BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The Bernards Township Committee has rejected "in its entirety" the concept of a redevelopment plan for the Millington Quarry that calls for the construction of 235 homes, a new hotel, and tens of thousands of square feet of retail and other commercial space on part of the 183-acre defunct quarry off Stonehouse Road.

By the same 4-1 vote on Wednesday, the Township Committee also revoked its vote to identify the quarry as a "non-condemnation" redevelopment area that would have allowed participation in a statewide program aimed at rebuilding so-called blighted properties.

Quarry zoning reverts to two-acre residential lots

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As a result of the Township Committee's vote, the privately-owned Millington Quarry will revert to zoning that would allow construction of about 40 to 50 single-family homes on two-acre residential lots once the deeply mined quarry is prepared for development.

Prior to the vote, the crowd that filled about half of the Ridge High School performing arts center listened to speakers tell the governing body why they object to a private developer's plan for the quarry property and what they would like to see done with the land instead.

Nearly all the commenters _ including a representative of the New Jersey Sierra Club and members of Friends of Stop the Quarry Plan _ insisted that before any development takes place, the quarry owners should remediate any contamination left by years of the unregulated trucking of soil into the site to fill quarry pits.

"Make the property owner pay for any and all remediation," said longtime township resident Rita Zarabara. "This is his mess to clean up."

The speakers also agreed that residents should have more input into devising a redevelopment plan for the property. At a series of hearings on the redevelopment proposal, opponents expressed concerns about traffic and additional schoolchildren that would be generated by the project, as well as the strain it would put on volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders.

Former Mayor Bill Allen urged the governing body to reject the proposal that was unveiled at a Township Committee in October, but to "continue the quarry planning process."

"The public has become engaged," he said. "Keep them engaged and develop a plan that will be an all-around win _ one that will satisfy the quarry owner, benefit the town, and make you and the community proud."

Resident Bill DeLorenzo, an electrical engineer, said he is part of a team of township residents who have devised a proposal that would encompass a 40-acre solar farm in the southern portion of the quarry, 28 acres surrounding a lake for parks and amenities, and 12 acres that would be set aside for small-scale clustered housing.

Resident Todd Edelstein, a frequent attendee at Township Committee meetings, said he was happy that the town was backing away from involvement in the redevelopment proposal. "I said a long time ago that we shouldn't be involved." However, he noted that the quarry land is private property and therefore Millington Quarry's owners can come up with their own plan for the land, providing that it meets Planning Board standards.

Township Committeewoman Carolyn Gaziano, who was last year's mayor, cast the sole vote on the governing body against resignation of the state redevelopment plan.

Gaziano also noted that the quarry is private property. "The current options are to work with the developer on a mixed use plan, or maintain the current two-acre residential housing zoning." She said that keeping the current zoning will result in roughly 50 large homes and a resulting increase in taxes due to an increase in students living in those homes.

"A redevelopment plan with mixed uses will allow a usable public lake privately maintained, public amenities including a boardwalk, a park, bike and hiking paths, a restaurant and retail shops, and 65 percent of the land preserved as public open space. A mixed-use plan would provide tax revenue which will decrease residents' tax burden," she said, reading a statement that brought calls of disapproval from the audience. 

Gaziano said she has also heard from hundreds of residents who favor mixed use for the property. "We should continue working on a scaled-down version of the redevelopment plan which would allow us the benefits of mixed use without the over-development.

Gaziano noted that the proposal also would help the township settle its state-imposed affordable housing obligations. The requirement for the township to provide for more affordable housing is pending at the state level, but no specific numbers have been announced for Bernards Township, officials said.

Mayor John Carpenter and Township Committee members James Baldassare, Carol Bianchi and John Malay cast votes to revoke earlier approvals for the redevelopment plan and partaking in the state's redevelopment program.

"The process started out on the right foot," Bianchi said of the state redevelopment program. However, she said she later learned "the redevelopment process was not the process I understood it to be." She said that two years after the process was raised, major concerns about the property had not been addressed, and she felt the township would have less input in planning than she originally believed.

In a later email, Bianchi added that based on her conversations with the contract purchaser and their counsel from the onset of quarry task force meetings, she fully expected public sessions to continue in which the contract purchaser would roll out a conceptual plan with details of proposed commercial and residential units.  

"The conceptual proposed plan would be based upon input from the community, prior to any redevelopment ordinance. That didn't happen," Bianchi said in her Wednesday night email.  "When I received the draft ordinance, I asked the contract purchasers and their attorneys to come to the October 24 meeting with answers to all of the questions I had been asking; they did not. To me, this is where the redevelopment process broke down." 

"Stay tuned, and stay involved," Malay told the crowd. He said that the fate of the quarry, now a hole in the ground, is complicated intersection of what the township wants, balanced against state mandates and the rights of the property owner.

Carpenter said the Township Committee is planning to hold a generalized discussion on the township's state affordable housing obligation at the Feb. 13 meeting.

More to come