Traffic and Aquifer Impact Testimony Continue Regarding Townhouses in Towaco

Shops on Main and Accompanying Townhouses Credits: Dykstra Walker Design Group drawing

MONTVILLE, NJ – Traffic engineer John Desch testified at the Zoning Board of Adjustment Feb. 3 that if the proposed townhouse development is built in Towaco, there will be no adverse impact on traffic.

Prior testimony regarding the proposed 23 townhouse development can be read here: December meeting and August meeting.

Desch, who is a professional engineer and planner with John Desch Associates, testified that traffic in that area is at a “level D” now, on a scale of “A” having “very little impact” or traffic and “F” meaning delayed traffic or an increase in delay.

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After the project is built, there will be a “level F” traffic condition, but, “Our computers can optimize the signal timing,” said Desch. “If the timing is altered, just slightly, you can actually increase the level of service over what’s there now.”

Since Route 202/Main Road is maintained by Morris County, Desch urged the Zoning Board to have the county check the signal timing in order to decrease the traffic conditions that currently exist when cars travel under the railroad underpass on Fire Station Road and emerge onto Route 202 on the post office side.

Regarding other aspects of the development site, Desch said that County Engineer Christopher Vitz deemed the site distance for the proposed driveway to be adequate. He also stated that the architect for the site, Mark Walker, revised the plan so that parking spaces in the rear were easier to access, and had increased in overall number.

“This project, based on my analysis, will not cause an adverse impact on the existing traffic on the roadway, and would be, in my opinion, much better than if the development were to be constructed that met the conforming uses for this zone,” said Desch. The “conforming uses” include approximately 20,000 square feet of retail space and 23 apartments above the retail building.

Resident Mike Parson approached the microphone during public input portion to state his opinion that traffic will increase, and Desch stated, “We try to give the best estimate as to the delay and the congestion created by this site at that site but […] we’re talking about uses that are permitted or better than permitted without any variances.”

However, upon questioning, Zoning Board Member Kenneth Shirkey confirmed the dates that Desch conducted the baseline traffic count in Towaco and stated that he noticed Desch’s employee with a clipboard, conducting the actual count.

“I was stuck in traffic due to construction for gas line installation when I saw your man,” Shirkey told Desch. “At the same time, the county was milling the pavement on 202.”

This is a problem because Board Engineer Stanley Omland testified that traffic counts are to be taken on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, not on holiday weekends, not when accidents have occurred, not during construction, and not when detours exist.

Shirkey stated that Desch’s baseline counts of traffic were therefore “skewed,” because many drivers would avoid that area knowing they would get stuck in traffic, but Desch insisted his count was consistent with counts that Morris County had taken in May of 2014. Desch further stated that if normally there were, in fact, more traffic traveling the road, building the townhouse development would result in less impact on traffic in the area because the percentage increase would be lower.

Aquifer Ramifications

Licensed professional engineer Mark Gimigliano of Dykstra Walker Design Group also testified regarding modifications to the site layout plan. They included additional landscaping, safety fencing on top of retaining walls, and revised parking spaces which included increasing parking by two spaces. The state requires 53 spaces for this development, while 58 are proposed.

Zoning Board Engineer Stanley Omland issued a memo on Jan. 27 listing 17 concerns that Gimigliano went through and addressed in his testimony. In the memo, Omland questioned the effect of the proposed development on critical water resources (CWR), because part of the land being used for this proposed development is on top of the Towaco Valley Aquifer. The front portion of the land in question falls in the “Restricted Aquifer” zone, and the rear portion falls in the “Prime Aquifer” zone, which actually has more stringent impervious restrictions. Both zones have stricter storm water management guidelines.

Gimigliano stated his office excavated soil “all over the site. In the ‘prime aquifer district’ there is no excavation allowed within four feet of high groundwater table. In general we found shallow soils over highly fractured bedrock.”

Gimigliano testified that groundwater hydrology firm Uhl & Associates was hired to determine the “seasonal high water table,” and professional hydrogeologist Vincent Uhl concluded “the aquifer was lower than the development that is proposed and there will be no excavation within four feet of the groundwater area. So we are compliant with the critical water resource ordinance,” said Gimigliano.

Gimigliano further testified that while there is a trash enclosure behind building “B,” with a storm-water inlet immediately next to it, “there are facilities that will intercept and clean any storm water that comes off of that dumpster area. With proper maintenance, there will be no impact on storm-water runoff as a result of that dumpster location.”

Omland raised concerns in his memo that storm-water would not drain in the 72 hours required by ordinance due to the bedrock at the site, but Gimigliano stated that the bedrock is “sufficiently fractured.”

“At the back of the project we’re proposing a groundwater recharge area to meet the storm water requirements in the ‘prime aquifer district.’ The system will be set just above the bedrock. The silty soil will meet the 72-hour drain-time requirement, but the bedrock is significantly fractured and will drain much faster than that. It’s our opinion that it will meet the drain-time requirement,” he said.

Omland then stated, “This zoning that was put in place by the governing body through the Planning Board studies and Master Plans took a lot of time, and I don’t want to give the critical water resources and the aquifer short shrift. I want to make sure for the public and the board that the applicant meets the test of the ordinance.”

Omland then commended Gimigliano for retaining the Uhl agency because Montville Township had utilized that agency to write the original aquifer ordinances.

“We have a great deal of faith in [Uhl] and his conclusions,” Omland said.

Omland asked the Zoning Board attorney Bruce Ackerman if Gimigliano could testify on a report issued by Uhl.

Ackerman stated that an expert report could not be accepted without the testimony of the author.

Omland stated that Gimigliano’s testimony mentioned the “seasonal high water table” but the Uhl report used the terminology “groundwater,” so “his report doesn’t speak to the language of the ordinance he authored, and they are distinctly different.”

“I’m troubled by the conclusion that there are no ‘seasonal high water table’ issues when I don’t know that we have results [from] the ‘seasonal high water table’ season,” stated Omland.

Omland also stated concerns regarding loading zone location, rooftop drainage of some buildings, and erosion if storm water is draining across patios. He also stated that six-foot privacy walls are proposed for the patios of the units, but landscaping walls are required in the ordinance. He further had concerns about the “homeowners association’s ability and funding to ensure that the township standards, in perpetuity, get satisfied.

“You’re putting in underground storm water management here,” Omland said. “And we’re in the CWR. If the HOA fails to maintain [the system] and report [the levels], all the efforts that we [make] to preserve the CWR are lost. There are a number of uncertainties as to who’s maintaining what, who’s paying for what, that I’m concerned about.”

Schepis stated he thought a developer’s agreement would probably be required by the township to deal with such issues.

Board Chair James Marinello told owner Daniel Furia’s lawyer, Steven Schepis, at the meeting that “objectors are in the process of obtaining counsel and will have questions for witnesses that have already appeared.”

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