Battle for Eagle Ridge draws closer to an end

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    WEST MILFORD—The battle to preserve or develop Eagle Ridge has been going on for nearly 20 years. But recently this piece of land, which sits on Cahill Cross Road near Ridge Road, has become the focal point for the state, county and town. The proposed construction of 288 town homes by K. Hovanian has opponents scrambling for aid from the state's Department of Environmental Protection. The latest act in Eagle Ridge's growing history came from Passaic County Freeholders who passed a resolution on Feb. 22 encouraging New Jersey's DEP to purchase the 70-acre piece of land for preservation. The West Milford council passed an almost identical resolution on Feb. 10. The Green Acres Program provides funding for preservation efforts. Erin Phalon of the DEP further explained, "The Green Acres program acts as the real estate agent for the DEP, acquiring land which has been offered for sale by property owners." The question is how much Green Acres will be willing to pay and whether the land owners, Maria and Wolfgang Winter, would accept the bid. Phalon said "Green Acres pays a fair price. We obtain independent appraisals to assist us in determining the value of properties under consideration for acquisition. In instances when we don't have enough money to offer that amount, sellers may be able to take advantage of tax savings by selling the land for less than the appraisal value." The value of the land is subject to interpretation particularly that of its current undeveloped status. Estimates place the worth somewhere between $1 - $5 million.. The owners have a sales contract with Hovnanian and the development company is prepared to fight to see it through. Hovnanian recently filed a motion to force West Milford council to sign the developer's agreement. Perhaps more critical to both supporters and opponents of the development is the current well permit application the DEP is considering. Hovnanian wants to drill three new wells to serve the development and 33 existing homes. A 1987 Malcolm Pirnie report concluded that Eagle Ridge should never be developed because of insufficient long-term sustainable ground water yield. Also a 2003 report carried out by M" Associates indicated that West Milford has sufficient ground water for 7,760 to 8,530 wells, but the township currently over 10,000 wells. The DEP expects to announce its decision on the well permit by the end of this month. Hovnanian's development is permitted under the restrictive Highlands Act because the original permits predate the act. West Milford Council member James Warden, who opposes the development, said "As far as the Green acres purchase is concerned, I wouldn't put a lot of faith in it. Although it might be possible under the right set of circumstances, I think the chances of that purchase are not very good. Time has become a factor now, and unfortunately it has run out." Warden does, however, hold out hope that the well permit will not go through.