EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Early this morning at the Municipal Center, the East Brunswick Planning Board denied Alfieri Property Management's proposal to build a seven-building apartment complex at the intersection of Tices Lane and Hart's Lane known as Hidden Oaks. The meeting ran past 12:30 and was attended by, according to Mayor Brad Cohen, "people bursting with thoughts and anger."
"You have to give people credit for coming out," said Cohen, of the thirty or more people who stayed for the lengthy meeting. "I am proud that people stuck with it."
The meeting was one of many that addressed the Alfieri proposal. "The process is the same for all applicants, "said Cohen in an interview with TAPinto East Brunswick. "The developer sees itself as an intevener in East Brunswick's Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) mandate. They think they are doing us a favor. We would prefer to spread the housing units throughout the township, reiterating that East Brunswick is required to add 315 units of affordable housing. "!20 will be part of the new construction in the Redevelopment Zone." Work has begun in area 6A of the Redevelopment Zone at 110 Tices Lane, the former Wonder Bread location.
There were two reasons for the denial of the Alfieri proposal.
The first is the lack of a current "Letter of Interpretation" from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection showing that the area is free and clear of wetlands. The last letter for this property was issued in the early 2000's. It was given extensions during the recession in 2008 to stimulate economic growth. However, following an upsurge in building, the letter expired in 2017 and is no longer valid.
According to the NJDEP's Division of Land Use, "Previously misunderstood as wastelands, wetlands are now being recognized for their vital ecological and socioeconomic contributions. Wetlands contribute to the social, economic, and environmental health of our nation in many ways:
Wetlands protect drinking water by filtering out chemicals, pollutants, and sediments that would otherwise clog and contaminate our waters.
Wetlands soak up runoff from heavy rains and snow melts, providing natural flood control. Wetlands release stored flood waters to streams during droughts."
The Wetlands at this location in East Brunswick are part of the Lawrence Brook Watershed, a 48-square-mile area, that extends over parts of 5 municipalities: New Brunswick, East Brunswick, North Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Milltown; it also covers most of Rutgers University's Cook Campus. The whole watershed in located in Middlesex County. (Lawrence Brook Watershed Partnership)
The Planning Board suggested that it is likely that the "standards may have changed" for the footprint of the property and the wetlands might be compromised by building at the location. Indeed, the design features sizeable retaining walls to prevent possible flooding.
The second reason was traffic. Says Cohen, "The area already has a problem with congestion and tough turns. The Planning Board discussed three options with Alfieri for addressing the problem of even greater volume on the roads and at the intersection. The third option which featured widening lanes and an expensive and extensive change of traffic patterns was the "most effective means of fixing the traffic problem," said Cohen. Alfieri Management refused this costly option, so the Planning Board denied the proposal. Coehn said, "It was great to see the Planning Board do the right thing for the town, regardless of the COAH."
The application of Alfieri Property Management has ben officially turned down. What's next, then? According to the Mayor, the developers could re-apply with a whole new application for use of the property. They could seek a new Letter of Interpretation from the NJDEP. Finally, they could take East Brunswick to court to force an override of the Planning Board's decision.
For now, though, the current proposal has been refused, and there will be no new building a the location.