The Manalapan Township Committee has adopted Ordinance No. 2020-02 which allows for converting 15 acres of woods and wetlands into a new construction site and building 250 housing units, including 75 units of affordable housing. This is the result of a settlement agreement between the Fair Share Housing Center and its approval by the Superior Court of New Jersey.
The site is located south of the Englishtown Auction Sales, along Sobechko Road, and east of Wilson Avenue in Manalapan.
Public hearings were held at Township Committee meetings on Feb. 12 and Feb. 26. I and other local residents expressed our concerns and disagreement with this plan.
These woods are very important to our community. They are not just a piece of unused land. Besides their great aesthetic value, the woods serve many practical purposes. They shield our homes from the noise of the (auction) and nearby businesses.
The woods give us privacy and comfort. It is a natural habitat for many wild animals – deer, foxes, groundhogs and birds. The woods give clean, fresh air for us and our children.
Cutting trees pushes animals onto roads and front yards. It is dangerous for people and the animals. Manalapan was ranked No. 13 in a 2017 study of New Jersey towns where it is most likely to hit a deer.
Overbuilding and over-destroying of forests will make this situation even worse. Eventually, we may lose our wild animals completely. In a world in which we praise our children for their environmental efforts, we are willing to destroy the remaining woods and turn them into just another construction site.
Residents are concerned about overcrowding, traffic and parking. This area is already packed with townhouse communities – Briarheath, Oak Knoll, Oak Ridge and Oxford Crossing. New construction may add an extra 400 to 500 vehicles.
Current traffic conditions are already a major problem. On summer weekends many adjacent roads are jammed, especially Wilson Avenue and Union Hill Road. Sometimes it takes 15 to 20 minutes just to get out of this area.
Parking is also a problem here. In our townhouse complexes the number of cars exceeds the capacity of driveways and garages. Oak Knoll does not allow street parking at all.
Adjacent Pension Road, Dortmunder Drive and Lone Star Lane are always packed with parked cars. The parked cars obstruct the view and endanger driving and turning. Residents from the new development may not have a place to park their cars. The parking situation will become like Brooklyn.
Manalapan schools were struggling to find resources to accommodate all students. They rearranged students between schools, changed bus schedules; some additional programs were cancelled (for example, academically talented program).
Statistically, we have a higher student-teacher ratio than the state average. Only Manalapan Englishtown Middle School has the state average of 12:1. Manalapan High School has the highest of 15:1. State school aid is expected to be reduced. Eventually, the quality of education will suffer; the entire burden will fall on teachers’ shoulders.
A new townhouse complex will negatively affect our living conditions and the value of our properties. Local residents will become victims of this project while the developer will profit. The township will meet the court mandated housing requirements and collect more taxes.
But all of it will be for our expense; something will be taken from us. Our properties will lose their monetary values, our community will lose its character, our families will lose comfort, privacy and safety – everything that makes this place a home. And poor animals will lose their habitat forever.
I have been living in Briarheath for almost 13 years. Every time I look through my windows I cherish and enjoy the view. I have a fox living in its den a few yards from my fence. I have deer coming every morning. I just cannot imagine that in a few months all of it will be gone.
During the meetings residents asked the Township Committee to reconsider this ordinance and significantly reduce the size of construction to keep the woods intact as much as possible, especially along one specific lot. This reduction will allow a buffer, wide enough to shield our homes and leave some room for animals.
We understand the importance of affordable housing for Manalapan. However, we believe it is important to preserve the remaining woods and wildlife for our children and the future of this town.
Neither animals nor local residents should be victims of this project. I am asking for your support and your help in delivering our message and preventing the destruction of our woods. Even less than 40 owners affected directly, we deserve to be heard and our opinion must be taken into consideration.