BERNARDS TWP., NJ - A crowded Nov. 28 hearing on plans to redevelop the Millington Quarry Property with what would become a new mixed residential and commercial center is being followed with more public hearings, including a second informal informational meetings scheduled with the developer scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 4, at town hall in downtown Basking Ridge.

A release on upcoming public meetings on the proposed quarry redevelopment plan also flatly stated late last week, "There will be no action taken on a Quarry Redevelopment Ordinance" in 2017."

The meeting scheduled for Monday at 1 Collyer Lane will officially be hosted by Community Investment Partners, the proposed development company - which apparently acquired a contract to buy the land from Shopoff Realty, the original developer - under a statewide program for cooperative efforts to rebuild so-called blighted properties. The meeting will not be televised on public access television.

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School impact and traffic expected to be discussed at Dec. 12 Township Committee meeting

The topic is also scheduled to come up at the regularly scheduled Township Committee meeting at 8 p.m. on Dec. 12, which will be televised and videostreamed as usual, according to the township announcement. The topics of traffic and what the proposal's impact would be on local schools should be addressed, the township announcement said.

The proposal for the redevelopment of the defunct quarry property on about 180 acres off Stonehouse Road has been discussed conceptually for about two years at Bernards Township Committee meeting meetings, with a handful of people who commented, many of them former township officials. However, the proposal captured the public's attention more recently when more specific plans were unveiled for 235 housing units, including 35 affordable housing units, a hotel, retail space and a boardwalk alongside an envisioned 50-acre lake that has reportedly already begun forming in a deep mining pit. 

Plan grabs public's attention this fall

The Oct. 24 Township Committee meeting drew an overflow crowd of residents, mostly critical of the plan.

A community group formed as a result of the opposition, Stop The Quarry Plan. 

Sparks flew, and strong opinions were expressed at the Nov. 28 night's hearing on a draft proposal that began with a presentation by township officials and by representatives of the developer's investment company, which includes township resident Anthony Splendorio as a principal.

Splendorio, co-owner of Back to Nature garden center, said he had hoped to come up with a plan that would make the property available for public use, including access to the lake, nature trails, and restaurants and retail space along the future lakeside.

Splendorio said several times he was seeking public input on the proposal. "This is something that allows for a cooperative and co-creative process."

Nevertheless, most of the speakers on Nov. 28 were still opposed the proposal, but some said they thought the proposal deserved a good look. A video of the entire meeting is on YouTube.

Former Township Mayor Al LiCata, urged the Township Committee to "Shelf this project," eliciting tumultuous applause from the audience.

LiCata instead urged the township to work with the Mahon families on another plan to allow public access to the property. "I am dead set against this rezoning," he said.

LiCata also pointed out many local businesses already are struggling, and there already are millions of square feet of commercial space in Basking Ridge, Bernardsville and adjoining communities.

LiCata added, "If this is built, you are going to kill our volunteer first aid squads and fire departments."

"I think this development in isolation is very interesting and lovely," said Lisa Winter, one of the last speakers of the evening during a 3-hour-plus meeting. However, she said felt the main issue was really the Township Committee's decision to rezone for hundreds of buildings in a multi-use development on a property that is still zoned for industrial use, and had long been envisioned for development with homes on two-acre lots on at least part of the land. 

After a long period of development in the township, "You did a good job of buying up open space," Winter told the Township Committee's members. She then expressed surprise at what she called plans for a "high-density development."

"This is really important to get this right," she said of deciding the quarry land's future. "I would be happy to leave it the way it is," she added.

One of the evening's first speakers, Chau Shearer, said she had originally opposed the plan, but then reached out to the township and proposed developers for additional information. "Every single one responded to me," she said.

Another speaker said that while he said he felt it was "obvious the final solution hasn't been reached," he approves of housing more aimed at ages 55-plus.

More speakers pointed out plenty of what they said were flaws in the plan, however.

Question why proposal is not subject to Planning Board review

Several speakers, including former members of the Planning Board who had sat through several versions of the quarry redevelopment plan through past years, wanted to know why the Township Committee hadn't chosen to have the plan come before the board for review, when it would also be subject to public questioning of witnesses.

Former board members Kevin Orr and Richard Huckins also pointed out that part of the property with soil identified as contaminated would be under the lake, separated by water by rock rather than by an impermeable layer of clay, or a similar barrier.

"We will have contamination, and the value of that site will become zero once it's contaminated," Huckins said.

There was also some discussion of whether public comments criticizing the Splendorios are appropriate.

"People need to be kind," said speaker Heather Gallagher. "They [the Splendorios] care about our community, and they have been here a long time," she said.