Highlands preservation an issue

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:12

    WEST MILFORD - Residents want a public hearing to formulate policy for what the Town Council asks state officials to include in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Bill. That call was made by Wayne Gottlieb of Hewitt at the April 29 council meeting. Celeste Byrn also supported a public meeting so community members could hear both sides of the story because, she said, so far they only know what they have been told by the council. Gottlieb said his thoughts on the matter jelled when he saw a list of requests the governing body of West Milford feels is important. "There are 10 items on this list, my eyes were drawn to number two, the town center, and the words, ‘they feel strongly.' I guess the pronoun ‘they' refers to the majority of the council up here." Gottlieb said the town center has been a point of widespread contention in the past and "it's not at all clear where the majority of the people stand on this issue. So I would like to see a meeting at which not some, but many, of the issues regarding the Highlands Water Protection bill were brought into focus so the townspeople can get a chance to comment before something finally goes through the state legislature, which is scheduled for May 10." Gottlieb was referring to an April 26 letter from state Sen. Robert Martin (R-26) sent to Curtis Fisher, deputy policy director to the governor, with a list of 10 requests from the West Milford Town Council that would make the bill "more feasible to its residents." The letter says the proposed Town Center designation was filed in 1998, but has yet to be approved, and that it would be the only town center (to be called Hewitt Village) to lie within the preservation area. Therefore, special allowances and exemptions should be granted to ensure "redevelopment" capability and "be flexible enough to allow reasonable growth in already established commercial areas." It also points out issues of the township are unique because of its position entirely within the preservation area. The letter goes on to say the council wants to increase the Newark Watershed land assessment from a proposed $40 an acre to $45. The council also calls for protection of recreational uses in towns, such as West Milford, that are 100 percent within the preservation area. Protections against imposition of higher additional quotas of affordable housing under the act are also being sought according to the senator's letter. The letter also calls for an exemption from bill provisions prohibiting development of sewer services within the protected area "at least… for Greenwood Lake, the largest lake in the preservation area." Another provision in the letter calls for the township to be allowed continued usage of the former Jungle Habitat parking lot, now state owned, for major activities such as carnivals and flea markets, without any obligation to improve the macadam surface. These requests were not mentioned by Councilman Dennis Kirwan when he gave a report on the Highlands bill earlier in the meeting. "We expressed our opinion about the Highlands bill," he said. "Which is, basically we don't support it at this time, unless there are further amendments and rewrites to the law." "I am taking a hiatus until the time that the bill comes out to committee and to the floor for a total vote or if it goes back to the appropriation committee," he said. "The school of thought is that it's possible the bill may go to the floor, and then they will worry about paying for it later which, as far as I'm concerned, is unacceptable."