COLTS NECK – Following a public hearing process that stretched across several meetings, the members of the Colts Neck Planning Board have approved the Colts Neck Manor apartment complex.
The location of the project is on Route 537. The property is about 40 acres and is opposite Five Points Road, across from Five Points Park and Colts Neck High School, and the tract buffers Yellow Brook.
The application that was submitted by Colts Neck Manor, LLC, came about as a part of Colts Neck’s settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center of Cherry Hill in March 2020.
The Fair Share Housing Center advocates for the construction of affordable housing throughout New Jersey. Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented to individuals and families whose income meets certain guidelines.
The municipality’s agreement is expected to result in 1,280 housing units, with 229 of those units designated as affordable housing.
Colts Neck Manor is expected to consist of 360 apartments, of which 72 apartments will be designated as affordable housing and 288 apartments will be market rate units. The project will include a clubhouse, a pool and a waste water treatment plant, according to testimony that was presented to the Planning Board.
The Colts Neck Manor application was approved in a 7-2 vote by the board members on Dec. 1.
On a motion to grant approval, Colts Neck Mayor Michael Viola and Deputy Mayor J.P. Bartolomeo, both of whom sit on the board, and board members Louis Bader, George Corsi, Bob Lutkewitte, David Kostka and Vito Viola voted “yes.”
Planning Board Chairwoman Andrea D’Eletto and Vice Chairmain John Tobia voted “no” on the motion.
Several board members said they were voting to approve Colts Neck Manor due to concerns of possibly facing builder’s remedy lawsuits if they did not approve the application.
A builder’s remedy lawsuit can result in the construction of more housing units than what an application initially proposed.
“On one hand we have a court approved settlement agreement, we have an obligation to provide affordable housing,” Kostka said. “If we don’t have a court approved agreement we open ourselves to builder’s remedy lawsuits which are much more difficult for the community (and we could lose) our ability to have some control over where our affordable housing is (constructed).
“It’s not a pleasant situation for any of us. We have to realize this entire community is in an environmentally sensitive area and anywhere we would place a community like (Colts Neck Manor), we would have the same concerns. We begin to minimize the impact we could have except from an emotional impact. The areas we have control over are very minimal.
“As a Planning Board, we do not have control over the location (for Colts Neck Manor). That was determined by the settlement. We do not have control over the waste water plant, that was (determined by) the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“We don’t have control over the traffic issues and I implore those who are concerned about the traffic issues to address their concerns with the state Planning Board because they have the authority to make the necessary changes,” Kostka said.
The application process included hours of comments from members of the public who expressed concern about traffic issues the apartment complex could create; the lack of elevators in the apartment buildings; and potential environmental hazards, with the most common concern focusing on having a waste water treatment plant close to a Yellow Brook tributary.
Township Planner Tim Anfuso encouraged members of the public to address their concerns about the waste water treatment plan with the DEP.
One concern raised by board members was a lack of sidewalks that would link the property to Route 537.
Attorney John Giunco, who represented the applicant, said the applicant would not agree to add sidewalks to the plan due to a lack of pre-existing sidewalks on Route 537 and because adding sidewalks would “not be very cost-effective.”
During the public hearings, Giunco said the applicant would “comply with regulations set out by the DEP” whenever a question or concern was raised about the application.
Giunco’s comments upset several residents and board members to the point where Planning Board alternate member Gregory Penczak said Giunco and the applicant came off as lacking compassion for the safety of the 1,000 or so residents who will live in Colts Neck Manor and those who live in the surrounding area.
Prior to voting “no” on the motion, Tobia said, “I believe that numerous times during their testimony, (the applicant) is hiding behind the settlement agreement for affordable housing of not wanting to (agree to) certain suggestions from the board and from residents.
“I believe the current configuration will create an unsafe condition for residents of the new development and existing (residents), specifically, the ingress and egress should be moved to Five Points Road. To not have provisions for potential students going to the high school is a problem.
“The traffic expert, quite frankly, was substandard and did not go far enough. To paraphrase, he said, ‘Most of the traffic is going westbound.’ Well, the schools in this township are eastbound.
“So with that one statement I believe the traffic testimony went far enough to address some of the blatant safety concerns our police department and emergency services are going to have to deal with.
“With a facility (apartment complex) such as this, with the number of apartments included, I do not believe public safety was adequately addressed during the application process because our police department will have different issues in a (development) such as this and there should have been consideration to include a substation for the police department in the clubhouse or somewhere in the complex.
“That is something that is done in numerous affordable housing applications in this county and for the applicant to not agree to move the clubhouse or (to do) some other things is quite frankly arrogant, that they did not want to meet some of the accommodations the board requested,” Tobia said.