MONTVILLE, NJ – Mayor Rich Conklin promised news in the near future to residents who attended the March 26 Montville Township Committee meeting. Residents have put pressure on the committee at the prior three meetings and did not stop at this one, asking once again about a parcel of land located at 205-207 Changebridge Road which reportedly has a contract between the Diocese of Paterson and a “shovel-ready” senior housing complex the Allegro Company wants to build. Area residents would like the committee to authorize open space funds be used to purchase the land, however the committee is showing resistance to publicly indicate what actions will be taken in the matter on the advice of Township Attorney Fred Semrau. Three former mayors, Tim Braden, John Rosellini and Jim Sandham, have appeared at the meetings and spoken during public session regarding purchasing the land. Rosellini has openly criticized the township committee for its use of open space funds to build and maintain structures on open space lands. These uses are supported by the open space ordinance but that has not deterred him.

Resident Irene Farkas came to the microphone and said the petition asking the committee to purchase the land is now at more than 600 signatures.

“Interest is not waning,” she told the committee. “[The number of signatures] has almost doubled in the last month. The contract between the developer and the Diocese is more than three years old. We question, what is the harm in moving forward in the eventuality that that contract ends? What is the harm in doing an appraisal?”

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Conklin replied that 600 signatures “get our attention,” and the committee was doing its due diligence. The situation has been sent to the Open Space Committee for consideration, he said, as well as the Land Conservancy, which is an organization that the township contracts with for advice in such matters, for a “professional opinion.”

“We are ‘laymen’ up here,” he told Farkas. “Legal is also doing some things. I don’t want to speak about it but they are looking at all avenues of it. In the near future we will have a little more for you.”

Former mayor Jim Sandham came to the microphone to say that despite former mayor John Rosellini’s request at the last township committee meeting, open space should be purchased for additional reasons than to keep it from being developed.

Sandham said that the 1997 open space referendum stating “the township shall maintain and improve a system of public recreation including parks, open space and playgrounds […] for the establishment, maintenance and improvement of the public recreation system” was passed when Rosellini was mayor.

“There’s intelligence behind it, to be honest, because you don’t just buy property and let it not [be] maintained,” Sandham said. “For Rosellini to come forward and say that money [for maintenance] is misappropriated is entirely inappropriate.”

Sandham said that in his 12 years on the township committee, the committee evaluated between 10 and 12 properties that the Open Space Committee had listed and prioritized. The 205-207 Changebridge parcel was not on the list and was not considered for its open space potential, because it has no use for recreation, he said.

“[Don’t] buy a piece of property to stop development; you don’t buy a piece of property so it can be farmed forever,” he said.

Sandham said in 2006 when he came on the township committee, the debt service (interest) on open space purchases was greater than the open space tax money being received by $30,000 to $50,000 per year, but the committee still looked at properties and used state and county funds, purchasing 39 acres on Millers Lane, which had recreation opportunity. Another 10-acre property was purchased on River Road, which would have caused flood damage, and once again county and state funds were used, he said.

Many purchases were made before he and Deb Nielson came onto the township committee, some good and some bad, he said.

“Under the definition of the referendum, paying $525,000 for two acres of wetlands which are restricted from use doesn’t promote recreation ability,” he said. “What it did do was prevent the owner of a property from having more impervious coverage utilization with those two other acres. So some former elected officials used open space funds to inhibit development.”

It’s difficult to turn down resident requests, but economic value has to be evaluated, whether the purchase will alleviate a problem, whether the purchase will increase adjacent open space, and most importantly, if it has recreational use and will benefit the entire town, Sandham said.

Conklin reiterated that due diligence was being done, and a decision would be made when all information comes in.

“As of today, that parcel is zoned for five or six single family homes,” he said.

Other News

Township Administrator Victor Canning asked that $350,000 that had been earmarked for removing municipal gas pumps at 86 River Road be changed in the budget for the repaving budget, to add more roads to the list. The township committee agreed unanimously. To report a pothole see: Potholes got you down?

The committee further discussed a demolition by neglect ordinance.

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