MONTVILLE, NJ – The Montville Township Zoning Board of Adjustment met at the municipal building on August 5 to a crowd of about 75 residents eager to voice their concerns about a project being proposed for the Towaco section of town.

The project, to be built on land located behind Route 202/Main Road, Waughaw Road, and Indian Hill Road, would place 23 townhouses on the site. Residents fear the project will interfere with the township’s aquifer and eliminate the habitat of several endangered species.

Land use attorney Steven Schepis presented owner and Towaco resident Dan Furia’s application. Environmental engineer Marc Walker walked the board through the current proposed plans, which differ from those presented to the Township Committee on February 10 (Read about that presentation HERE). At that time, Furia was requesting a change in ordinance for the property, so that it could be built upon in a way that is different from the current zoning, which is “mixed use.” That change, to residential use, was denied, so Furia had to apply to the Zoning Board.

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The proposed build has been increased to 23 residential townhouses, mostly two-bedroom units, which would be for sale, that is, not for rent. The access driveway would be from Route 202/Main Road, near the train station, and the townhouses would be contained in four buildings located behind construction that is now occurring on Main Road next to the ice cream parlor.

Walker described the current, commercial construction occurring on Main Road and said that the first building will have 4,000 square feet of commercial space with apartments on the second floor. A second, basically mirror-image building is being proposed, also with frontage on Main Road. The driveway to the townhomes would go between the two buildings. Furia is also requesting to subdivide the two lots he owns into three.

Walker also described the site for the townhomes, saying that meetings with the Towaco Fire Department had resulted in a proposed gazebo being eliminated in favor of a flagpole in a driving circle in the center of the townhouse complex. It was determined it would be easier for a fire truck to maneuver the circle if the grassy center were reduced.

Walker discussed plans for the lot in total, including a paver sidewalk in front of the commercial property stretching from the ice cream parlor to Indian Hill Road, and the intention to install trash receptacles, bike racks, and benches. He further described the commercial building as having 22 parking spaces, including street parking in front of the building. The lighting for the townhouse and commercial complex will be “Towaco-style,” i.e., a gooseneck style that is consistent with other new Towaco properties such as 900 Degrees Pizza and Rails Steakhouse.

Walker described the light green areas of the proposed plan (see photo) as being the developed area, while the dark green represents wetland area that would be left undisturbed.

“The development would represent 3.02 acres of disturbance,” said Walker. “Two-thirds of the property, or about six acres, will be preserved and dedicated to the Township of Montville in a conservation easement. No trees will be cut down.”

Walker further described storm water management plans, which include the installation of a 48-inch pipe which collection basins would empty into. The 480-foot pipe would provide water infiltration as a way of providing seepage underground, and water would also run through an outlet structure and water-quality structure system to discharge cleaned water into the nearby wetlands.

At this point, Board Chairman James Marinello interrupted Walker to ask if he was halfway done, and told Walker that questions would now be posed from the Board.

Sean Moronski from Burgis Associates Community Planning, the Township’s planning consultant agency, asked for more information about the environmental impact assessment and traffic conditions.

Engineering consultant to the Board Stan Omland asked the applicant for Critical Water Resource information regarding the aquifer and the drainage.

At this point Marinello asked the Board for their questions. Board member Richard Moore was first to speak.

“I was a commissioner on the utilities board, which was responsible for the design and building of the sewer system and the water system for our Township,” said Moore.

“This is a geological study that was performed for the Township,” said Moore, pointing to a binder. “It is a comprehensive, detailed hydrological study of the prime aquifer that 80% of the residents in this town depend on for their drinking water. Mr. Walker, I’m wondering if you have referenced this.

“On your site drawings on page 2, it shows monitoring wells. Are those monitoring wells that are used by the Township for the testing of the aquifer? On page 6 of your site plan, those same monitoring wells appear with finished surfaces. I’d like to know if there will be accessibility to those wells.

“I have, I guess a legal question, for the Board attorney,” continued Moore, “understanding that individual property rights have to be weighed, and can you comment, that, if by granting relief, would it create a future precedent for a future board of adjustment for pervious coverage of the prime aquifer in a critical water resource area?

“In the Burgis report it talks about the applicant’s request to have a total of 29 housing units of the 45 allowed in the TC1 and TC2 area. Would this lead to the exclusion of future applications?

“I was wondering if the board engineer could comment on the applicant’s environmental study as it relates to the aquifer study? If there’s compatibility in this application between the study and this report,” Moore concluded.

Board member Margaret Miller-Sanders stated that she would like it explained better how the project would impact the aquifer.

Marinello asked for Moronski’s opinion regarding whether townhouses are a better enactment of the Township’s Land Use Master Plan than ground-floor commercial with residential above. He also asked Board Secretary and Zoning Officer Ryan Conklin for the history of prior applications on the lot. He also wanted the legislative history and commentary of the thinking behind restricting the zoning to commercial with residential above.

“Mr. Omland, can you talk about the difference between full residential and ‘commercial-residential mixed use’ impact on the aquifer,” said Marinello. “Can you also comment, because I’m a little bit concerned, if this project can ever be built out, even in compliance with the zone as it was named five years ago and still be safe for a critical water resource?”

He also asked the applicant to address the endangered species on the property.

Board member Kurt Dinkelmeyer asked for soil movement details and its effect on the wetlands.

Board member Annabel Pierce requested information on the geological study and the height of the proposed townhouses.

Board member Shelly Lawrence agreed with Moore’s questions and stated her concerns on the traffic and parking conditions.

Board member alternate Ron Soussa asked for information about the storm water system and its water quality.

At this point Marinello opened the floor to residents who received letters stating their property is adjacent to the proposed build. Towaco resident Michele Caron stated that she would like the LOI to be redone and reviewed due to changes in the area because of the density of the proposed build. An LOI is a Letter of Interpretation from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, which determines the presence and extent of wetlands and the classification of a wetlands area.

Towaco resident Laura Girard wanted to know if the water collection system that was proposed had been installed anywhere else in Montville, and what its ramifications to residential area and the wetlands.

Marinello stated that another hearing regarding the proposed project will take place on October 7. “Anybody who wants to speak for or against this application will have an opportunity to do so,” stated Marinello.