Business & Finance

Testimony Continues on Towaco Townhouses Case; Neighbors Hire Lawyer

Vincent Uhl, Attorney Steven Schepis, Attorney Daniel Steinhagen of the law firm Beattie Padovano   Credits: Melissa Benno
Montville Township Board Engineer Stanley Omland Credits: Melissa Benno
Vincent Uhl, Attorney Steven Schepis Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ – Testimony continued at the April 6 Montville Township Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, where it was announced that neighbors to the proposed building site Janeen and Ted Moustakis have hired legal counsel to oppose the building of 23 townhouses near the Towaco train station and their house.

The project would be built on land located behind Route 202/Main Road, Waughaw Road, and Indian Hill Road. Residents fear the development will interfere with the township’s aquifer and eliminate the habitat of several endangered species.

Daniel Steinhagen of the law firm Beattie Padovano was at the meeting representing the Moustakises. Chairman James Marinello allowed Steinhagen to ask questions of the witnesses who testified over the course of the meeting during the public portion of each testimony, and Steinhagen stated that his firm will be bringing witnesses to the June 1 meeting.

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Prior testimony regarding the proposed development can be read here: February Meeting, December meeting, and August meeting.

Attorney Steven Schepis presented owner and Towaco resident Dan Furia’s application. He opened by stating the proposed use of building townhouses is technically permitted, because the area is zoned for residential mixed use, but the applicant does not want to place commercial units on the first floor per the current zoning requirements.

The Aquifer

The project is in the TC-1 Critical Water Resource Prime Aquifer Zone, and members had asked for more information about the effects of the project on the aquifer. Since testimony at the prior meeting was from a report issued by Vincent Uhl, Schepis called upon Uhl to explain testing at the site and the results. Uhl is an expert in hydrogeology whose company wrote several reports for Montville Township regarding the aquifer, including a 1998 report which assessed its sustainable yield. Schepis said Uhl’s work in Towaco led to the preservation ordinances the township uses at present.

Uhl stated that recharge of the aquifer comes about from rainfall, the local stream system leaking as it flows, and the bedrock contribution, at the rate of about one-third from each system. Bedrock contribution is groundwater filtering downward.

Uhl testified that results of testing where the storm water management system would be placed showed that the storm water system would be above the aquifer, which is required. Further, test results showed that the prime aquifer lies to the north and east of the proposed site, despite the zoning designation.

With regard to recharge of the aquifer, Uhl testified that although he is not a storm water management expert, his opinion is that the system will result in at least a ten percent increase in recharge to the aquifer compared to the site currently.

“So based upon your evaluation of the documentation you’ve read, your own personal observation, and your professional opinion, can you tell the members of the board and the public whether this proposed project, if it were approved and built, will have any negative impact on the Towaco aquifer, either water quality or quantity, or any other aspect,” Schepis asked Uhl.

“I don’t believe so,” Uhl replied.

After Uhl’s testimony was complete, Board Engineer Stanley Omland asked questions regarding the statements. Omland said that Uhl had been well aware of the board’s and the township’s concerns, and the importance of the aquifer, and said that when asked if Uhl was comfortable that the aquifer would be protected, Uhl’s answer was, “You don’t believe so. I don’t like that answer. That doesn’t give me the strength of your conviction,” Omland said.

Uhl replied that the bottom of the storm water management system would be two feet above the aquifer level as required, and the recharge benefit requirement would be met.

Board members asked questions, and member Shelly Lawrence asked about the responsibility of the homeowners’ association to maintain the storm water management system. She was concerned that it would not be maintained and that finances would not be available in the future to maintain or replace it. Board Member Kenneth Shirkey was concerned with the quality of the water infiltrating due to parking lot pollutants.

Evidence to Support the Price Point

Since the applicant was asked to provide evidence to support the price point, Schepis called Montville Township resident and area real estate agent Robert Gannon to testify.

Board Attorney Bruce Ackerman reminded the board that the profitability of the project has no relevance to zoning or planning in terms of variance relief.

