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Proposed 32-Home Cluster Development At Cedar Grove And Amwell Underwhelms Planning Board

Engineer F. Mitchel Ardman describes the proposal to the Planning Board.


A proposed 32-home development at Cedar Grove Lane and Amwell Road didn’t seem to impress the Planning Board when it was presented to its members.

The developer, Anatol Hiller, brought the proposal to the board at its June 21 meeting, not as a formal application, but as a concept.

And the concept left several board members saying, “meh.”

The homes would be clustered on the now-vacant land, located behind Resta’s Shell station, on smaller lots than is allowed in the R-40 residential zone, which calls for minimum 40,000-square-foot lots.

It was the clustering with which some board members had difficulty.

The clustering concept is nothing new for Franklin, according to Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner.

“It’s called a Natural Resource Preservation Cluster subdivision,” Healey said. “It allows them to cluster the lots on one side of the property to make them smaller, so that open space is created on the part that is not going to be developed.”

Several developments in town use that concept, he said, including the homes on Rue Matisse and Rue Cezanne, and the homes abutting Middlebush Park.

The Hiller proposal creates about 11 acres of open space.

“By making the lots smaller and clustering them to one side of the property, the developer gets the same number of lots (they’d be entitled to under the regular zoning), and the township gets the open space,” he said.

The proposal calls for the lots to be 20,000 square feet, but they can be as small as 15,000 square feet, Healey said.

At the meeting, F. Mitchel Ardman, Hiller’s engineer, said the developer “feels that the 20,000 square foot lots fit better with the neighborhood. We think this provides a better plan, with the 20,000-square-foot lots.”

With 15,000 square foot lots, Ardman said, “you’re basically edge-to-edge on your setback. With 20,000, we had enough room to get side entry garages on some of them.”

“The 20,000 does afford you to have a driveway come in on the side,” he said. “It’s going to make it a nicer product.”

Board member Robert Thomas wasn’t impressed.

“I’m not sure you can’t be creative” on the lot size, he said.

“My wishes would be you go back and look at the design and see if you can improve it,” Thomas said. “I’m not against the application, I’m not against the clustering. I just want to see it be the best it can be.”

Board chairman Michael Orsini said that he would like to see the entire property be preserved as open space.

“That makes the most sense from a planning perspective to me,” he said.

The application still has to be brought before several committee in the township, including the Agricultural Advisory Committee, the Environmental Commission and the Open Space Advisory Committee.

Some board members also were not happy with a proposed emergency road emptying onto Cedar grove Lane, near the Amwell Road intersection.

Peter Lanfrit, Hiller’s attorney, said his client would be happy to create several alternative plans – including with 15,000-square-foor lots – and come back to the board before making a formal submission.

Orsini said the board has three options.

“Option number one is we give them guidance that we don’t want the cluster,” he said. “Option number two is we like this plan, so go for it. Option number three is sort of a hybrid, which is, we’re not opposed to a cluster, we have some very valid questions raised, and we’d like the input, given what we raised tonight, for the applicant to go to the other boards.”

“I would recommend that we not necessarily ‘approve’ this tonight, but say we are amenable to a cluster, we think there’s a value, but we’d like you to get the input from the other boards and then come back,” he said.

“And we would be happy to do that, and when we come back, we can give you some other options,” Lanfrit said.

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