Howell Township Council settles litigation with Fountains developer


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HOWELL – The members of the Howell Township Council have voted to settle litigation and authorize a developer’s agreement with the principals of an approved residential development known as the Fountains.

The council’s action clears the way for a project that has been discussed for several decades and has Planning Board approval to be constructed off Route 9 north near Howell’s border with Lakewood.

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Mayor Theresa Berger, Deputy Mayor Pamela Richmond, Councilman John Bonevich, Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell and Councilwoman Suzanne Brennan voted “yes” on a motion to authorize the settlement during the March 1 council meeting.

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.

In 2018, the developer of the Fountains received approval from the Planning Board to construct 105 age-restricted residential units in several multi-story buildings. As part of the application process, the developer removed a proposal to construct 26 residential units at a second location in Howell.

Three years later a developer’s agreement came before the Township Council for approval.

During a meeting on Oct. 26, 2021, Berger, Richmond, Bonevich and O’Donnell voted “no” on a motion to approve the developer’s agreement. Councilman Thomas Russo, who is no longer on the council, voted “yes.”

The 4-1 vote defeated the motion and reaffirmed a decision the council members initially made on Sept. 14.

In the wake of the council’s decision not to approve a developer’s agreement, legal action was filed on Nov. 22, 2021 by attorney Adam Garcia on behalf of 6461 Route 9 Howell, LLC, which is the owner and developer of the Fountains, and Paula O’Neill, who is a member of 6461 Route 9 Howell.

According to the complaint, the action sought “equitable relief with ancillary legal relief to prevent the township from thwarting 6461 Route 9’s development.”

According to a resolution the council members passed on March 1, the two sides have reached an amicable resolution of the litigation.

The developer will dismiss the litigation and release all claims it has against Howell arising from the actions described in the complaint.

Howell representatives will sign a developer’s agreement which, among other things, establishes and fixes the terms and conditions for the developer’s donation of certain land to Howell and for the fees to be charged by Howell to the developer for the project.

Howell will pay the developer a settlement payment of $130,353 in full satisfaction of the developer’s claims in the complaint, according to the resolution.

Bonevich suggested that in anticipation of Howell’s future affordable housing obligations, officials may want to consider permitting an affordable housing project to be constructed on the land Howell will receive from the Fountains developer.

He suggested housing for military veterans as an option that could give Howell a significant number of affordable housing credits.

“Let’s make the best of this. (Discussion of the Fountains) has been going on for 30 years. We inherited this, but let’s make something positive out of this. I would like to ask the council to look into (permitting affordable housing to be constructed on the land being donated to Howell),” Bonevich said.

Richmond said she was thinking along the same lines.

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