Gannon called the proposed townhouses a “boutique-type development,” and said that young commuters in their late 20s would be the target market, as well as empty-nesters. The townhouses would feature higher-end finishes like granite and stone. He could not find a similar “transit village” to compare the site to in a similar community, but said this site would be attractive to buyers because it is within walking distance not only to trains but also busses and local area shopping. He supported the $317 per square foot price, or approximately $600,000 per unit.

The Moustakis’ attorney, Daniel Steinhagen, asked Gannon if he had an appraiser’s license, if he was involved with the sale of the property and Gannon replied no to both questions.

Gannon’s final statement was, “This would be a very unique part of this community. The Towaco Center is extraordinary, and the uniqueness of this development will bring people here.”

Storm Water    

Marc Walker of Dykstra Walker testified that the Department of Environmental Protection had approved the applicant’s four permits: transition area averaging plan, because of encroaching less than 50 feet into a wetland buffer zone; a general permit for running a utility through a freshwater wetland for a sewer pipe; a freshwater permit for an outfall structure for the storm water management area and the discharge area; and a transition area waiver for developing on an area at the edge of a wetland.

He stated the DEP had reviewed the storm water management plan and approved it. Further, he said, the storm water management plan meets enhanced Towaco ordinance levels in that 95% of suspended solids are filtered out.

He further testified that the site for the townhouses portion of the entire development is composed of 7.59 acres, but only 1.25 acres will be developed, and the remaining approx. 6.4 acres will be designated as open space “in perpetuity.”

Schepis asked him about the site’s affect on the aquifer due to his storm water management expertise and he stated, “In the scope of the aquifer this little piece of property is miniscule. The amount of coverage that’s associated with this project is insignificant. The roadways that go around the property far exceed the amount of coverage and there is no storm water management from them. This project meets the newer requirements that the township has put together,” Walker said.

Walker detailed tests his company administered to the site as directed by Omland, which involved drilling holes and making sure that 12” of water drained through the fractured bedrock within 24 hours. He called the test “intense” but said the site passed them.

Walker detailed the solid pipe system which will contain a jellyfish system to clean the storm water, and DEP specifications entail inspection of the system four times a year and after every rainstorm during which more than one inch of water has fallen, and the system needs to be cleaned once a year. He said the storm water management system design meets all of the DEP and township requirements.

Master Plan

Schepis showed a slide of township planning consultants Burgis Assoc.’s vision of the property and surrounding area from the Master Plan of 2010 and Walker said that the rendering of the proposed development is a similar amount of impervious coverage and building amount.

“Is it fair to say that what was envisioned in the Master Plan, that was adopted by the Planning Board, as it relates to the impervious coverage and the large building that we see, is comparable to what you proposed in the concept plan?” Schepis asked Walker.

Walker said he hadn’t calculated it, but visually it appeared similar.

“It’s something that the town envisioned that this area on our property that we showed to be disturbed, was to be disturbed in furtherance of the Towaco center, correct?” Schepis asked Walker.

“If you’re going to have a Towaco town center, you need to have some development intensity,” Walker confirmed.

Questions from the Board

Omland asked what parameters should be placed into any ordinance passing the proposed development regarding the maintenance of the storm water management system, and Walker stated the basin portion and filtration components of the system are very large and extremely unlikely to fail. Omland said he is not comfortable with the basin floor not getting clogged because it is relying on fractures in the bedrock, and fractures are easily clogged. Walker suggested the homeowners’ association hire a maintenance company which would keep maintenance records.

Omland then stated that while the property in question may be miniscule, the DEP looks at such properties as “incremental and cumulative.”

“Every small piece like this in the aquifer is important to us,” Omland said, which is why the township wants to make sure that the storm water management system will remain functioning.

Questions from the board included maintenance issues with the storm water management system, the costs of the yearly maintenance, and whether such a system is in use in the area whether it is functioning well. Marinello requested the information in advance of the June meeting.



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