Council is stymied by old court decision

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    WEST MILFORD-It's rarely the case that the Township Council plays the role of the underdog and finds itself powerless against development on its own doorstep. However, that's precisely where the council sits, wedged between the ninth largest house builder in the country, Red Bank-based K. Hovnanian Enterprises, and the New Jersey Department of Environment Protection. The two heavyweights in this affair are working on an application for a well permit which Hovnanian needs to put the finishing touches to its plans for the Eagle Ridge development. The Eagle Ridge plan will see 288 townhouses built at Cahill Cross Road along with a proposed clubhouse and some 718 parking spaces. The council is largely powerless to stop the development because of a 1999 settlement in the New Jersey Superior Court that ordered the township to accept the project. The planning board originally approved the plan in 1985 but after the board allowed the proposal to expire the landowners sued, prompting legal action which forced through the development. While the majority of council members say they are resigned to the arrival of the bulldozers and influx of new residents, Councilman James Warden is determined to fight Hovnanian to the bitter end. Sounding like a famous former New York Yankees catcher, Warden stressed: "It ain't over till it's over. "Of the 29,000 residents in the town I believe 28,998 would agree this development will be a nightmare," the new councilman said, adding: "We (the council) need to stand up despite the fact this is out of our hands." Warden attempted to pass a resolution at the workshop meeting to send a strong plea to the DEP asking them to withhold the well permit. Warden said the scientific data on the effects of water supply to the town by this development has not been properly considered. Warden withdrew his own resolution after council members failed to agree on its wording. However, it will be placed on the agenda at the next regular council meeting, according to officials. Warden said that heavy lobbying by Hovnanian could result in the application speeding through the DEP and getting approved before the next council meeting. Warden stepped back from him veiled allegation after the meeting by saying: "They stand to make a lot of money when the town homes are built leaving West Milford and its residents paying much higher taxes and holding the bag." The issue of higher taxes in the future is one of Warden's main fears about the Eagle Ridge development. He said he also has serious concerns about the substantial increase in demand for water, the increase in numbers of children seeking enrolment in local schools, and the ability of the roads to withstand the increase in traffic. Warden said "Although it's now past the 11th hour, I believe West Milford residents can still help by lobbying the council. Showing up at council meetings would be one way of showing support."