BERNARDS TWP., NJ - At the next Bernards Township Committee meeting on Nov. 13, township officials will address the public's comments regarding a draft of a plan to redevelop Millington Quarry made during a lengthy public session at town hall on Oct. 24, Mayor Carolyn Gaziano said late last week.

No formal action on the draft ordinance will be taken at the Nov. 13 meeting, Gaziano said.

The meeting drew an overflow crowd, and elicited scepticism and criticism from the majority of about 30 speakers regarding a draft plan to build 235 homes, offices, retail space, and a hotel on the defunct quarry property on about 180 acres off Stonehouse Road. 

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The public was asked for input following the township's brief presentation on the proposal, including a map and sketches.

Gaziano noted in a release last Friday that the reclamation of the Millington Quarry has been under discussion before the Township Committee for nearly two years.

Following initial discussions, both the Township Planning Board and Township Committee gave a stamp of approval to the concept of conducting the redevelopment process under s state plan that "affords the Township and its residents the opportunity to largely determine how the site will be developed."

At public hearings during earlier meetings, township officials heard about some concerns from the public, including former members of the Township Committee and Planning Board, about such issues as the presence of steep cliffs on the quarried property, the need for proper monitoring of an area of the tract in which contaminated soil is buried, and questions about future water quality of a proposed lake in a deep quarry pit in one area. 

At last Tuesday's meeting, speaker after speaker raised questions about what the project's impact would be on traffic, schools, the town's finances and emergency responders. Additionally, some of the residents who spoke that night said they did not want to see such a large project in the township.

Township officials have promised transparency in deciding the fate of the quarry land, a plan which Deputy Mayor John Carpenter said is early in the process.

But after hearing all the comments, Township Committeeman John Malay cautioned the crowd, "Doing nothing is not an option."

"We have 180 acres; it's too valuable," Malay said, noting that any developer of the site would want to have a sufficiently dense project to pay for infrastructure and other aspects of turning the quarried property into redeveloped land.

Gaziano said in Friday's release that the Township Committee had considered a public report from a Quarry Advisory Committee established to review the concept before committee members unanimously elected to pursue a redevelopment process as detailed under New Jersey's Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). "The Township thought it better to be proactive in determining the future of this large and important site rather than leave it to the whim of a developer."

Prior to the consideration of the quarry redevelopment plan under a state plan, part of the property had been zoned for eventual development with two-acre residential lots once quarrying - conducted at the site since 1895 - halted for good.

At the Oct. 24 meeting, Township Committeewoman Carol Bianchi noted the original contracted owner and proposed developer was the large developer Shopoff Realty. She said that the township needs to know more about the financial viability of the newly reformed financial partnership that would be responsible for redeveloping the property, and whether that entity would be able to complete the project. "You need to have a lot of money backing the project," Bianchi said. 

Democratic candidates questioned change of proposed developer of the project

Later, in a Letter to the Editor, Democratic Township Committee candidates Sally Booth and Joan Harris also questioned the backing for the project, and described the replacement of Shopoff as a "game changer" for the proposal.

Gaziano noted that many residents attended the Oct. 24 meeting, with 30 commenting on the merits of the proposal.

"The participation by residents was exactly the kind sought by the Township Committee and which is essential in open and transparent government. There were many questions asked and observations provided," she said. "The Township Committee is processing all the valuable input it received."

A FAQ page on the quarry plan for the township's own website is being developed and will be updated on a continuous basis as information becomes available, the mayor said.

Township Committee meetings broadcast on public access television

Knowing that there is significant public interest in this matter, Gaziano reminded residents and interested parties that Bernards Township Committee meetings are also broadcast live on Cablevision Channel 15 and Verizon Channel 35. The meetings are also videostreamed live over the township website.  A videorecording of the meeting will be made available on the township’s website 24 hours after the meeting, Gaziano said.