HOWELL – By a vote of 4-1, the members of the Howell Township Council have reaffirmed their previous rejection of a developer’s agreement relating to an approved residential development known as the Fountains off Route 9 North near the Lakewood border.
A developer’s agreement is an agreement between a governing body and a developer to expressly define a project’s rules, regulations, commitments and policies for a specific period of time.
When a motion was made during the council’s Oct. 26 meeting to approve the developer’s agreement, Mayor Theresa Berger, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond, Councilman John Bonevich and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell voted “no.” Deputy Mayor Thomas Russo voted “yes” to approve the agreement. The 4-1 vote meant the motion was defeated and reaffirmed a decision the council members initially made on Sept. 14.
Township Attorney Joseph Clark has said the council’s action relating to the developer’s agreement could lead to litigation being filed against Howell by 6461 Route 9 Howell, LLC, which is the owner and developer of The Fountains.
In 2018, the developer received approval from the Howell Planning Board to construct 105 age-restricted residential units in several buildings off Route 9 North.
As part of the application process, the developer removed a proposal to construct 26 residential units at a second location in Howell and to donate that land to the township.
Clark said that going back to 1989, a previous developer had permission to build 404 units. The Fountains was not immediately constructed and various changes and settlements occurred over the years.
“Ultimately, in 2018, (an applicant) received approval for 100 age-restricted units. They carved out the 26 residential units and on the record in 2018 they represented that they would donate 43 acres to the township, which included 10 or 11 developable acres in the back (of the property),” Clark said.
Bonevich said the agreement stipulated the land was to be donated to Howell prior to any permits being issued.
Russo asked Clark if the Fountains could lose the age-restricted component if the developer’s agreement was rejected by the council.
Clark said, “We run the risk of getting hundreds and hundreds of potentially non-age-restricted units with the accompanying burden on the school system.”
Bonevich said that response was Clark’s interpretation since the council does not have an updated letter of intent regarding the developable land on the site since 2003. He said if the developer wants to change its plan it would have to “start from scratch.”
“It is up to the developer, it is going to be up to the court and we are going to take our chances. We could end up with 400 non-age-restricted units,” Clark said.
Following the discussion, Russo said he would like to vote on the developer’s agreement and he made a motion to approve the agreement. O’Donnell seconded the motion, which led to the 4-1 vote that defeated the motion.
Richmond participated in the vote via telephone and said, “All we hear is ‘Stop the Development.’ Let’s stop it.
“So we are going to vote and we are going to step up and we are going to fight for the community and if not then I guess ‘Stop The Development’ is just a cute bumper sticker the Democrats want to keep putting on their campaign.
“I’m ready to vote. Like I said last time and I will say it this time, I am going to vote with the Democrats because this is what they want and I am happy to oblige,” Richmond said.
Berger and Bonevich are the Democrats on council; Russo, Richmond and O’Donnell are Republicans.
Bonevich said he voted “no” because, “I don’t want to set a precedent for four-story buildings in Howell. This project is currently in an R-5 zone which limits buildings to two stories.
“Also, a resident currently has a lawsuit (regarding) the release of the developer’s agreement and more questions have been asked that we did not get a clear answer on from our professionals.
“If the resident (who filed the legal action) wins in court it would seem as if the council is not being transparent with residents.
“I asked for (the developer’s agreement) to be tabled to get clear answers and would rather wait for the outcome of the litigation, but others on council pushed for a vote. I was not comfortable with how this went about without having 100% all the facts,” Bonevich said.
Berger said she voted “no” because, “I would like to start with with the obvious; our ordinance has changed. Maybe the wetlands delineation hasn’t changed, but have the environmental laws changed? We were given no guidance on this.
“This agreement was a secret to council and I am not sure if some council (members) had more information than myself and Councilman Bonevich, but how can anyone expect a council to accept a project that is 20 years old, with no questions and concerns?
“The responsibility of council is to protect our town, not the developers. If the owner wants to revise his project and follow our ordinance, I would be happy to support it; that would be good growth. Four stories (on a building) does not belong in Howell; this is still a small town, not a city,” Berger said.
Regarding her “no” vote, O’Donnell said, “Presumably, we are in litigation and I have been advised not to speak any further on the Fountains project.”