BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Despite continued concerns from residents over traffic and the number of school-age children expected in the community, the Bridgewater Township Planning Board approved the application for a redevelopment of the Weyerhauser property in Finderne, with 220 rental units.

The plan for the redevelopment of the former Weyerhauser property is for a 220-unit complex with 44 affordable units and 176 market units. A minimum of 88 of those market units will have one bedroom, and the remaining will have no more than two bedrooms.

For many residents in attendance, and several board members, the biggest confusion came from the estimate that the 220 units will generate a total of 38 school-age children, plus an estimate of another 25 children ages 2 through 5.

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According to planner Bill Hamilton, they used census data from 2000 to develop models and factors that are put together to come up with an average population.

“In the data, they provide projected school-age children for different types of housing,” he said. “They look at how many bedrooms are in each unit, they look at multi-family housing that is owned or rented.”

In addition, Hamilton said, there are considerations for income levels.

“That does also take into account that some of the kids will go to private parochial schools,” he said.

Hamilton cited the Woodmont property, on Route 202/206, as an example as having about 30 school-age children for 100 units.

“That’s higher than what these numbers say it should be,” he said. “But it’s an all two-bedroom community, it doesn’t have any one bedrooms.”

Several residents questioned whether the studies about the number of children takes into account the type of district they are moving into, particularly with the fact that the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District is considered a highly desirable district.

“We have to use the best average we have available from a planning perspective,” Hamilton said. “It could fluctuate, but it’s not significant.”

Ramsey Street resident John Kulak questioned whether there is any study they can use that is more specific to Bridgewater-Raritan.

“It’s tough for those of us living in the area and knowing how desirable Bridgewater schools are to believe you are going to be adding so few people,” he said.

Hamilton said this kind of community that is being developed usually attracts more of a younger crowd, as well as recently separated people and an older component of residents who live in Bridgewater and want to downsize but still stay in town.

“Those are the demographics for this kind of project,” he said.

Mayor Dan Hayes said that with the comparison to the Woodmont property, it seems like the 38 children estimate makes sense.

“This group has 220 units, Woodmont has 100,” he said. “It is all two-bedroom at Woodmont and this is 220 units total, with 132 that are two-bedroom or more. Woodmont generated 30 students. With the variability, this doesn’t strike me as a big difference.”

From there, the concern shifted to how many school buses will be coming into the community to pick up those children. Residents said they did not want too many school buses driving through their community.

Hamilton said he met with Bill Coyle, in the transportation department for the district, regarding the bus stops. There is currently a bus stop on Woodrow Avenue, and it doesn’t come to Radel.

“It is the opinion that providing a stop at Radel and Ramsey would be most appropriate,” he said. “They don’t allow buses on private property, but there is a process to get a waiver from the procedure.”

Hamilton said the applicant has to submit a letter to the board of education to request to have a bus go internally into a development, namely the new property, rather than going to Radel. The planning board said as a condition of the application that the developer must apply for an internal bus stop so as to avoid having buses and too many people traveling through the current neighborhood.

Also of great concern for residents was the issue of traffic exiting the new development onto Main Street, and how it would affect their streets.

Traffic engineer Craig Peregoy had previously testified that there is an estimate of 105 total trips from the development in the morning hours and 135 in the evening. He said they took multiple traffic counts throughout the year, but used the ones they took in December because that time generated the highest number of cars.

“We took the busiest of all the data we had,” he said.

But residents said they believe there will actually be more cars, particularly because there are 220 units, and presumably at least one car per household. And, many said, that road already handles an incredible amount of traffic.

“This is a unique site,” Kulak said. “You have all the cars locked into a private roadway system. They are going out to Main Street, and if they make a right, there is a traffic light. Beyond that, there is another traffic light as you get to the stadium and then another with the Home Depot and Target.”

“As the traffic is flowing, you seem to only have a few places it can go,” he added. “They present a bottleneck that I can’t understand how a model can say there is limited impact.”

Peregoy said they factored in all that traffic, from the Bridgewater Promenade and the stadium, plus all the industrial buildings in the area.

Field Street resident Yvonne Craven echoed these concerns that they are not accounting for a car leaving for work between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. for each unit.

“That’s not even the full number of units,” she said.

In addition, Kulak asked whether they had considered pedestrian traffic, and how an increase in cars could affect walkers.

Peregoy said there were no walkers during their observations, so it wasn’t taken into account as heavily.

“There wouldn’t be any walkers in December,” Kulak said, referring to the date the traffic study focused on. “We’re looking at the impact of this complex itself.”

Craven said she is concerned that people trying to make a left onto Main Street out of the complex will make a right instead and try to U-turn around in their neighborhood in order to head back in the other direction toward Manville.

Peregoy said he doesn’t believe drivers will want to waste the time to do that.

“That would take a long time,” he said. “A left turn can be made. It would take a lot longer to go around the block.”

But Kulak said he doesn’t understand how the complex can be considered safe.

“We have a traffic study and then we have common sense,” he said. “I don’t see how you can say the plan as it exists will be safe for new residents. There are too many variables unaccounted for in a computer model.”

“I understand the nature of a traffic study, but when you are there every day and we see dangerous conditions that exist, it is hard to say that it would have no impact on traffic,” he added.

There were a few other considerations that residents and the planning board asked for, starting with a tot park planned for ages 2 through 5, and which the planning board has determined should be maintained privately.

“We have proposed a 15,000-square-foot enclosed area that would have benches, a walking area, tables and play equipment,” Hamilton said. “The part would be concentrated for 2- to 5-year-olds.”

Residents also expressed a desire for a fence separating the new development from the current properties.

“The fence solves a lot of problems,” resident John Bauer said. “It stops people from parking there, you have a wide open area that is away from adult supervision and you will have kids hanging out there. If you put the fence up, you stop people parking there.”

Kulak agreed that a fence along Radel Avenue would be prudent to protect the existing neighborhood. Many other residents agreed.

“Do consider putting a fence along Ramsey Street and Radel,” Ramsey Street resident Chris Mariconda said. “I have had people walking through my yard with dogs. I have a pool, and I don’t want liability issues.”

Residents continued to express disapproval over the proposed development, and questioned what will happen if rental units will prove too difficult to sell, particularly with the number of other ones within a 100-mile radius.

“We have no confidence that this developer and owner will adhere to restrictions, as they have not done so in the past,” Kulak said. “It is a complete disruption of the entire neighborhood.”

“If this is not a viable project, do they stop and finish later?” he added. “We don’t know, but we do know the marketplace offers healthy competition, and many apartment buildings that were already built.”

The planning board approved the application with a number of conditions, namely installing a fence along Ramsey Street, installing a fence along Radel Avenue, fixing the fence on the western side of the property, keeping the tot lot privately owned by the developer and applying to the board of education for permission for internal bussing and pickup.