Heritage Development Faces Opposition At Public Hearing

MANCHESTER – The State Department of Environmental Protection heard from residents about what they thought of Hovsons’ proposed development that could build 4,000 new homes, and many were not happy with the plan.

This is the latest chapter in a saga that began many years ago. At one point, in 2004, Hovsons, the Pinelands Commission, the DEP and Manchester agreed to a settlement for 2,200 homes. This plan would have lead to the development of 995.4 acres, with 6,179.7 acres in the property to be preserved.

Speakers who read from written statements were asked to drop them off for the record. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

However, the developer made another application for 4,000 homes with recreation, a clubhouse, and 40,000 square feet of commercial space. The entrances to the development would come from Route 70 and Colonial Drive. Since it is a new plan, it has to go through the same steps as the last one. One of these steps is a DEP hearing.

A majority of the speakers seemed not to like this plan. They were asked to sign in to give their public comments. The DEP was not making a decision at the hearing, just receiving input.

Marilyn Miller, from Toms River, was the first person called up to speak. She told the DEP how she had lost a friend in a collision on Route 70. The development would cause more traffic on this road.

“Route 70 is a killer,” she said. “This area does not need more vehicles on this road. This is a mega city that is being proposed.”

Patrick Dombroski tells the DEP that the Barnegat Bay is “dead” because of over-development. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

While this was technically a DEP hearing about how the development would impact the wetlands on the site, residents sounded off about the impact to the school system, overtaxed hospitals, volunteer squads and the police department. They also questioned what kind of businesses would go into the 40,000 square feet of commercial, when there are empty storefronts already existing.

Leisure Village West resident Adele Shulman asked why the town had to go through more hearings.

“It’s the same property. The same contamination. Has it ever been cleaned up?” she asked.

Manchester will sometimes have water restrictions in summer months when the homes are drawing a lot of water. She wondered what 4,000 more homes would do to this situation.

“I’ve been an activist for 45 years, longer than some of you have been alive” resident Laurie Errington said. She compared it to the contamination wrought by Ciba-Geigy in Toms River.. “If I have 10 years left, I will fight it for 10 years.”

Peggy Middaugh, of Manchester, said that these tributaries on the property feed the Barnegat Bay. Runoff from the impervious coverage of the development would pollute the already precarious bay.

Barbara Steele, former public affairs director for Ocean County, lives in Manchester and said people moved there to get away from it all. They don’t want a big development.

She also stated that the way these developments go, is that they ask for 4,000 units, and then settle for 3,000, which is still a win for them.

It was not clear if anyone from Hovsons was attending, but several environmental groups were represented. Taylor McFarland of the Sierra Club had a prepared statement. Willie deCamp Jr. and Britta Wenzel of Save Barnegat Bay also spoke. Members of the governing body were in attendance.

Manchester resident Barbara Steele speaks out against the Heritage development. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

“Developments like this define water quality. They define whether it’s getting better or worse,” deCamp said. “Barnegat Bay’s dramatic decline has been because of developments like this.”

He said that Gov. Phil Murphy will hopefully set a different tone when it comes to development and saving open space than his predecessor.

DeCamp said that it is a democracy issue, showing how many people were opposed to it.

There was at least one person in attendance who was for the development. Resident Glen Ward said he raised his family in Manchester, and would like his children to raise their own families in Manchester.

“They can’t buy in the senior communities,” he said. There needs to be a place for them to buy homes and continue to live in the town that they love.

“Fifty years ago, people would be here saying ‘don’t build Leisure Village,’ “ he said.

Comments Still Accepted

The DEP is still accepting written comments by Feb. 23. They could be sent to [email protected] or to NJDEP, Division of Land Use Regulation, P.O. Box 420, Code 501-02A, Trenton, NJ.