Lawyers urge Highlands Council to butt out of progress on Eagle Ridge

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    WEST MILFORD-Lawyers representing house builder K. Hovnanian have sent a letter to the Highlands Council demanding they withdraw their request to review the proposed Eagle Ridge project. The four page letter dated April 19 issued by the firm of Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis LLP declares the action taken by the council as "unwarranted" and that it had "no jurisdiction" relating to West Milford's Municipal Utilities Authority's application for a water allocation permit. The water permit is needed by Hovnanian to drill three new wells close to the Eagle Ridge site to provide water to the new housing residents. Despite the Highlands Act, which prevents major development in West Milford and other areas in New Jersey, Hovnanian submitted sufficient approvals in time to build the project and therefore obtained exemptions from the new act. The letter emphasizes this point saying "K. Hovnanian applied for and obtained a determination from NJ DEP on Oct. 26, 2004 confirming that the Eagle Ridge development is in fact exempt from the provisions of the Highlands Act and any rules or regulations adopted by the NJ DEP pursuant to the Highlands Act." The Highlands Council passed a motion on April 7 to ask Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell to delay the decision on the well permit to allow the council to review water supply issues. Campbell agreed to the request and in doing so incited the indignation of Hovnanian lawyers who have successfully advanced the Eagle Ridge development in court on several occasions in the past. The Red Bank based company effectively used legal means to push through the project in 1999 in Passaic County Superior Court forcing the council to accept the plan. More recently, the township council was told by the same court to stop stalling on the project. Several studies have been carried out by hydro-geologists who said there is insufficient underground water to supply approximately 1000 newcomers in addition to existing residents. However, the New Jersey Geological Survey, who report directly to the DEP, disagrees with these studies and declared the water serving West Milford is under no threat in the event that the new homes are eventually built. The letter finishes with a clear warning that further legal action is likely if the Highlands Council continues with its review. "Given K. Hovnanian's investment in this approved development ... it will not tolerate interference with its vested property rights. If the Council acts beyond its authority and interferes with the statutory process and the rights of property owners, K. Hovnanian will have no choice but to seek judicial relief to prevent any further unauthorized action by the Council." The letter was also sent to Commissioner Campbell who will eventually decide the fate of the well permit application and in effect play a pivotal role in the decision whether the Eagle Ridge development ever transpires.