“It’s a sense of community that we have and we wouldn’t want to lose what we have. That’s why we’re all here,” said Foothill Road resident Patrick Olenick to a round of applause from the more than 75 people at Monday night’s Bridgewater Planning Board meeting.
Olenick was referring to the application by Steve Lang to build 18 single-family homes on 36 acres of woodlands on Twin Oaks Road and Foothill Road formerly owned by John Wemple.
Several residents were allowed to question the applicant’s engineer, James Mantz, who completed his testimony earlier in the evening. Many of the audience members were members of Stop 18 Homes, a community group organized to speak out against the application.
The group has retained attorney Jeffrey Brookner to represent them. Since Brookner had not yet had an opportunity to review all the township’s reports in relation to the application, he agreed to the board’s suggestion that he return to question Mantz at the July 10 hearing.
As a result, only residents not affiliated with Stop 18 Homes were able to question Mantz Monday night, with drainage a topic of concern.
Morningside Drive resident Evan Lerner, who is also president of the Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Education, questioned the adequacy of the culverts.
“The middle school is often a puddle. It’s only going to make the glass that’s already full fuller more quickly,” he said. “There needs to be something improved to keep our middle school from becoming more of a swamp than it already is.”
Somerville Road residents Ray Smalley and Robert Helmbrecht asked how the drainage would impact their areas. Smalley noted that he has had up to two inches of water in his basement.
Mantz emphasized that, with the system designed for the new development, “the volume will be more but it will be slowed down by the detention basins.”
“We are reducing rates of runoff according to state regulations,” he added. “There is no evidence right now that the culverts themselves are a problem.”
Adamsville Road resident Curtis Kraut questioned how drainage in the area would be impacted, particularly if the project is completed in phases, and who would be responsible for taking care of the basins during each phase.
“Has Bridgewater Township looked into how it will affect Cuckold's Brook?” asked Barbara Doklia of Dartmouth Road.
Many neighbors had assumed the property would remain undeveloped indefinitely. A will left by Wemple prior to his 2002 death said his entire property on Foothill Road should be deed restricted and “shall never be developed, subdivided or utilized for other than a one single family residential dwelling.”
A 2005 Superior Court of New Jersey, Somerset County, civic action order declared the deed restriction null and void, allowing the property to be sold without restriction. The land was willed to Wemple’s 11 nieces and nephews, who then sold the tract to Lang in 2011 for a reported $975,000.
Mantz stressed that the revised application complies with regulations and agreed to meet all requests made in reports from the township’s planner and engineer. The revised application includes the addition of Lot 63, which has steep slopes. Lang indicated he had no intention to develop that lot and said he would make a charitable contribution of the land to the township.
Although Mantz had submitted what was described as “an abbreviated” environmental impact statement, the board asked to hear from the applicant’s environmental expert. He is expected to testify at the July 10 meeting.
Olenick, whose driveway sits at the lowest end of Foothill Road, told the board, “I’m going to be potentially impacted by this development. I think it’s important because it’s such a large-scale development. There’s a potential change in the whole dynamic of the neighborhood.”