The better part of the mayor and council meeting Tuesday was spent discussing a potential development in New Milford by S. Hekemian Group under New Milford Redevelopment Associates LLC, which could potentially have adverse affects on Oradell residents.
Oradell resident Mary Lang, a member of the Oradell Planning Board, addressed the plans for a 70,500 sq. ft. Shoprite supermarket, 4300 sq. ft. bank, and a four-story 221 unit multi-family housing complex with a 428-space multi-level parking garage at the intersections of Madison Avenue, Main Street, River Road and John D. Cecchino Drive.
The 13-acre property is owned by United Water.
“A development of this size, a 221-residential unit here in Oradell that might be about an 8-10 block radius of our town, equates to almost 600 residents,” said Lang. “I believe that could put a strain on our environmental management system and [emergency] response.”
Based on her review of the plans, reports, the adopted and approved meeting minutes, and attendance of a special meeting, Lang concluded the development will significantly increase traffic to the area, and possibly create unsafe conditions if emergency vehicles cannot get in and out of the area especially in the event of flooding.
As a member of the Environmental Circulation Committee, Lang said she volunteered to take a closer look at the details regarding the development after an Oradell resident expressed concerns during the last Planning Board meeting in August, and affects the development could have on neighboring municipalities.
“The property in New Milford is zoned as a single-family residence, and most of us have seen the SOD signs up, which is ‘Stop Over Development’ by New Milford, and some residents of Oradell have partaken in that,” Lang said. “When I look this review I wanted to look at it from the standpoint of what our rights are as a town. I really think it is our responsibility as a town, and we can certainly have an impact on the decision.”
According to Lang, neighboring municipalities have the right to submit a letter to another town stating its opinion, and can provide experts to fight for or against a development when the bordering development in question can have an impact, negative or positive.
Lang made several recommendations to the mayor and council regarding the application:
- Have Oradell’s Office of Emergency Management review the project to determine the impact to emergency vehicles especially in a flood scenario.
- Review the potential affect of traffic on River Road and Elm Street.
- Voice concerns to the Department of Environmental Protection before the developer applies for a flood hazard permit.
- Hire experts to monitor the progress and changes of the application.
Lang also said time is of the essence because an expert brought in by the Borough of Oradell will only have the public session of the meeting to cross examine experts brought in by the developer. Once the public session is closed, only the New Milford zoning board can ask witnesses further questions, according to Lang.
Councilman Edward Pfleging said while the potential traffic could pose a problem for Oradell residents, he was more concerned with the environmental impact and pollution from idling vehicles, and presenting hard data backing up the concerns of Oradell residents.
“I don’t think they looked at our impact. I don’t think they care about Oradell’s impact. So I think it’s very hard to go and give testimony, I don’t care who you are, on the impact if you don’t know what it is. It’s congested,” said Pfleging. “It’s their feeling about it based on what they read, but what they read is all on New Milford and their impact.”
Council President James Koth agreed with Pfleging, adding the Borough needs legal representation to determine what experts will be needed based on the application.
“If the Borough wants to protect any rights we have in this case, we need to have our attorney represent us,” said Koth. “If we were to make that decision, we should charge the attorney with analyzing the project and what support documents he made need to look at the impact that may face Oradell.”
Koth estimates the cost of hiring the Borough Attorney to analyze the data and create a team of experts to represent Oradell at the New Milford Zoning Board could cost Oradell approximately $10,000-15,000.
“I think we have an obligation to the residents of this town, even if it [legal costs] screws up the budget,” said Mayor Joseph Murray. “As a resident of Oradell, it’s more important - we want to make sure this town is protected.”
New Milford Redevelopment Associates first submitted the application for bulk use variances and site plan approval in January 2012.
S. Hekemian Group could not be reached for comment. As of Monday night, had been contacted by Peter Hekemian who revealed that , the original offer he made to the town in April of 2011 is still on the table.
The included a 145-space parking lot for use by the borough and school district, and a graded field that could be developed into a soccer field, as well as a new Shoprite, a family restaurant, bank and 10,000 square feet of commercial space for local merchants.
There will be a special meeting of the zoning board dedicated entirely to the hearing of the proposed development on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 7pm in borough hall.