BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ A state judge has knocked down a legal motion by a development group seeking to build up to 380 apartments and townhouses at the defunct Millington Quarry as a part of Bernards Township's required state affordable housing plan.
Judge Thomas C. Miller on Friday denied the legal request by Community Investment Partners (CIP) to interject itself into Bernards Township's own plans for building affordable housing within the municipality.
CIP's efforts to revive a second version of a quarry redevelopment plan mixing hundreds of housing units with commercial and retail space had already drawn promises of vigorous opposition from the township, and outrage from a community group, Stop the Quarry Plan, with well over 1,000 members.
The township through its attorney John Belardo asserted that the CIP had missed a deadline to even ask the court to become an "intervenor" in becoming a part of Bernards affordable housing plan. The plan will ultimately be subject to state approval.
Deadline missed by more than two years
Miller in his decision agreed that CIP's motion should be denied on the basis that it is "untimely," and that it had missed by more than two years a court-imposed statewide deadline of Feb. 10, 2016 for any person or entity wishing to be part of court hearings regarding any town's affordable housing plans.
The judge's written decision noted that a principal in CIP, David Placek, had submitted a revised plan for the redevelopment of the 180-acre quarry property with 300 apartments, 80 townhouses, 10,000 square feet each of a restaurant and community center space, and 54,500 square feet of retail space.
Yet, "Mr. Placek has no experience as an individual developing such an immense project and cannot legally demand the Township enter any redevelopment agreement with him," Miller wrote in his decision.
The judge ruled that the Fair Share Housing Center, a statewide organization, already represents the interests of representing the need for low and moderate income housing in the township.
Bernards Township officials already are pursuing other avenues of providing affordable housing in the township, including housing for veterans at the Veterans Administration facility in Lyons, and a March vote by the Township Committee to allow a private developer to construct 198 lower-income mixed with mostly market-unit apartments at the site of the former A&P at Dewy Meadow Village off King George Road. The agreement would also allow a second developer to build a 24-unit apartment building on an old tennis court at neighboring Crown Court apartments.
An attorney for CIP recently said the development company wants to work with the township to build additional affordable housing as part of a revised plan to redevelop the quarry. That proposal did not receive the support of the Township Committee.
The Stop the Quarry Plan group had also spoken out strongly at at several public meetings last fall in opposition to a previous version of CIP's plan to redevelop the quarry tract off Stonehouse Road.
CIP previously had proposed building 235 housing units, a hotel, retail shops and other commercial space on the 180-acre quarried land. The Bernards Township Committee originally endorsed the concept of redevelopment of the quarry under a state program for blighted properties. However, following public outcry against the density of the proposed development, the governing body voted in January to withdraw its support for the redevelopment plan and its participation in the state redevelopment program.
At that time, the Bernards Township Committee rejected "in its entirety" the concept of a redevelopment plan for the Millington Quarry calling for the construction of 235 homes, a new hotel, and tens of thousands of square feet of retail and other commercial space.
By the same 4-1 vote that night, 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
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 at that meeting _ 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.
"The process started out on the right foot," Township Committeewoman Bianchi said of the state redevelopment program. after the vote. 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.
Township Committeewoman Carolyn Gaziano was alone at the January meeting in not voting to withdraw support from CIP's original plan.
Speaking in January, 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.
In March, Gaziano also voted against what she said would be a far denser residential development at Dewy Meadow Village.