Some think cluster plan is a bad idea

A township planning consultant says the proposed development cannot be treated as a true cluster.

By: Lea Kahn
   The developer of a proposed single-family house subdivision off Denow Road will have to wait until the Planning Board’s May 6 meeting to find out if the board approves.
   Supreme Homes LLC outlined plans Monday for the subdivision before the Planning Board and neighbors who objected to the proposal.
   The developer wants to subdivide a 5.5-acre lot into 12 lots. It would include eight new building lots, two lots for existing houses and one lot each for a detention basin and open space.
   Several variances are being sought. The tract is proposed to be developed as a cluster subdivision, which means the eight houses would be clustered together on a portion of the tract. The remaining land behind the cluster would be preserved as open space.
   In his report, township planning consultant Philip Caton wrote that the plans for the 5.5-acre parcel cannot be treated as a true cluster development because a minimum of 10 acres is needed — even though the proposed lot sizes exceed the minimum 9,000 square feet per lot required for a cluster development.
   As a result, the developer must seek a variance from the minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet in the R2-b zone. Five lots in Supreme Homes’ proposed development do not meet the minimum 15,000-square-foot lot size.
   Eight of the 12 lots also do not meet the minimum lot frontage of 75 feet required for cul-de-sacs, which will require variances. Polonia Avenue, the proposed street off Denow Road that would lead into the development, ends in a cul-de-sac.
   David O’Connell of Supreme Homes told the planners that he expects to build 2,500-square-foot houses, similar to the existing houses in the neighborhood. The new houses would cost "in the upper $300,000 range," he said.
   Mr. O’Connell said the plan is similar to an earlier version that was presented to the Planning Board Screening Committee several months ago. This plan is better because it preserves more trees, he said.
   Engineer Robert Buda, who represents Supreme Homes, said the plan includes an open space lot that would serve as a buffer between the development and the adjacent Village Mill condominium development. It clusters the houses on a portion of the tract, he said.
   Acknowledging the neighbors’ request to preserve as many trees as possible, Mr. Buda said the applicant would identify specimen trees on the building lots — ones with tree trunks of at least 30 inches in diameter — and relocate the proposed houses or driveways to preserve them.
   Mr. Buda said there are a couple of areas of isolated wetlands on the parcel, but the developer has received permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to fill in the wetlands.
   The plan also shows a greenway path along the northern property line. Attorney Brian Schwartz, who represents the developer, said his client would rather not pave the path. After some discussion, it was agreed that the path would consist of finely ground cinders.
   Then, it was the residents’ turn to speak. About 20 neighbors turned out for the public hearing — some of whom were represented by attorney Christopher Costa. He represents some residents who live in the Village Mill condominium complex and some who live on nearby Hopkins Drive.
   Mr. Costa said his clients are aware that development is permitted on the tract, but they object to "over-development." Simply put, there are too many lots on one property, he said.
   Mr. Costa pointed to the number of variances being requested to bolster his contention that the plan would result in over-development. Several of the proposed lots do not meet the minimum lot size, and others do not meet the minimum lot frontage, he said.
   "A cluster development is intended to increase the amount of open space. This is a cluster plan turned on its head. … This plan needs to be re-thought. It’s like a puzzle with too many pieces," Mr. Costa told the Planning Board.
   Village Mill resident Rebecca Mercuri said the isolated wetlands areas on the undeveloped land form a harbor for wildlife. The undeveloped land serves as an aesthetic enhancement to the neighborhood, she said, adding that "we want (the Planning Board) to consider preserving it as wetlands."
   Burrell Brown, who also lives in the Village Mill, said when he looks out of his second-story window after it rains, he can see a pool of water that forms on 5.5-acre tract. That pool of water takes two or three days to evaporate, he said.
   Mr. Brown said the basements of the Village Mill units also are subject to flooding after a rainfall. If the trees are removed from the neighboring property, the residents will be able to "float boats" in their basements, he said.
   Because the meeting ran until after 11 p.m., the Planning Board decided to hold off on discussing the application and reaching a decision until its May 6 meeting. That meeting will start at 7 p.m., to accommodate the Supreme Homes application and another application on the agenda.