MILLBURN, NJ - After months of discussion on the matter and several town-wide meetings, the township committee voted to pass an ordinance moving forward on a settlement in town, but not before township residents voiced their concerns with such a move.
Ordinance 2542-19 approved a settlement between the township and the Silverman Group, a developer looking to build a 62-unit, four-story building on the corner of Woodland Road and Chatham Road, including approximately 10,000 square feet for the Summit Medical Group. The ordinance was passed by a 3-1 voting tally, with committeewoman Tara Prupis being the one dissenting vote.
Prior to the meeting, as she had at the previous committee meeting, committeewoman Cheryl Burstein announced she would have to recuse herself due to a previously unseen potential conflict of interest, due to Silverman's ownership of her business's building.
Before the vote was finalized, residents in town had a chance to speak to their positions on the issue. More than three dozen came forward, each one in opposition to the project. Some, like long-time town resident Richard Riva, requested that the township "table the resolution because of several unanswered questions which are possibly not in the best interests of the people."
Other residents, such as Joe Esposito argued in favor of a delay or voting down of the ordinance, due to a perceived lack of an environmental study on the property.
"The Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and bird sanctuary is home to over 45 species of trees, 150 species of wildlife and over 100 species of birds including the Barred Owl (threatened in NJ), the Peregrine Falcon (endangered in NJ) and the Red-Shouldered Hawk (endangered in NJ and threatened federally)," Esposito said during his remarks. "What will the environmental impact be? What studies have been done?.
After the public hearing, but before voting on the ordinance commenced, Mayor Diane Eglow and Deputy mayor Jackie Lieberberg both read statements expressing their thoughts on the matter.
Eglow's statement read in part:
Be assured that I have read all your emails, from the residents who live near Chatham and Woodland Road and those who may not but still have concerns. I understand your concerns about the proposed density, your fears that the character of the neighborhood may change, your concerns of more traffic and more school-age children that may move into the area.
I personally have had many sleepless nights and agonizing days, thinking about nothing but this project, your concerns and the difficult decision that looms before us as Township Committee members.
I want to reassure you all that everyone at this dais and at Town Hall have worked in good faith with the Township’s professionals every step of the way for over 2 years to come to the best possible settlement for the residents in the project area and the Township as a whole. A decision on 85 Woodland must take into consideration its potential impact on Millburn Township...
...I hope you will allow us to continue the dialogue, that you will remain involved in whatever process ensues and keep the lines of communication open with the township committee and The Silverman Group, and know that we will continue to work to find any areas of opportunity that will enhance the project.
And Lieberberg, who spoke after seconding the motion to come to a vote had this to say on the matter:
I believe my constituents are entitled to an explanation of my vote in favor of passing the Chatham/Woodland Road Ordinance. I understand your unhappiness, displeasure, sadness, anger and profound sense of disappointment.
However, at this juncture, casting blame and lobbying recriminations does not solve the problem at hand. With respect to this specific development, trying to answer "How did we get in this position?" is irrelevant. We must deal with the issue at hand.
Lieberberg also said that normal considerations for development take a backseat in this case to the provisions for low and moderate-income housing that must be fulfilled by the township, a position echoed by other town officials in attendance.
After the vote was passed, several small matters of business were attended to, and the meeting was adjourned. On the way out of the meeting, Maggie Miggins, another town resident, spoke with TAPinto. She said that from what she saw, the town's residents are unhappy with both the outcome and the process behind it.
"I think based on what you heard in the room, nobody's satisfied with it," Miggins said. "I don't think one person stood up and said that they wanted it...I don't think anyone has a problem with affordable housing or any of that. I think that's just a red herring. That's not really what it's about."
Miggins also talked about the hit-and-run death of a Millburn resident earlier this year, and how it tied into resident's safety concerns.
"The bigger thing was I think that people were really upset that it was such a set-up," she added. "They let everybody speak and they already had their minds made up going in. And that's wrong."