Rezoning would affect more than Willowbrook elaine van develde The Hub

Rezoning would affect more than Willowbrook
elaine van develde
The Hub

TINTON FALLS — Borough officials are making themselves perfectly clear on the Willowbrook issue — they’re not buying the farm. They’re not getting a $2 million developer’s "donation" to open space if they don’t rezone the farm. And they’re not voting on any rezoning until they get Planning Board recommendations.

At its July 18 meeting the Borough Council opened with a standing-room-only public hearing on rezoning all R-1 zones in town to accommodate increased density in age-restricted, gated communities. There were townies and out-of-towners. And most had something to say about one R-1 zone in particular — Willowbrook Farms, formerly owned by the now deceased Frank Weny.

"I want to make it clear what we’re doing here tonight. There’s been a lot of confusion lately through rumor and innuendo," said council President Richard Maher. "We are holding a public hearing concerning amending all R-1 zoned areas in town to include increased density in age-restricted, gated communities in those zones. Everyone within a 200-foot proximity of an R-1 zone was notified. Yet most people here seem to be interested in one property — the Weny tract, Willowbrook Farms. I would ask that when you speak, you stick to the issue of all R-1 zones, but I will allow speaking to the issue of the Weny farm."

The issue of rezoning for gated communities has come to the front of the council’s agenda because developer Terry Sherman is seeking to build some 299 age-restricted homes in a gated community at Willowbrook.

Maher told the audience, "We will not be voting on this tonight. We do not yet have Planning Board recommendations. We will carry the public hearing and vote for a time when everyone can review the Planning Board’s report and adequately respond to it. So far, though, the board’s recommendations look positive and include a lowering of density."

Most speakers addressing the Weny farm denounced increased density or development of any kind. There were a few who supported the rezoning of the Weny farm in particular. Some were especially concerned with wetlands destruction that would accompany the rezoning — what would be done to replace them and what would control water run-off.

To that concern, the council responded with, "Wetlands are governed by the [state] Department of Environmental Protection. If a developer wishes to build on them, they must be mitigated, something like two for one. We’d have to check the actual restrictions. Most developers, though, are inclined to build around them."

Resident Celeste Canfield said her concern with regard to the land-use ordinance amendment was not only that there would be a destruction of wetlands but that from what she could see, "there is no open space left in town. Of what’s left … the Weny tract is the largest piece."

"There is an inventory of open space," countered Maher. "We tried to buy the Weny tract, but Green Acres’ funding has a cap of $1 million a year. It’s just not enough to help us buy that parcel of land." Maher went on to say that the Green Acres funding source seems to "discriminate against larger land parcel acquisitions and favor small parcels of land." He also reminded the public that if this ordinance is approved, Sherman, who now owns the Weny tract, will donate $2 million specifically to open space in other parts of the borough, just not Willowbrook Farms.

Maher reiterated that this $2 million could be used to purchase any of the other, smaller open space tracts for preservation. He cautioned, though, that "this gift is part of a developer’s agreement, not a part of this ordinance and specifically deals with the Weny tract."

"Why not ask for more money from the developer for open space? The farm is bought. So, why can’t the next step be to ask for more money from the developer?" asked resident John DeSantis.

Maher, speaking for the council, responded, "You need to stop right there. We’re talking about a developer’s agreement. I’m not going to comment on that tonight because I don’t know."

Regarding traffic concerns, Maher was firm in his stance that "professionals on both sides of the fence have said that traffic is less with this type of development." He said studies have shown that traffic lessens when households consist of a maximum of two 48 years and older adults and one 19-year-old.

Self-proclaimed soccer mom Carla Fiscella stood up and cheered the gated community and its traffic. She said that with the existing zoning, for 110 single family homes, "there would probably be an additional 250 school-age children, which would max out the school system." Concerning referendums and taxes, she added, "It’s not going to be a cheap thing to do."

While the traffic is an immediate concern, the long-term implications of the rezoning had some residents thinking about the fate of open space in the borough.

"Tinton Falls has grown extensively," resident Kevin Jacoves said. "Where is this space going to be in 50 years? 100? Will there be any left?"

Maher responded, saying, "If anyone has an idea about how we can buy this land in particular or any land, tell me about it because we’ve exhausted all options and are constantly trying to figure something out."

Longtime resident John Madigan said, "increasing zoning density is direct destruction of a covenant between citizens of a community and its governing body."

Carl Cuttita summed up much the sentiment in the crowd, saying, "Restricted housing and integration are oxymoronic terms at best… no matter how well-intentioned, it creates an ‘us and them’ mentality … devoid of common interests and concerns that are the very definition of community.

"We have been told that the builder involved is willing to donate, and we use this word loosely, a small portion of the excess profits that he will derive from building approximately 300 homes on the Willowbrook site to the larger Tinton Falls community. For too long, builders have preyed on communities, reaping their profits and leaving homeowners to mitigate the problems they have created. … As members of council we have entrusted you to serve and protect our interests."