Dear Editor:

On the eve before the Chatham Township Planning Board takes up the Adoption of the Housing Element and Fair Share Plan, I’ve released a 23-minute YouTube video titled, Standing Up for River Road Ridge:  How a proposed 62-unit housing complex would forever change the area’s Ecology

The video runs 23-plus minutes and includes expert testimony and wildlife photos taken by the River Road Neighborhood Preservation group’s ecologist, Blaine Rothauser, who will also be testifying before the Planning Board on Monday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.

Sign Up for Chatham Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Shot on several locations along River Road, from the Passaic River County Park to the Cardinal Hill Apartments and in-between, the video includes dramatic drone footage, all shot over the past week (June 8-12, 2020).  Of particular interest, is the natural spring on the border of Lots 70 (the township’s recent property acquisition) and Lot 69. 

In cooperation with our River Road Neighborhood Preservation group, the video was needed to bring the ridge to the residents since most of them may never see it themselves to take in its natural beauty. The video is a "field trip" and a lesson in ecology and why building on it is beyond comprehension in a community that proudly hosts a portion of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Mayor Michael Kelly and the township committee need to see this, too, as I doubt they’ve walked the ridge to understand there’s life and habitat within it which depends on that habitat as their corridor to and from the Great Swamp and the Passaic River. This Township Committee needs to realize there is still time to negotiate a better location and not feel boxed in by a settlement agreement they should never have agreed to in the first place.  Has anyone heard one resident or even one committee member boast about what a great location they selected on River Road, wildlife, steep slopes and all? The Master Plan be damned.

We also need the public to see this video so they can judge for themselves and not through the lens of a Mayor and Committee who have blindly and foolishly proffered the worst location for a 62-unit affordable housing project. It’s shameful and disgusting.  What studies have they done before expressly naming this site in their settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing?  None.  And certainly none like our group has undertaken.

They put erasers on pencils for a reason. Now’s the time to turn that pencil upside down, use it and draft something new—something that makes better sense in fulfilling this obligation. 

Deep down, I don’t believe any of the Township Committee members think placing the 62-plus units on River Road Ridge is a good idea. I sense they feel trapped.  Yet, at the same time, they know they have options closer to the Hickory Tree Shopping Center they should be aggressively pursuing.

Finally, our neighborhood group understands the need for affordable housing and is sympathetic to Chatham Township's obligations under the Mount Laurel Doctrine.  But we are for sensible locations where it is not so environmentally sensitive and where infrastructure currently exists to support another apartment complex.  Building it on River Road Ridge makes no sense when considering the irreversible adverse impact to the habitat, the lacking infrastructure and the costs of building on steep slopes. It’s simply impractical.

Gary S. Sagendorf,