After hearing an environmental expert with the applicant say at a recent planning board that 18 homes on the former Wemple property will not affect the animals there, an applicant hired by the opposition will speak Tuesday about whether the land is actually “isolated.”
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.
Stop 18 Homes, an organization made up of more than 60 residents who oppose the application, is introducing its own environmental expert, and Jeffrey Brookner, attorney for the organization, has already submitted to the township their findings.
“The group is expecting this meeting to be very enlightening,” said Laura Hierspiel, one of the members of the steering committee for Stop 18 Homes. “Neither one of the qualified men believe that the property in question is an isolated piece of land, as does Lang’s environmental expert.”
As opposed to the opinion of the applicant’s expert, as presented at the Sept. 11 meeting, Hierspiel said she has watched a great deal of animals traveling across the property.
“I have had the opportunity to watch many woodland creatures travel back and forth from our property to the haven of the thick and lush undergrowth that greets them as they cross Steele Gap Road and enter the former Wemple lands,” she said. “Here they have found shelter, safety, food and drink. They have mated, raised families and flourished amid the tall stately trees and bubbling spring and streams.”
“I am saddened when I think about the shock and turmoil clearing and developing the land will have upon their lives,” she added. “So we fight on, trying to delay or decrease the proposed destruction.”
According to the report prepared by BR Environmental, LLC, through Thonet Associates on behalf of Stop 18 Homes, there are more than 50 different kinds of species, both documented and seen on casual observation, on the full acreage, including a variety of native and non-native vegetation.
In terms of animals, according to the report, the box turtle was found there, as was the wood thrush bird and great blue heron. All three animals, the reports said, are listed in special concern because of problems with increasing their population and loss of their habitat.
“These partially isolated woodland fragments of intermediate size adjacent to better core habitat helps dozens of species like great blue heron, wood thrush and box turtle in fulfilling life history requirements,” the report said.
And between these animals, and others seen the report said, the former Wemple property actually has a greater ecological value than one might expect.
“Thirty-seven acre forest patches like this one are not insignificant when one considers the rate at which human development in the region is consuming them,” the report said.
The report has determined that the previous statement by the environmental expert for the applicant that the destruction of the natural habitat would not impact the wildlife is not true.
“More accurately stated, the site is not isolated as it is interior to many adjacent properties whose naturalized land surrounds it,” the report said.
The report determined that the environmental assessment presented by the applicant is incomplete and a more thorough study needs to be done.
A report was also submitted from Thonet Associates concerning the environment itself, looking at soil, runoff and all other aspects of the land. In that report, Thonet Associates said that all stormwater management projections are wrong, and the applicant should redo them, discussing peak flows from the site.
The report also found that a proposed conservation easement to handle water runoff would negatively impact wetlands and other open waters outside of it, and it should be redesigned.
In addition, according to the report, the three dams that have been designed as part of the project’s stormwater management system have not been designed in accordance with state safety standards. If they fail, the report said, the flood waters will flow on to neighboring family homes and Foothill Road, causing a great deal of damage.
A presentation of these and other recommendations concerning the property will be made at Tuesday’s planning board meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. in the municipal complex on Commons Way.