MONTVILLE, NJ – Despite a decrease in the number of variances sought and a decrease in the number of townhouses to be built, owner Dan Furia’s application to develop 20 townhouses plus retail property at the corner of Route 202 and Indian Hill Road in Towaco was denied by a 2-5 vote by the township zoning board on Oct 5.

Members cited concerns that the application entailed re-zoning the area and did not want to set a precedent for changing what the Towaco Center Master Plan (TCMP) has indicated.

Testimony regarding this application began in August of 2015 and focused on traffic, storm water waste management, parking spaces, building height and garage layouts.

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But by far the most hotly debated portion of the townhouse proposal was its location. The front portion of the land in question falls in the “Restricted Aquifer” zone, and the rear portion falls in the “Prime Aquifer” zone.

Hydrogeologist Vincent Uhl testified that test results showed that the prime aquifer actually lies to the north and east of the proposed site, despite the zoning designation. Uhl is an expert whose company has often worked with Montville Township regarding the aquifer.

Residents who came to the microphone at many of the hearings stated their concerns for the effect of the project on the drinking water of the town.

Much of the testimony during the hearings also centered on the Towaco Center Master Plan, adopted in 2010. The TCMP helps guide zoning decisions for the area. Residents, board members, and the applicant’s professionals referred to it consistently as their reference guide because it details the vision for what Towaco’s town center could become. The Plan was assembled following a series of public meetings between 2002 to 2007.

According to the TCMP, conforming use for the site is “mixed use,” that is, 20,000 square feet of retail space with apartments on the top floor.

Furia’s application was to build retail establishments fronting on Main Road with apartments above, combined with the 20-unit townhouse complex to the rear.

The site is about nine acres, and only approximately three would be built upon; Furia had intended to dedicate the remaining six to the township in a conservation easement according to testimony given by Marc Walker, Furia’s planner.

Walker called the proposal a “less intense use for the property.”

Changes to the drawings that were shown at the Oct. 5 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.

More than 6,000 sq. ft. of green space were added to the drawings to allay board members’ fears that residents would have no public open space, which also removed one of the variances sought. The new plan proposed 22 common-area parking spaces, thus removing another variance the applicant was seeking.

Lot lines were eliminated, thus eliminating the need for a variance for impervious coverage.

A variance was sought for the proposed height of the townhouse buildings in the back because they would have surpassed the 25-foot allotment by more than 10 percent; Walker stated the maximum height would have been 30.66 feet tall.

Residents had expressed concern about both the height and impervious coverage issues at prior meetings.

In his closing statement, Furia’s attorney Steven Schepis stated that the Towaco Center Master Plan is “alive and happening,” and a crucial part of the plan is the residential component. Without the residential, the commercial portion will fail, because there is too much commercial development in the Towaco Center-1 Zone and not enough residential development, he said.

“We have too many shops and stores,” he said. “How many nail salons within a two-block walking distance can you have? There’s not enough residential [development].”

“Somebody has to step up and adjust the zoning in order to accommodate what is the vision in the Towaco Center Master Plan,” Schepis said.

Schepis said the TCMP envisioned 54,000 sq. ft. of commercial space but now there’s 64,000 sq. ft. with another 4,000 on the way. He said the TC-1 Zone is designed to have 45 residential units, but only three have been developed so far.

Schepis said putting apartments above commercial in the back behind the buildings on Main Road “would be a failure,” and that this proposal would be creating the residential component that “nobody else wanted to create.” He also said that “walking down the street, you will see the streetscape envisioned in the Master Plan.”

Schepis stated that having residences in the back on the Brook Lane side would be quieter than having loud restaurants open late hours, which he implied could be built under the current zoning.

“This is an opportunity […] to create and fulfill the vision that was put forth in the TCMP and provides for something that might not comply to the letter of the ordinance, but adheres to the spirit of the Master Plan and even to the spirit of the ordinance,” Schepis said. “This is an opportunity for this board to create the town center that the township has envisioned. If this opportunity is passed by, it may not present itself again.”

Board Member-Alternate Ron Soussa was one of the two who voted in support of the project. He commented, “[Township Planning consultant] Mr. Joseph Burgis drafted the TCMP. The focus was to encourage residential development, which is needed for a symbiotic relationship. You can’t have a [transit] village without people living there. The question is whether they are in apartments or townhouses.”

 “The Planning Board spent a great deal of time within the last few years to come out with the Master Plan and the TCMP,” said Board Member Kurt Dinkelmeyer. “We have a history of respecting and considering what the Planning Board decides. We don’t have the authority to re-zone.”

Board Member Deane Driscoll called it “the most difficult decision” he’s had to make in the last 17 years.

To read the Towaco Center Master Plan, click: TCMP

To read TAPinto Montville’s coverage of the:

Aug. 5, 2015 meeting – original proposal described

Dec. 2, 2015 meeting – testimony of adjacent landowner, economic analysis testimony

Feb 3, 2016 meeting – traffic and aquifer

April 6, 2016 meeting – aquifer, price, storm water, master plan

Aug 3, 2016 meeting – drawings, garage depth, master plan