DEP steps in, delays start of Eagle Ridge

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:48

    The debate over the construction of the proposed Eagle Ridge development intensified this week when Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell delayed the issue of a vital permit. Campbell has requested that three new water surveys be performed in West Milford prior to possible issuing of the permit vital to Red Bank-based house builder K. Hovnanian. Hovnanian needs the DEP to issue a water allocation permit to allow them to drill three new wells for the proposed 288 homes in the Eagle Ridge project. The decision by Campbell triggered instant legal action by Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith and Davis LLP, Hovanian's lawyers, with the Superior Court of New Jersey. The legal team is demanding the court instruct Campbell to take action on the permit application within 30 days or, if there is a failure to take action, declare the permit granted. The civil action filed declared "The Commissioner's delay in acting on the permit is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." The papers also advise that according to K. Hovnanian they have already spent $3.6 million in professional fees since 1999 to obtain all necessary approvals. Doug Fenichel, public relations spokesman for K Hovnanian, said this week "Bradley Campbell is pandering to politicians." Time is a vital factor in Hovnanian's project due to the impending expiration of their exemption from the provisions of the Highlands Act. Currently the act has no bearing on the Eagle Ridge project, a point Hovnanian regularly reiterates, due to a clause in the act which allowed building projects which had received at least one significant construction permit to proceed unhindered. However, on Oct. 22 of this year this exemption runs out and if the project has not commenced "construction beyond site preparation" then effectively the Eagle Ridge development is dead. The Highlands Act prevents all major development in certain areas in northern New Jersey. West Milford is completely within a preservation zone. Pending legal action by Hovnanian is no rare event as they are also currently pursing action against Clifton Planning Board in their attempts to secure an access road leading to an 814 unit condominium project being built by K. Hovnanian. West Milford politicians were delighted by Campbell's decision and received the gratitude and appreciation of Mayor Joseph DiDonato at the most recent council meeting on May 5. The Mayor said, "I want to publicly thank the DEP and the Commissioner for the action that was taken with regard to Eagle Ridge. The issue is too critical to make a mistake." Fellow Republican council member Joseph Elcavage spoke of the benefit of the collaborative efforts made by residents and politicians throughout the state. "Public participation was extremely important since it helped to spotlight the importance of this issue. It enabled our elected officials to insure that this application received a complete and proper review given the concerns of the public." Elcavage also had advice for Hovnanian "Would it not be smarter to go and build the right type of development in another community that wants it?" Democratic council member James Warden cites himself and fellow Democrat councilor Bob Nolan as the instigators of the political and public uproar against Eagle Ridge and both do receive a mention in Hovnanian's legal submission to the Superior Court. Warden said, "When Bob Nolan and I presented the resolution to the council back in January against them [Hovnanian] we didn't think we had much of a chance in defeating Eagle Ridge. Our resolution started this whole process, it had been forgotten. I couldn't be more delighted. I had every faith in Bradley Campbell." Nolan himself was equal in his praise for Campbell. "Eagle Ridge is the poster child for bad development. It has the potential to suck our aquifer dry and the Commissioner has made the right decision. He had serious doubts about the availability of water, and sided with the public and not the billion dollar corporation. It's a courageous decision and I thank him for it." Warden also said, "There is no Developers Agreement until the water permit issue is resolved. The Developers Agreement is now a moot point."