Government

Towaco Townhouse Proposal Returns to Montville Township Committee

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Atty Steven Schepis presents his client's rezoning application to the Montville Township Committee on Feb. 14 Credits: Melissa Benno
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Towaco Civic Assn proposed signs for the Towaco section of town Credits: Melissa Benno
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Dan Furia (left) looks on as Atty Steven Schepis presents his rezoning application to the Montville Township Committee on Feb. 14 Credits: Melissa Benno
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MONTVILLE, NJ – Towaco resident Dan Furia reappeared with his attorney Steven Schepis at the Feb. 14 Montville Township Committee meeting regarding Furia’s proposed 20 townhouse unit development on nine acres in the Towaco section of the township.

This time Furia is requesting a zoning ordinance modification to allow six acres as the minimum lot area for townhouse development, a 100-foot minimum setback for townhouses from Route 202, and a maximum height allowance of 35 feet and 2 1/2 stories for single-family dwellings.

According to the Towaco Center Master Plan (TCMP), conforming use for the nine-acre site is “mixed use,” that is, 20,000 square feet of retail space with apartments on the top floor.

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Furia’s original application was denied by the zoning board in Oct. 2016 after a series of hearings that took 14 months. The application, which underwent many revisions, was to build retail establishments fronting on Main Road with apartments above, combined with the 20-unit townhouse complex to the rear. Due to the adjustments required, Furia brought his application to the zoning board of adjustment.

Changes to the drawings that were shown at the Oct. 5, 2016 zoning board meeting included decreasing the number of townhouse buildings to three instead of four, and the number of units was decreased to 20 from 23. The mixed-use building on Route 202 has 4,000 square feet of commercial space and three residential apartments above.

These revised plans were also shown to the township committee at the Feb. 14 meeting, where Schepis asked for re-zoning.

Schepis presented his client’s case, stating that the development supports the tenets of the TCMP because it facilitates economic development in Towaco, “creates aesthetic enhancements that facilitate a sense of place,” and expands the range of housing choices, among other goals stated in the TCMP.

Schepis further presented testimony from the zoning board hearings which included the development’s “cash positive” effect on the township and the fact that it would only generate three school-age children, thus not substantially impacting the Montville Township school district. Schepis said it “seemed to make more sense to have residential [townhouses] up against residences [the residences along Brook Lane],” rather than the large commercial building allowed in the master plan. He further stated that a commercial building situated behind others on 202 would result in a “ghost town” because it would not be spotted by potential shoppers.

Mayor Jim Sandham said the proposal had three hurdles: the committee referring it to the planning board, the planning board recommending it to the committee with possible changes, and then the committee accepting it. Township Attorney Fred Semrau was quick to point out that the planning board’s recommendation is non-binding. Sandham called the land “too valuable not to use.”

The committee voted unanimously to refer the proposed zoning change to the planning board.

“L.E.A.D.”

Committee Member Deb Nielson, who is liaison to the Drug Awareness Council-Municipal Alliance (DAC), said the council is interested in a program called “L.E.A.D.,” which stands for law enforcement against drugs. It is a successor to the DARE program, which stands for drug abuse resistance education.

The program involves training a police officer for five days, who then goes into schools and “effectively does a character education program,” Sandham said. The program is ten weeks, he said. The question is whether the program should be administered at the fifth grade, middle school or high school level, Sandham said. Further, he didn’t know if the board of education would agree to the time.

Committee Member and former chief of police Richard Cook said the DARE program required two officers and the schools had a hard time finding the time to fit the program in to their schedule. He said spring is state testing time.

Nielson and Sandham, with the committee’s approval, asked Township Administrator Victor Canning, with Police Chief Rudy Appelmann, to look into the program to see what kind of staffing commitment it would require.

Museum

Deputy Mayor Frank Cooney asked for an update about the museum and Assistant Administrator June Hercek said the position of curator had been posted to the Boonton Historical Society to be posted with the League of Historical Societies. Cooney asked about the missing sign out front and Nielson said a grant had been approved in 2013 for a new sign. Administration will look in to the situation.

Street Signs

The Towaco Civic Association will be donating funds towards purchasing new street signs in the Towaco section of the township. The committee agreed to set aside $20,000 in the budget towards replacing street signs on major thoroughfares in all three sections of towns in the same style, for a total of approximately 46 signs. The committee will be establishing a plan as to which streets count as “major thoroughfares.” The photo of the proposed sign is included in the gallery of this story.

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