10 New Houses, Solar Array Approved Near Wilf Campus By Planning Board

TESTIFYING – Jacqueline Jackson of Lilac Lane tells the Planning Board her thoughts on the Wilf application.

A plan to build 10 single-family homes and install a large solar array on land adjacent to the Wilf Campus for Senior Living on DeMott Lane was reluctantly approved by the Planning Board on May 17.

The project calls for the installation of the bulk of the solar array – which will be used to provide electricity to the Wilf campus – on slightly more than 3 acres, and for the 10 single-family homes to be built on a 4-acre plot.

The application was largely conforming to zoning regulations for the R-20 zone in which the project will sit. The only variances needed were those requested by members of the township’s Technical Review Committee to move some of the single-family homes further away from wetlands.

The project also calls for the removal of hundreds of trees on about 7 acres of the roughly 34-acre tract, a fact which brought out neighbors worried about their properties flooding from hurricanes and other severe storms without those natural stormwater diffusers.

By law, a Planning Board cannot generally reject an application that is conforming to local zoning laws and a town’s Master Plan. That was the dilemma the Board found itself in, according to Board chairman Michael Orsini.

“We could deny it if we wanted to,” Orsini said of the application. “Then they would come back with a conforming application. The only difference between that application and what we are hearing tonight, is that … it would not preserve the even more environmentally sensitive areas to the north.”

“The issues we face tonight are not as clear cut as deny or not,” he said. “It’s a conforming application, but for those variances that staff asked them to apply for.”

Under the plan, Berger Street would be extended into the property and end in a cul-de-sac. The 10 2,1600-square-foot houses would be arranged with three houses on one side of the street and seven houses on the other side.

A number of adjacent property owners showed up to speak against the project. Their objections centered on flood threats posed by the removal of hundreds of trees.

“I’ve lived here for over 18 years,” Annette Shadiack of Buttonwood Drive told the Board. “I have lived through Superstorm Sandy; I’ve lived through Ida. My property has an easement on both sides for the underground storm drains. During Hurricane Sandy, during Ida, Buttonwood drive flooded because the storm drains could not carry water fast enough.”

“I have nothing against a company wanting to remain viable,” she said. “But we do have a very fragile ecosystem in this area, and this application does have the potential of upsetting that.”

Lilac Road resident Louise Gurgui told the Board that she still remembers flooding in her backyard from Hurricane Gloria in the mid-1980s.

“The entire backyard up to our patio was underwater for several days,” she said. “Manhole covers were dancing with the water that was flowing through.”

“Taking out these trees, building new homes … I fully anticipate the road collapsing, homes sinking,” she said. “It’s going to be a major problem. Please consider … how this proposed construction is going to further devastate the area.”

Jacqueline Jackson, also of Lilac Lane, said land next to her property was left vacant “due to the severe flooding of Seeley’s Brook.”

“Proof of the impact of this flooding is evident in the recent damage of the Magnolia Bridge that runs over Seeley’s Brook,” she said. “Magnolia Road was closed from 2021 to 2022. That was due to the flooding damage after Hurricane Ida.”

“Removing all the trees … will remove the absorption of rainfall and the runoff of Seeley’s Brook will be catastrophic to my home and the homes of my neighbors … causing significant flooding impacts,” Jackson said.

Magnolia Road resident Steve Gillooly told the Board that “I think there are better alternatives this developer can use for their property.”

Gillooly also notd that the state Board of Public Utilities “has proposed forbidding cutting down any wetlands for the use of ground-based solar. It isn’t the law yet, but you can see where the state is going. Cutting down forested areas to put up solar panels is not something New Jersey wants to do anymore.”

“This is unnecessary and destructive,” he said. “It is not good for our community, it’s not good for our township.”

“I’m not opposed to solar, I’m opposed to destroying seven acres for the purposes of additional houses in a flood zone, and the additional loss of trees,” he said.

Several Board members said they agreed with Orsini’s comment when he cast his “yes” vote: If it’s denied, he said, the applicant “could come back with a conforming application where we would have no leverage … and it could be worse.”

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