EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Local historian Richard Walling presented an "Objector's Case" against the proposed Hidden Oaks Woods Development which would bring 275 apartments, parking, a recreation center, and a swimming pool to the intersection of Tices Lane and Harts Lane at the East Brunswick Planning Board meeting this week. In an effort to halt or alter the development, Walling cited environmental designations, groundwater impact and possible flooding that could be affected by the seven buildings on the property. His primary focus was the land including and surrounding Tices Lane Park, an undeveloped Green Acres site, that Walling asserts is part of the Lawrence Brook Watershed.
Countering Walling was Frank Patrino, who represented the developer Hidden Oaks Woods LLC.who began by claiming that the time for protesting the designation of the area for development was in 2016, when it was approved by the East Brunswick Zoning Board for construction in compliance with the Council on Affordable Housing. "Mr. walling wil talk about a state plan for development that is 17 years old, yet he asks you to ignore the decisions of the East Brunswick Zoning Board." he called Walling's information "inaccurate and misdirected."
Larry Sachs, the East Brunswick township Attorney, said he "respectfully disagreed" with Patrino, noting that some details of the application for development had been changed, most importantly the revised traffic report which will be presented by Patrino at the January 9, 2019 meeting of the Planning Board. Sachs said, "The public has rights to due process and the right to be heard."
His remarks were supported by Shawn Taylor, head of the Planning Board, who said, "We want to have an open and honest government and want to hear all citizens." (Walling, a long-time resident of East Brunswick, whose mother was a former mayor and who himself remains active in local organizations, is currently a resident of North Brunswick.)
Walling began by calling the location of the proposed Development the "Hickory Swamp Critical Environmental Site" He presented historical and environmental maps that were already part of the Township's environmental report. In an effort to connect the Tices Lane Park/Hickory Swamp area to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, he referred to a text call the "Periglacial Legacy of the New Jersey Pine Barrens." Patrino countered by reminding those present that Six Flags Great Adventure amusement Park is located in the area designated the Pine Barrens, as are thousands of homes, business, and an enormous joint Air Force base. Distinction was also made between the terms "Pine Barrens" and the New Jersey Pinelands. The New Jersey Pinelands is a designated protected area extending generally from Jackson in Monmouth County to northern Cape May County. Some other areas of New Jersey have some characteristics of Pinelands soil and vegetation, the northernmost being the "outlier" area located in Spotswood and Helmetta. (New Jersey Pinelands Commission.)
Dr. Heather Fenyk, a member of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, next described the importance of the proposed construction site as part of the local watershed. She stressed that "Townships should not be fragmenting our critical habitat." "East Brunswick has 23% impervious covers and we should seek to maintain connectivity within the watershed. she later said that the "Wetlands would be compromised by so much building around them."
Patrino questioned Fenyk's assertions, saying that they were "Based on the Fair Housing Act that concerns vacant land rather than the specific land in East Brunswick that has already been zoned." He also pointed out that the site was reviewed by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2018.
Walling next presented Dr. Stephanie Murphy on the Rutgers Extension, who discussed the effects on the development on the soil in "this unique ecosystem." Her main concern was "hydric soil" which is prone to flooding and which cannot support construction. Illustrations provided a view of the 'large swath" of such soil through the site plan. Murphy expressed concern for the insufficiency of the detention basins planned in the area and cast some doubt on their capacity to keep flooding in check.
Walling returned to this idea and also said that two contaminated areas were part of the site, but he could not tell the Board what the contamination was. A check of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection makes no reference to these sites. (TAPinto East Brunswick is conducting a further investigation into this assertion.)
Walling's strongest point, the issue of erodability and and the location of severe slopes on the site that would eventually lead to flooding and weakening of construction, was borne out not only by his discussion of the angles on the property but also by the many retaining walls incorporated into the developer's design. He called called it "an excessive number of retaining walls." He returned then to the matter of encroachment on Green Acres-designated property.
At the very end, Walling referred to the impact on traffic and congested in the Tices Lane area , remarks which brought applause from the audience present. during a break, several residents who attended the meeting told TAPinto East Brunswick that traffic was their main concern on this heavily-traveled road that joins Route 18 and Ryders Lane in the township.
Walling also referred to the contractor's non-compliance with COAH rulings about the placement of affordable housing units within the development. Patrino said that the COAH requirements had been addressed in a revised design.
The only audience member to speak during the public portion was Gary Fredrick, Chair of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, who expressed opposition to "the destruction of greenspace." In a reference to the auto yards on Harts Lane, he noted the possibility of heavy metals and motor oils affecting the areas adjacent to the proposed development.
Traffic patterns, proposed accommodations, and other concerns will again be addressed on January 9, 2019 when the contractor presents the revised traffic report. Those present in the audience expressed enthusiasm for attending that meeting.