Howell planners approve 319-unit residential development


HOWELL – The members of the Howell Planning Board have voted to grant preliminary and final site plan approval to an application that proposed the construction of a 319-unit residential development on Fort Plains Road.

During a meeting on Feb. 17, Planning Board Chairman Brian Tannenhaus, Vice Chairman Nicholas Huszar, Township Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell, Robert Nicastro, Paul Dorato, Brian Greenfield, Robert Seaman, Megan Talente and Joseph Cristiano voted “yes” on a motion to approve the application submitted by FP Howell, LLC.

FP Howell, LLC, and the Estate of William Whalen by Gina Bettencourt, John Berkoben and Ruth Bennett, as owners, received subdivision approval and site plan approval for the Views at Monmouth Manor on a 102-acre tract at Fort Plains and Sunnyside roads in Howell.

The applicant proposed to construct 319 residential units consisting of 72 homes to be sold at market rates; 155 townhomes to be sold at market rates; and 92 condominiums/apartments to be designated as affordable housing and sold at below market rates.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below-market rates to individuals and families whose income meets certain guidelines.

Howell and other New Jersey municipalities are under order from the New Jersey Supreme Court to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing within their borders.

A public hearing regarding the Views at Monmouth Manor was conducted by the board over the course of several months. The Feb. 17 meeting saw residents offer their comments on the application prior to the board’s vote.

Resident Fred Gasior said, “My issue with this project is its size, its location and what kind of planning is going to be needed after this project is up and running. We are very familiar with this property, we used to buy fruits and vegetables off it a long time ago. Our property borders (the subject property) and we often take walks onto that property through the woods.”

Gasior said he read all of the reports associated with the project and said he understands the need for affordable housing and the Supreme Court requirement.

“Some of the observations I have made are somewhat in conflict with the environmental report. I read the report, it’s a nice cookie-cutter report … I don’t know how much time (the applicant’s representatives) actually spent on that property, but from reading the report I don’t think it was too much because they referred to their research, local documents, history and the library,” Gasior said.

He referred to a list of animals noted in the environmental report.

“I would just like to add that based on my observations of what I have seen when we go on that property, you have turkeys, red foxes, grey foxes, coyotes and red tail hawks. We have an occasional bald eagle because we have a big pond behind our house.

“We have several species of heron, we have kingfishers, egrets, owls, bats, two species of woodpeckers, hummingbirds, cardinals, and I will say we have not seen any bobcats or bears because there was a mention of that in that report,” Gasior said.

Gasior said traffic has become exponentially worse over the past 20 years.

“Traffic routinely backs up from past Home Depot, southbound, to Aldrich Road in the afternoon. Motorists, including myself, take West Farms Road to Fort Plains Road to get around all of the traffic. On weekday afternoons, Fort Plains Road is an annex of Route 9, it is a very busy road,” he said.

Gasior said the intersections at Casino Road and Route 9, West Farms Road and Route 9, Sunnyside Road and Route 9, and Hulses Corner Road and Route 9 are also problematic.

Attorney Kenneth Pape, of the firm Heilbrunn Pape, Millstone Township, represented the applicant before the board and provided his summation following the comments from the members of the public.

“This application has been presented to the board through the testimony of the professionals who designed the project … you have heard there are no variances (required).

“You heard this is an application where the applicant participated with the township in a court settlement, went to court and joined in the final court order.

“You heard that the applicant entered into a contract with the township, which is referred to as a developer’s agreement, and confirmed on the record that they intend to and will abide by each and every requirement set forth in that agreement,” Pape said.

He said it took time to work with the Planning Board’s professionals to address drainage concerns that were raised during the time the application was under consideration.

“We went from, I think, 57 concerns, down to one (which was) a technical concern. The storm water design has gone through the review of your engineer and has gone through the (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection) review,” Pape said.

Pape said the board members heard testimony regarding vehicles at the site and noted that the proposed driveway was described as having a safe rating.

Following the attorney’s remarks, Tannenhaus made a motion to grant preliminary and final site plan approval. O’Donnell seconded the motion and the board members unanimously approved the Views at Monmouth Manor.

The affordable housing units that will be provided in the development will help Howell officials meet their obligation to provide affordable housing in the municipality.