LIVINGSTON, NJ — After hearing from residents of the area designated to be privately sold to Habitat for Humanity, the Livingston Township Council adopted an ordinance at Monday’s meeting authorizing the sale of township-owned property at Grand Terrace and Burnet Street in Livingston.
Habitat for Humanity, Inc., Newark is a not-for-profit organization that provides housing rehabilitation and affordable housing within Essex County. Although residents of Grand Terrace and surrounding areas agreed that the organization would be a positive addition to the township, many have continuously voiced concerns about the flooding that already exists in the area and how the new building would affect it.
Township Engineer Jeanette Harduby and Department of Public Works Superintendent Mike Anello were on hand to answer any questions and concerns residents had. In addition, the council reminded residents that Habitat for Humanity is only in the application phase for and that passing the ordinance is only the first step in the long process of purchasing the property.
“This ordinance does not build this house, there’s still work that needs to get done,” said Councilman Rudy Fernandez. “In listening to what our professionals have said, I think there are plenty of eyes looking at this to make sure this is done correctly. As the applicant moves through the process, the engineers, the building department, the planning department and zoning will be watching this.”
Mayor Shawn Klein echoed Fernandez, stating that despite residents’ concerns, he trusts the professionals’ opinion that this addition will actually improve the flooding situation in the area rather than make it worse. He added that he believes this is best use of this property.
“Bringing an organization like Habitat for Humanity into this town and having all of the groups pitch in to help build these houses are going to make that neighborhood a better place,” said Klein.
The township recently sought proposals to provide for the development of affordable housing on the Grand Terrance and Burnet Street properties, according to the ordinance. By passing the ordinance on Monday, the council authorized the appropriate municipal officials to execute agreements for the sale of these properties to Habitat for Humanity.
The unanimous decision to adopt the ordinance came after nearly an hour of complaints from neighboring residents.
Joe Lombardo, a resident of Charleston Avenue who has consistently presented issues to the council during this process, said the description of the lot portrays it as “a level piece of property that is suitable for building with no environmental constraints.” However, he said the description is misleading and that heavy storms accumulate excessive water in the vicinity of Grand Terrace and flood the area.
“I don’t think this property is suitable for building based on the facts I could find,” he said. “However, if it is considered, it requires a major lot-drainage plan.”
Many residents echoed Lombardo that the flooding and draining is a significant environmental constraint for building a new home in the vicinity. Residents were concerned about how this “affordable housing” applicant will be able to afford the cost of “serious improvements on this substandard, tiny piece of property,” including drainage and maintenance as well as the replacement of trees large enough to help soak up some water.
“When Habitat for Humanity comes in, they will be required to get a lot-surface drainage permit,” said Harduby, agreeing with Lombardo. “As part of that permit, they will be required to show how they intend to mitigate any adverse impacts from the new impervious coverage. We have issued hundreds and hundreds of lot-surface drainage permits through our office—I see no reason why they would not be able to obtain one.”
Harduby also added that this lot has an inlet in the rear of the property, making the applicant especially fortunate in comparison to other property owners. The applicant is also required to comply with zoning ordinances and to seek variances as well as a tree-removal permit.
“The township would not be developing this plan for the applicant,” she said. “They will have their own private engineer…and that engineer will develop a plan for this lot. The development of the lot will be in accordance with every other development of any lots in the township.”
Township Attorney Sharon Weiner added that both pieces of property were evaluated by the applicant as well as the township’s professions. Both were deemed suitable lots for this project, she said.
“I think we have to go with our professional engineer here,” said councilman Al Anthony. “Habitat for Humanity is a great organization, but they’re also going into this with their eyes wide open that there will be necessary improvements.”
Anthony said he was confident the township departments will do their due diligence to ensure that, should Habitat’s application be accepted, the property owner will have a private engineer, comply with zoning board leases, obtain necessary variances, comply with the tree ordinance and design out any problems that the department sees in order to not adversely impact neighbors.
Councilman Michael Silverman echoed Anthony, stating that this is what the zoning and planning boards are for. He said he is confident that the various boards will ensure that all areas that need to be reviewed will be done so appropriately.
“We all should be thankful that we live in democracy where we can speak up,” said councilman Ed Meinhardt, adding that the council is always willing to listen and hold extra meetings when needed. “We’re really fortunate to live in a country where everyone can give their opinions.”
Meinhardt thanked the professionals for putting in the time to attend this and other meetings. He said there are many checks and balances that will take place after this vote and was confident they would all be met.