MILLBURN, NJ – The Millburn Township Planning Board Wednesday night unanimously approved Mack Cali’s application to develop a 200-unit apartment building and a 246-room hotel adjacent to The Mall at Short Hills.
After five months of public discussion and witness testimonies, Millburn Township Planning Board Chairman Ken Leiby called for a vote after the evening’s three-hour public hearing and 45-minute board deliberation.
“We’ve provided exhaustive testimony relative to every aspect of that ordinance. We believe the testimony, which has not been disputed by any expert evidence to the contrary, that this application is entitled to an approval,” said Richard Hoff, attorney for the applicant Mack Cali, prior to the vote.
Before deliberations began, Leiby asked Planning Board Attorney Edward Buzak to provide a framework of the decision making process.
“The board’s obligation, in an application such as this, is to evaluate the application based upon the ordinance,” said Buzak. “If the applicant meets the requirements that were set forth then the applicant is entitled to an approval of the project.”
At the start of deliberations, Deputy Mayor Ian Mount provided a brief history of factors that led to the present discussions. He explained to the public that the genesis of the application began several years ago. Later, the development was proposed as a 400 residential unit project. After several discussions with the applicant, the Township Committee was able to reduce the scope of the development to 200 residential units with the addition of a hotel.
“What’s critical to understand is that the alternative to what’s presented here today is far, far worse then the [current] application,” said the deputy mayor. “200 units is far less impactful to our town than 400, 600 or 800. We’re a very special community here in Millburn, but the fact of the matter is that we are not special when it comes to affordable housing. We are just the same as any other community.”
He further commented that despite the planning board’s efforts and diligence to identify deficiencies in the application, Mack Cali has “thoroughly responded to our experts”, and is in compliance with the master plan and zoning ordinances.
Had the planning board disapproved Mack Cali’s application, the township would most likely have been sued and would have lost. Given the applicants conformity with all laws, ordinances and the back drop of affordable housing mandates; they would have won a lawsuit.
“ What I hope comes from this is that the developer has really heard the concerns of our residents. I hope you [Mack Cali] have really been listening because we live here and you don’t,” said deputy mayor Mount. “You’re coming to OUR town.”
He concluded his comments by reminding Mack Cali of their commitment not to market the development to families and hopes they honor that. He said, “The school system in Millburn Township is a pillar of our town” as he expressed concern about the impact of a large influx of students.
“I know that my child is getting a good education. Please don’t come in and kick that around. Don’t come in and treat that like it was yesterday’s news because it could be a different town tomorrow.”
The deputy mayor’s comments received a resounding round of applause and support from the public.
Chairman Leiby reiterated the value and importance of the township’s schools to its residents. His two children went to the Glenwood School, his son graduated from Millburn High School in 2005 whilst his daughter attended private school.
“There is no doubt that one of the things that support the property values in this town is the Millburn school system,” said the chairman, who is a real estate attorney in the township.
The application was approved based on several conditions like sidewalks on Canoe Brook Rd., routine updates on recycling, planting of native New Jersey plants on the property and back up generators for sewage pump stations. Some of the conditions may not be legally enforceable but nonetheless the public and the planning board encouraged Mack Cali to be cognizant of resident concerns.
The next step is to draft a resolution to memorialize the decision.