Planning Board Sued After Denying Development

Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan

  HOWELL – A lawsuit filed on behalf of the developer of primarily wooded land located at Michele Boulevard and Ramtown-Greenville Road contends the local planning board’s rejection of its subdivision application was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

  Wadsworth Development, LLC, represented by attorney Michael W. Herbert, called upon the court to either grant preliminary major subdivision approval or compel Howell Township’s Planning Board to do so.

  The developer wants to build eight single-family homes facing Michele Boulevard and has also requested a 2.01-acre subdivision for a lot with an existing house facing Ramtown-Greenville Road. The subdivision application allotted 10.03 acres on the northern portion of the property to be used as open space.

  Michele Boulevard is a small street in the Ramtown section of Howell, containing homes with a minimum of 3,200 square feet of living space and an excess of 2 acres of property. A four-bedroom, three-bathroom house on Michele Boulevard sold for $920,000 in July of this year.

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  The Planning Board conducted three separate public hearings on Wadsworth’s application on November 4, 2021, December 16, 2021, and April 28, 2022. All of the hearings were held using remote access on the Zoom platform.

Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan

  Property owners of Michele Boulevard residences pay membership fees as part of the Michele Boulevard Homeowners Association. From all accounts, the $80 monthly rate goes to dealing with stormwater management issues. Unfortunately, HOA members claim they’re already experiencing problems and feel additional development will cause more issues with runoffs.

  Joe Mauer, who identified himself as the president of the Michele Boulevard HOA, spoke at the hearings. Mauer detailed the existing trouble with a failed catch basin and drainage issues that he felt would be further impacted if the project went through as planned.

  Mauer added his personal opinions that Wadsworth’s development plans did not fit in from an aesthetic viewpoint. The HOA president also felt an increase in traffic on Michele Boulevard could present safety issues for neighborhood pedestrians and bicyclists.

  “It disrupts the character of the neighborhood,” said Mauer. “We’re talking about the lot frontage sizes. We have 200 feet where we have four houses; there are eight houses going there…and it doesn’t look right…it’s very odd looking.”

  While other Michele Boulevard homeowners expressed similar concerns to Mauer, environmental issues also surfaced. At the December 16, 2021 hearing, Wadsworth’s environmental expert, Dr. Thomas Hundt, PE, LSRP, testified with respect to a 1,000 gallon storage tank that no exceedances were found in the soil. Samples taken in the area of three above-ground storage tanks also came back negative.

  Additional Michele Boulevard residents showed up at the April 28, 2022 to reiterate their opposition to the homes facing their street. Some homeowners said they appreciated Wadsworth’s decision to rectify plans for a larger buffer with more trees remaining on Michele Boulevard. Nonetheless, others felt that the larger driveways and trees on permeable pavement created an additional problem.

  “Permeable pavement only works when it’s kept at optimal conditions,” Michele Boulevard resident Jason Asch asserted. “Who’s going to maintain this product in an optimal condition?”

  The planning board ultimately refused to grant Wadsworth’s application for a variety of reasons. Among them was that the proposal called for the removal of a substantial number of trees on the open space lot and also lead to the development of a stormwater structure. Not only would this not promote the preservation of contiguous open wooded space, but its benefit would also only be to the applicant – and not the public.

  Stormwater management appeared to be a major factor in denying the application as the planning board said that “connecting another stormwater management system to a failed stormwater management system” would be detrimental on several accords to the Michele Boulevard community.

  One of the exhibits to Herbert’s court filings included a letter sent to the attorney weeks after the final Planning Board hearing. Using the pseudonym “Anonymous Howell,” the author suggested the attorney get a hold of text/phone records, claiming Planning Board members turned off their personal computer’s cameras and microphones during remote meetings for private discussions.

The developer wants to build eight single-family homes facing Michele Boulevard in the wooded area across from existing homes. (Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan)

  With pandemic regulations, it’s not unusual to see public officials on their home computers, muting themselves due to background noise.

  The letter writer also charged that select Planning Board members visited current Michele Boulevard residents to ask them to back off on their opposition to the project. It remains to be seen whether or not there’s any validity to the nameless claims.

  Robert Nicastro was the only planning board who was not present when the board voted to deny the Wadsworth application on June 16, 2022. There’s no way of knowing if Nicastro’s absence had anything to do with “Anonymous Howell’s” additional claim that Nicastro had a conflict in the application.

  It will be up to the courts to determine whether Wadsworth’s subdivision warrants further review or upholds its denial.