BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Following an earlier planner's report and comments from the public - including input from former township officials who offered some words of caution - the Bernards Township Planning Board has put its stamp of approval on an application seeking to designate the Millington Quarry as a state redevelopment site.

The matter is now back with the Township Committee about whether to proceed with the application, which proponents say will help jumpstart a new use for the quarried land, and also give the township more say in what eventually ends up on the 180-acre property mostly depleted quarry site off Stonehouse Road.

Quarry site is largest undeveloped tract in Bernards Township

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The largest undeveloped tract in the township. has for all intents and purposes ended its life as a quarry, the use which it had for about a century. "The Planning Board finds that all or nearly all rock that could be mined and sold commercially has been mined and sold and, after over 100 years of mining operations, the property is no longer viable as a commercial mining enterprise," says the resolution written by Planning Board Attorney Jonathan Drill.

The resolution, approved by the board at its January meeting, confirms the Planning Board's recommendation to the Bernards Township Committee that the township should declare the quarry site a "non-condemnation redevelopment area" under state standards, meaning that the property would not need to be condemned before being declared in need of redevelopment.

Township Mayor Gaziano added last week that the advantages of gaining status as a state redevelopment site would be further examined when the issue comes before the Township Committee again. As of last week, she said the matter had not yet been scheduled to come before the governing body.

The resolution agreed with a planning report submitted last December that gave several reasons for seeking to make the quarry property a state-designated redevelopment site. Among the main reasons were that industrial building to support the mining operation had been demolished or would no longer be used for commercial purposes; and the condition of the property itself, including large areas of exposed rock devoid of topsoil, as well steep rocky cliffs.

"This topography is in stark contrast to the land underlying the residential neighborhoods adjoining the property," the resolution states. Last year, when the idea was first floated before the Township Committee, the combination of eventual residential property, with some commercial and recreational usage, was discussed for the former quarry site.

The board's attorney, Jonathan Drill, said the plan recognized and incorporated comments from an earlier public hearing on the proposal in December.

A number of people, including former Township Mayor Bill Allen and Ann Parksekian, a former member of the Bernards Township Planning Board who sat through many quarry rehabiltiation plan meetings, both urged the board to require the Millington Quarry owners to meet its responsibilities to make the property suitable for redevelopment. 

In a list of concerns presented to the Planning Board in December, Allen asked, "What happens if this redevelopment process does not produce an approved plan for development? It is reasonable to assume that responsibility for meeting the requirements of the current rehab plan, or a successor rehab plan, will remain with the current property owner." His letter to the board that night requested that that the Millington Quarry's responsibility be confirmed.

Allen, Parsekian and other speakers noted that the quarry has been given the responsibility for cleaning up parts of the property that tested as contaminated after the quarry's operator trucked in soil as "fill" for steeply quarried areas. The township's efforts to stop contaminated soil from coming into the site led to legal action that was eventually settled.

The resolution approved by the Planning Board notes that remediation of soil is currently underway, and that about 40 acres will eventually be capped with rock shale and kept devoid of soil. The resolution said the portion of the property undergoing rehabilitation was "quite small" compared with the entire property, and that future homes would not be near that area.

Drill's final resolution included Allen's advisement to recognize the "severe slopes and dangerous rock-face cliff on the northerly and easterly side of the property adjacent to the NJ Transit railroad line."

Allen also said that the quality of water that would be expected to fill in a proposed lake in the deepest quarrying pit is "the really big elephant in the room." The resolution approved in January said such issues are beyond the scope of the Planning Board's recommendations at this time, and should be approached instead in a future redevelopment plan.

The resolution reference comments in December by the board's planner, David Banisch, and a township resident, John Crane, that redevelopment of the land in its current condition would mean that building homes on two-acre lots, for which the property would be zoned after its life as a quarry, would be "quite high" in costs, and not likely to be developed through private investment alone.