CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham Township Planning Board held a marathon session on Monday night that spilled into Tuesday, ultimately ending in votes to approve site plans for 24 affordable housing units on Southern Boulevard and 53 multi-family luxury townhomes on Hillside Avenue.
The five-hour, 30-minute meeting, which ended at 1:08 a.m. Tuesday, included an 8-1 vote to approve the affordable housing site plan, named Arbor Green at Chatham, on Southern Boulevard and a 9-0 approval of the plan for multi-family townhomes on the former Dixiedale Farm property on Hillside Avenue.
The two projects are linked. The approved rezoning of the 30-acre Dixiedale property from single-family residential to multi-family zoning was part of a two-step deal. In exchange for the rezoning the developers agreed to pay for the construction of the 24 Affordable Housing units on Southern Boulevard.
Robert Kasuba, attorney for the developers, talks about the link between the two projects in the video below
Most of the thorny details of the plans appeared to be worked out at the Sept. 18 meeting of the planning board.
But early Tuesday morning the wood chip walking trail included in the plan at Dixiedale was exchanged for an asphalt sidewalk partway around the perimeter, starting on River Road near Eden Road and extending to the top of Hillside Avenue.
Board member Peter Coviello brought up the discussion of connecting the residents of the new Dixiedale townhouses and the adjacent River Road townhouse properties with a perimeter sidewalk so that they would be able to get to the schools and township safely by walking. These residents combined will make up about 30% of the Township’s population.
The exchange of the previously approved interior walking trail to an asphalt sidewalk was brought up by board member Nicole Hagner.
When the issue of the sidewalk came up, Kasuba huddled with the developers and came back with the offer to construct the sidewalk in lieu of the walking trail.
"The swap of a woodland walking trail for a partial perimeter sidewalk is a bad deal for the township," Planning board and township committee member Michael Kelly said. "If the perimeter sidewalk has gaps that reduce any benefit for future connectivity, the deal would be even worse. The Planning Board is right to revisit the issue if that happens."
Kelly expressed his "deep disappointment" during the vote to approve
"The plans approved conditionally by the Planning Board Monday include a perimeter macadam walkway around a portion of Dixiedale instead of the woodland walking path which had been part of Sterling-Sun Homes' plans since they were first presented to the township in 2016," Kelly said. "The conservation easement voted on by the Planning Board will protect the preserved woodlands, but will not allow public access.
"This is a big loss for residents of Dixiedale and nearby Chatham Glen who will represent more than 25 percent of the township's population. Professional planners for both the applicant and the board testified Monday night that publicly accessible Open Space actually increases property values of nearby homes. I voted in favor of the application because of its many other benefits to the township, including the preservation of the former Dixiedale mansion, the low-density development, the 40 percent Open Space and the developer's commitment to build 24 affordable apartments at Arbor Green on Southern Boulevard. But the loss of the walking trail and public access to those woodlands is sorely disappointing."
Chatham Township residents spoke up in the public commentary portion of the meeting, expressing their opposition to the switch from the walking trail to a sidewalk. In addition, there is no guarantee that an asphalt sidewalk will be allowed by the DEP since it would be constructed on a wetlands protected area on River Road. The proposed sidewalk would not be connected to any existing sidewalk. There are no sidewalks on Hillside Avenue.
The sudden change in plans from wood chip walking trail on the property to an asphalt perimeter sidewalk is sure to be a subject of discussion at the next Chatham Township Committee meeting.
"The public access walking trails connecting to the other Hillside trail were supposed to be a benefit to the community as a result of the development," said Committee member Tracy Ness who was at the meeting. "They have been in the plan since 2016 and passed unanimously in the 2018 ordinance by the then committee. We also lost out on an opportunity for sidewalks which is part of the connectivity element. Very disappointed that at the last minute these were taken off the table and our community lost that benefit."