Green Village Development Proposal

by Pieter B. Ruiter published Mar 07, 2012 12:00 AM, last modified Mar 14, 2014 06:42 PM
BoroGreen attends Hillsborough's Planning Board meeting of 3/1/2012.
Green Village Development Proposal

Green Village designs

Four BoroGreen members attended last nights busy Planning Board meeting to hear more about the proposed Green Village development, across from United Rent-All on Rt.206. The plans propose a 469-unit apartment complex, 130-room extended stay hotel, and a 20,000 square foot retail space on a 50-acre plot along the east side of Rt. 206 and would contain 117 affordable housing units. First, The developer's Engineering lawyer presented how the plans had been adjusted to conform to various agencies' rules and regulations. The Townships engineer and planner clarified some matters. The public was able to pose questions. Next hearing on this development will be on March 22nd, 7:30pm in Court Room at the Municipal Building.

Traffic concerns

More than an hour was spent on safety concerns related to the increase in traffic. These concerns - due to their legal ramifications if wrongful death would ever occur due to improper planning - were shared by the Board, at least where mitigation of traffic patterns was concerned. A possible traffic light – denied by NJ DOT – would mitigate some hazards, as would the removal of the left turn onto 206-South. The property owner Mr. Anatol Hiller conceded the left turn to try to finish testimony on March 22nd, before his application runs out one week later.

The other public concern involved the proposed cutting down of 75% of the trees on the building site, currently a partially wooded lot. Local ordinances would only allow 20% removal for residential development, and 60% removal for commercial development. For this mixed-use proposal, the Planning Board has set a limit of 31%. Any more would require a special waiver.

Runoff, flooding and catchment basins

Clearing the lot of 75% of its trees would lead to increased runoff and potential flooding in surrounding neighborhoods; concerns the developer waved away with reference to proper calculations and abiding by all requirements imposed by multiple agencies. The Township engineer seemed satisfied with this as well. The Planning Board spent some time on whether the basins – some up to seven feet deep to be large enough to deal with the runoff – would require fencing, concluding that it would not. One BoroGreen member proposed fully planting the basins with appropriate plants to partially reduce soil erosion and retain some water for groundwater recharge.

Tree removal – local ordinances do not apply

The amount of tree removal has been a recurring public concern during prior Planning Board hearings, and was again voiced repeatedly during this night’s hearing by various members of the public. The chairman took some time to explain (“again”) that any local tree ordinance is trumped by the controversial Mount Laurel doctrine and related COAH rules: as long as a sufficient amount of affordable housing is included in the proposed plans, any local ordinances regarding trees or density no longer apply. Consequently, the developer has the right to remove any amount of trees and increase the building density as long as other regulations are observed. The chairman also mentioned the specter of a builders remedy lawsuit - where the developer can sue and win its case if the township tries to uphold its tree ordinance. So it does not matter that there may be a local tree ordinance or a possible density limit – the fact that the developer includes a sufficient amount of affordable housing trumps all.

Vision vs. procedure

One courageous member of the public, making an impassioned plea that this plan is not at all what the Hillsborough citizens would like, was forcefully told by the Vice-Chairman to limit his response to questions to the Engineer, or take his seat. Clearly, this plan does not provide for any bike lanes, walkability, or any corridor connections to other parts of Route 206.

A lesson in civic involvement

Rules and regulations define the framework in which developers can operate. 
The only way citizens can influence development of their town is to be involved with what their local planning board is doing, and speak out at the right time, often years before actual proposals are brought to the town for approval. Citizens Campaign may be a great resource to get started.

In this case, Ordinance 2010-11, defining the local requirements for this lot, was opened to public discussion in April 2010 and adopted in May 2010. The Green Village proposal is tailored to adhere to that ordinance.

Although it is unlikely – because of COAH – that any more trees could be saved, additional requirements like bike lanes, larger catchment basins, connecting corridors, or more sidewalks to other neighborhoods might have had a chance. Developers aren’t likely to volunteer such features. They don't have to live here.

Pieter Ruiter
BoroGreen Vice-President

Note: Although nobody mentioned it at the hearing, is interesting to note that COAH has been halted by Governor Christie, and regulations regarding Affordable Housing are in legal limbo for now, with various parties fighting on various fronts. Here’s NJ Spotlight's summary as of 2/25/2012.

BoroGreen is a recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization and consists of a loosely knit community of residents, businesses, congregations and like-minded groups, all contributing to a more sustainable community in and around Hillsborough, NJ.