JACKSON – Another round of testimony was heard concerning the controversial Jackson Parke South application during the latest Planning Board meeting.
This meeting allowed public testimony about the application proposed by EL at Jackson, which is owned by Jack Morris. Morris owns the property of Jackson Parke in the Cassville section of the township.
Morris purchased the property from Hovnanian with the agreement that the property would be written into Jackson Township’s Fair Share housing contract. This agreement granted Jackson Township an easement to run water and sewer lines through several hundred acres between the north and south. Fair share housing involves a rule in New Jersey that every town is responsible to allow builders to make homes that are affordable to those of low-to-moderate incomes.
The proposed project includes building a 549-unit single-family and multi-family development off West Veterans Highway.
Opponents of the application have said this project would devastate wetlands, habitat for the Pineland tree frog, barred owl, and federally protected swamp pink flower.
During the latest meeting the applicant agreed to increase driveway space from 16 square feet to 17. The original application was for 15 square feet but the Planning Board pushed them to increase it to 16. This is another increase..
Board members also wanted the applicant to expand upon recreational offerings within the plan which the applicant said they were willing to work with the Board on.
The session had 27 attendees and many among them expressed their displeasure with the manner in which the application was being heard. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings have been held through Zoom.
Resident Damien Carrillo of Oakland Drive expressed concerns about parking for the development citing the nearby Cooks Bridge development as having parking issues. “I live right past Cooks Bridge. Parking there is such a problem that any given night there are 40 to 60 cars parked along from County Line Road down to the Cooks Bridge development. The cars are parked on the grass and the shoulder.”
Carrillo also brought up the need for having places for children to play. “Kids will find places to play no matter what and they will venture out into those woods over there. I was back in those woods many times with my kids going through the trails. It is in proximity to the Great Adventure Safari. Most of the kids are nice but there is always that bad factor of someone throwing rocks at the animals over the fence.”
“I have well water where I live. I did go to the (Municipal Utilities Authority) and was told it was not going to impact my well at all, in pulling more water out of the aquifer but another 500 and something units that is 1,500 flushes a day. It is only a matter of time before the aquifer gets depleted. At that meeting they said it would go down to 30% which in my opinion is way too low,” Carrillo added.
The applicant’s attorney, Jason Tuvel, said Carrillo’s comments were noted. Daphne Galvin, the applicant’s engineer, said that while there was no site-wide irrigation system there was a preference for irrigation off of a well and that the plan received preliminary approval from the Jackson MUA.
Resident Joseph Ricchiuti asked about the transition to Prospertown Road which Galvin said would change in surface from concrete sidewalk, to concrete curb to a paved sidewalk to an 8-foot-wide dirt path.
Paula Robertson who lives on Swimming Lane also brought up the Cooks Bridge development and the traffic problems that exist there. When Tuvel said the Board had asked the applicant to look at that development, Board Attorney Sean Gertner clarified, agreeing with Robertson’s statement that, “the Cooks Bridge development should be used as an example of what not do.”
“There is glaring problems with the Cooks Bridge development. We look at that as what not to do,” said Mitchell Newman, the applicant’s planner.
“What will this cost us as a town?” Robertson asked regarding additional school resources, fire and police protection and related services.
“That can’t be taken into consideration,” Planning Board Chair Robert Hudak said.
Gertner added that as the plan was a permitted use, meaning that residences can be built there. “The Board is focused on that the environmental and traffic concerns are addressed.”
“I agree with you but we are under a court order (to hear the case),” Hudak told Robertson.
Resident Jeff Nemeth also brought up his dissatisfaction with the use of Zoom as the method to hear the application. He also asked how many units had already been sold in the development.
“None have been sold. We can’t do that until we have all the approvals,” Newman said.
Nemeth brought up accusations against the town’s residents and officials. It is being said that the reason people are opposed to this is because they are being anti-Semitic.
Tuvel would not respond to Nemeth’s comments and questions regarding accusations made toward township officials and the community regarding bias claims.
“We can’t talk about litigation. We’re here to talk about the site plan and subdivision,” Tuvel said.
“It deserves to be answered. I take that personal. That is 60,000 people you are labeling,” Nemeth responded.
“That’s all we can say,” Tuvel answered.
“Everyone has the right to question a project,” Nemeth said. He added that accusing people who are against the development of being prejudiced was “a low life method to get what you want. We waited for over a year to be able to be heard.”
“The court has already addressed the north parcel,” Tuvel said.
Gertner added that his perception was that the northern part of the Jackson Parke project would be heard in the appellate division of the court system.
Eric Hannum asked about additional buffering for the swamp pink area. Buffering is an amount of space between a development and something else.
Newman said if further buffering was required it would be added.
Galvin responded to Eric Hannum’s question regarding what was being done to preserve ponds on Prospertown Road saying, “there are no disturbances in that area.”
Resident Eleanor Hannum was unable to speak during the meeting since she was represented by attorney Alexis Gasiorowski. Her husband was able to ask several questions later in the public comment period.
“We affirm our strong opposition to this meeting format where the developer, its attorneys and experts do not have to face Jackson residents but sit comfortably at home or in their offices completely disconnected to Jackson Township and our concerns,” Hannum said prior to the meeting.
Hannum said previously that during prior testimony by the applicant’s experts regarding parking, the project was “very similar to the Brookfield development off Cooks Bridge Road. This developer was allowed to create a parking nightmare, where residents do not have enough parking, forcing them to park all along Cooks Bridge Road and walk in.”
Hannum heads the citizens group Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods of Jackson and Manchester (CUPON). Gasiorowski, CUPON’s attorney will cross examine the applicant’s professionals during the board’s next meeting.
The plan also calls for importation of more than 77,000 tandem trucks of fill to raise the grade 10 feet in the north, surrounding wetlands and according to opponents of the plan, exhaust overflow of stormwater into the Rova Farms Lake tributary.
Critics of the plan fear this could raise the lake during the rainy season and potentially flood residents downstream.
Environmental concerns were also cited for the first Jackson Parke proposal known as Jackson Parke North which was rejected unanimously by the Planning Board in 2019. That application was for 551 single-family and multi-family homes.
Superior Court Judge Mark Troncone later reversed that decision stating it violated terms of an affordable housing settlement in 2017 that he presided over.
Troncone ordered the Planning Board to rehear and approve the application. The judge also ordered a court monitor to the case regarding Jackson Parke South. Critics of the application say Judge Troncone and the developer have ignored environmental concerns. Critics say the northern and southern sites of Jackson Parke are included within the federally designated Pinelands National Reserve.
This land is just outside the state Pinelands Area which falls under the jurisdiction of the Pinelands Commission. Perrineville Road and West Veterans Highway serve as boundaries for the two project sites and have the same environmental characteristics. Due to this the land is subject to the review of the Pinelands Commission.
The Township Municipal Utilities Authority completed a $15 million, 3 MGD pressure filtration water treatment plant approximately one mile north of the project which will be utilized by Six Flags Great Adventure and other major projects.
The three and a half hour meeting featured the conclusion of testimony by the applicant’s professionals. Further testimony by residents is expected during the next Planning Board meeting, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. on February 8. The Zoom link will be posted on the township’s website, jacksontwpnj.net/.