at it as if that was completely filled, and what impact it would have on the proposed subdivision. Drainage is now included."

The project includes the plan for three dams on the property to catch water.

But Thonet said the proper paperwork has not been done on these proposed dams, and original work on the drainage plans was missing some elements.

"In the first report, I saw a major problem," he said. "In the old plans, Mr. Mantz only included drainage from south of Twin Oaks, but in reality, drainage coming down starts at the ridge line, which is another 500 feet or so north. All of that water runs down, so I made sure when I went to the site to talk to people living in the houses there."

"They all told me water just pours down from the mountain, goes over the road and onto the properties, and they get flooded," he added.

In the new plans, Thonet said, a lot of the water is captured and sent into a very large detention basin, approximately an acre in area and about 8 feet deep.

"We want to catch the water in the detention basin and hold it long enough so you can release the flow slowly so you are not increasing flooding down," he said. "In order to make this work, if this project had been approved the way they proposed it, it would have failed because the outlets were too small."

"When you have a bigger drainage area, you have to make outflow bigger to preserve it for storage until the peak hits," he added. "It starts to rain, and the water starts running off, you don't want to fill the whole basin right away."

Unfortunately, Thonet said, he does not believe the project has been designed in accordance with dam safety standards. He said the applicant has them classified as class 4 dams—but that is impossible with the kind of construction being done.

"Class 4 is for a certain limited drainage area, and in the maximum volume of storage, these don't come close," he said.

Thonet said it can be assumed one acre of land can be covered by three feet of water, but that is how much can be stored in the dam.

"It's a small dam, and that's a lot of water," he said.

In designing a dam, Thonet said, the first step is to go to the Department of Environmental Protection, which will do a study and determine the class of the dam. If it is considered a class 1, he said, it is considered a high hazard dam that if it were to fail, people could be killed.

"There is a presumption there by the DEP that if a dam were to fail and it would impact residential homes, it is presumed people could get killed, so it becomes high hazard," he said.

Now with the dams proposed by the applicant, Thonet said, if they were to fail, they would release 3 acre feet of water very quickly.

"It would impact an existing historic home, flow over Foothill Road and impact homes on the other side of the road," he said. "And someone could get killed."

Thonet said he would consider this a class 1 designation, but there has been no study by the DEP to determine that.

"The DEP won't allow you to locate a high hazard dam, and no one can meet the criteria for it in a residential subdivision," he said. "This is a feasibility issue, what is proposed here is an unfeasible plan."

"This is assuming it's classified as class 1," he added. "I have never heard of approval [of an application] subject to later classification of the dam. It would be a violation of the board's duty to protect the public."

In addition, Thonet said, he has not seen an historical impact study done on the property. A cultural resources study, he said, is required if there is the potential for a property to be included on a state or national historic register.

"When you have a historic resource in town, you are supposed to inventory all historic elements, but they haven't done that," he said. "It wasn't provided, it's an incomplete application."

Thonet said the historic register affects feasibility of a property in the eyes of the DEP, and an applicant is required to immediately inform the DEP if there is a possibility for that before the process can move forward.

"In addition, dam permit standards have very specific references for denying anything that can affect a historic place," he said.

Thonet also testified concerning one resident's claim about the high water table at his home.

Kevin Durand, of Foothill Road, said that after the snowstorm following Superstorm Sandy, he watched water perking out of a hole about 6- to 8-inches in diameter in his yard.

"It was not the first time I saw this," he said. "It happens anytime there is reasonable rainfall or contingent rain fall."

Thonet said this is actually evidence of a seasonal high water table, which is made clear by the water bubbling out of the ground itself.

"Every place we see wetlands, there is a seasonal high water table," he said. "It bubbles out of the ground, and it does this on a regular basis."

Thonet did not complete his testimony during Monday's meeting, and will continue it at Tuesday's regular planning board meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. in the municipal complex.

The applicant will also have a chance to cross-examine Thonet, in addition to questions from the board itself.

Mike Umbris December 11, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Sounds like the Lang heirs should have respected their father's wishes. Hope they and the developers get what they deserve.
Ken Jeffries December 11, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Lets see! 1 acre=43,560 sq. ft. * 3 ft. =130,680 cu. ft. * 7.481 gals. / cu. ft. = 977,617 gals. * 8.3 lbs./gal. = 8,114,221 lbs. of water/dam. I suggest they put these things above the new houses so they can act as barricades in case they fail.

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