Commission wants more input in Smith farm plan E.B. committee members upset they are left out of the advisory process


By Brian Quinlan

Commission wants more input in Smith farm plan
E.B. committee members
upset they are left out
of the advisory process

At a meeting Thursday night, members of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission expressed concern over the proposed development of a residential area on land that is said to be plagued with environmental problems.

Though the commission members stated clearly that they were not against the development of the old Smith Farm, they voiced serious objections about the decision of the developer, Hazlet-based Matzel and Mumford, to exclude the Environmental Commission from the advisory process while developing the site.

"The developer has every right to build the houses there. However, there are a lot of complex issues regarding this site," said commission President Fred Stratton.

The site, which is located on Milltown Road and has already been cleared for development, used to serve as an apple orchard where more than 2,000 trees produced fruit. Matzel and Mumford, one of the largest developers in the area, is currently hoping to construct 81 houses on the 100-year-old farm. Though, according to Environmental Commission members, it is normal procedure to allow input from the commission when developing land, Matzel and Mumford recently sent a letter to the commission stating that its involvement was no longer needed and that any attempt to gain access to the site would result in charges of trespassing.

"All I asked was that the Environmental Commission be kept abreast of what is going on in the site," said subcommittee member Tony Riccobono. "It was shocking to hear this. In the past it was different."

"If it is going to be like this on this site, how many other sites is it going to occur on?" Stratton asked, noting that this action could set a dangerous precedent.

Once privately owned by a family, the farm was recently sold to the developer. The Environmental Commission believed that the pesticides used had contaminated the soil of this century-old farm. Finding this to be true, Matzel and Mumford agreed to remove the top 30 inches of soil. The contaminated soil will be relocated to two large, on-site ditches. Though commission members are certain that the soil is harboring contaminants, no one is sure whether or not the pesticides have tainted the water supply as well.

"Right now, to the best of my knowledge, this is solely soil contamination," Stratton said.

Among the many other environmental concerns pointed to at this meeting, commission members said that they believed there may also be some arsenic and asbestos on the land and in the buildings in the area. Introduced and circulated at this meeting were photographs pointing out possible hazards.

These were taken the last time commission members were permitted access to the site.

Aside from the environmental issues discussed, commission members also spoke about breaches in normal procedure that may have been committed by the developers. Pointing out two large stacks of paper said to have been about the site, Stratton said the paperwork from the developers was not given to the Environmental Commission early enough so that it could be reviewed.

After having discussed the numerous concerns each member had with the site, the commission then reviewed the rough draft of a resolution prepared by Stratton. The resolution, which objects to the developers’ decision to not include committee input while requesting that the commission’s advisory powers be re-instated, was passed by a vote of 5 to 0.

"While I’m certain that this resolution will anger some or many … it will be clear that we will be part of the (advisory) process before, not after, " Stratton said.

Copies of the resolution have been sent to the planning department and the mayor’s office. As of yet, the Environmental Commission has received no response.