BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The saga of the Center of Excellence application came to a close at almost midnight Tuesday evening, after the Bridgewater planning board voted to approve the application by a vote of 6–1.

Councilman Howard Norgalis was the only dissenting vote for the application.

The 110-acre Center of Excellence, on Route 202/206, was formerly the Sanofi Aventis site. The council approved a redevelopment ordinance several years ago that included plans for 400 rental apartment units, of which 10 percent would be affordable housing units.

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The center is also slated to include on-site amenities ranging from retail shops and restaurants to a hotel and 80,000-square-foot supermarket.

More than 30 residents spoke out during the planning board meeting Tuesday, all voicing concerns about the application and pleading with the board to consider what would be the right size development on the property.

"As proposed, this is not the right size for the area," Braemar Place resident Brian Hoffman said.

The application was approved with a number of conditions that have been discussed over the course of the hearings, and board members requested additional modifications to the application regarding the treatment of benzene on the property. Members said they wanted to see more work being done to alleviate the problem quicker than the estimated 26 years the applicant said it would take.

Kevin Coakley, attorney for the applicant, said they are offering a $47,000 escrow account for a licensed site remediation professional (LSRP) appointed by the township to monitor the benzene levels and report to the township on what is happening on the site. But, he said, the applicant cannot agree to any additional remediation work on the property because that work is being done by Sanofi.

Board attorney Thomas Collins said Sanofi has committed to undertake the remediation, but it will be following the regulations and requirements from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

"The DEP would be the ultimate decision maker for technical regulations, but that is not the township's process," he said.

Coakley said he cannot speak for Sanofi regarding additional injections or other work to clear the benzene.

"We cannot dictate to Sanofi what they do," he said.

The escrow account will be included in the conditions of the approval, and a township-appointed LSRP will work with the DEP and Sanofi to continue remediation of the site.

With boos from the public and shouts of "you should be ashamed," the planning board approved the application, ending more than a year of hearings on the redevelopment of the site.

Check back with The BReeze Wednesday for a full story with comments from the public leading up to the vote.