MONTVILLE, NJ – While Feb. 26 had been designated as the public hearing for the Avalon Bay project in Pine Brook which the Montville Township Committee was set to sign as part of its affordable housing plan, the township announced during the meeting that they would not be holding the hearing due to some last-minute changes.

The township had reached a tentative agreement with the company to build 349 rental units on the former site of the GI Auto Body yard in Pine Brook adjacent to Route 46 west, and as part of the agreement, 52 of the units would be part of the affordable housing plan, according to the township’s sub-contracted planner, Joseph Burgis of Burgis Associates. The ordinance would take away age-restricted zoning designation.

Township Attorney Fred Semrau said that an ordinance would be re-introduced, based on an “updated plan with some changes, so the committee is withdrawing the version that was up for consideration.” There will be another public hearing at a later date, he said. Burgis said there were “minor adjustments” to be made to the proposal “in order to make it acceptable to all parties concerned.” He also said that the litigation with Fair Share Housing is going well.

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Purchasing Parcel on Changebridge Road

Kathy Gaspar asked during public portion what had happened when a letter was sent to the Diocese of Paterson inquiring about 205-207 Changebridge Road. Many residents had come to the last meeting to ask that the parcel be purchased using open space funds to keep it from being developed, although an application for a senior care facility will likely be filed for the site. (Read about the meeting here.)

Semrau responded stating the property is under contract, and the diocese is not interested in selling to the township. Irene Farkas came to the microphone and stated that an appraisal of the property would not be unusual and an offer can still be made, but Semrau said that the township didn’t want to make it seem as if it were interfering with a landowner’s rights. He said if the contract fell through, the township could make an offer, but he advised the committee not to discuss any intention for appraisals or other actions in public.

Former Mayor John Rosellini addressed the committee and said he disagreed with Semrau. He said that properties that were purchased in the past for open space had actually been under contract and had been appraised while under contract. He urged the committee “not to be afraid” to do so.

“My point is, there’s something called negotiations,” Rosellini said. “When you look at [this] property, more than half of that is truly wetlands. And they’re using that square footage to come up with the largest size building they potentially can. And they’re going to go to the zoning board. No one’s telling them they can’t go to the zoning board. None of you up there is going to tell the zoning board what to say or what to do, or not to listen to them, or to stall it. And that’s what you have to be careful of. But it doesn’t mean you can’t continue forward and you can’t try to buy some of this land.”

Rosellini said there are rumors of 300 townhouses being built at the end of Jean Drive in Towaco, and when residents hear about the potential senior facility plus the Avalon Bay development, they are “looking to you for some leadership again in the acquisition of land.”

Rosellini stated that the open space money should be used for purchasing land, not improving playgrounds, and he asked that money be taken from the general fund account to pay for the playground renovation, thus freeing up money for land purchasing. He said that the township has had open space debt as high as $31 million, and the voters had always voted for the debt.

“It wouldn’t be hard to get the two-cent open space tax back on the referendum,” Rosellini said. He called the 2014 referendum deceiving because a “yes” vote “for open space” was actually reducing the open space tax levy by two cents. He asked the committee to hold a meeting and invite the CFO to discuss open space.

Conklin said he recognized that there is a petition with 500-600 signatures on it.

“Any steps we can take, we will take,” he said. “We haven’t heard from the open space committee yet; we’re going to take their recommendation. There’s wheels turning.”

Committee Member Richard Cook said that the township is in better shape now because it has begun to pay off debt service on past purchases. Up until 2014, the debt service and the tax levy were equal, he said.

“We’ve now started to pay off some bonds,” he said. “Before that, there wasn’t any money. You’re taking in $1.6 [million] and you’re spending $1.6 and in some years $1.7. But it’s cleared up, so we do have some flexibility.”

Township Administrator Victor Canning pointed out that the referendum’s wording allows for playground improvements to be made with open space funds.

Budget

Township Administrator Victor Canning reported that the capital improvements budget is still being worked on and the following items were added:

  • fire-resistant cabinets for sensitive documents for the clerk’s office
  • IT upgrades
  • carpet and flooring upgrades for the Public Safety Building due to some tripping hazards
  • a clock for Towaco Center

He stated that the budget was below the Long-Term Planning Committee’s recommendation, and still is.

“We try not to borrow more than we pay down in debt,” he said. “I’m happy to say that even with the inclusion of these four items, we’re still below that level.”

Playground Update

Canning said that the playground at the Community Park is being finalized.

“When the children come to utilize it in the spring, I’m most certain they’ll be delighted beyond anyone’s imagination,” he said. “I want to commend Recreation Director Lori Dent.”

The final cost was $653,968, he said. Landscaping and “final cleaning up” need to be done by the DPW, he said. The approximate opening date will be early April with a “grand opening” ceremony, Assistant Township Administrator June Hercek said.

JCP&L

Committee Member Matthew Kayne said he would be “remiss” if he didn’t mention the “continued blackouts” in town. He said JCP&L has stated they will be making upgrades to the area and he will be “watching to see that there will be significant results in fewer power outages going forward.” He said about 500 homes lost power over the weekend and that was “too many.”

Other News

Canning and Hercek applied for a grant to replace both sets of automatic doors at the Senior House so that they are automated and ADA-compliant, and for security upgrades for that facility.

Conklin said he would like to support a resolution sent to state legislators for an incentive to help the emergency service units in town to get more volunteers. Committee members stated their support for it. The committee has also been working on a “demolition by neglect” ordinance for a year and he would like it to move forward.

Committee Member June Witty asked about discussions regarding an ordinance to keep the marijuana industry out of the township, and Semrau said that it would have to wait until the 90-day window following the state’s adoption of such a law.

“The proposed legislation basically voids all actions that are taken that pre-date it by municipalities saying that there’s a ban or some type of zoning ban, so you’d have an opportunity to discuss it once the legislation’s adopted,” Semrau advised. “There’d be a window, at least the way it’s proposed. We’re monitoring it very closely.”

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