Wall homes will have an impact on Howell

Officials considering
annexation to collect
taxes for services

Staff Writer

Wall homes will have
an impact on Howell
Officials considering
annexation to collect
taxes for services
Staff Writer

HOWELL — Laurel Manor residents have limited options for dealing with a Wall Township housing project now under construction in their back yards, township officials say.

At a special hearing held to inform residents of the status of negotiations, Howell officials said they are exploring everything from annexation of a small section of Wall Township to installing speed humps on Howell roads to slow traffic.

Hidden View is a 50-acre, 177-unit, age-restricted housing development that is being built in Wall Township, but is accessible only by using Howell and Brick Township roads, Township Attorney Thomas Gannon said.

Access is limited due to the fact the development is cut off from the rest of Wall Township by the Garden State Parkway and it is bounded by wetlands elsewhere, Gannon said.

Howell took its case all the way to the state Supreme Court and lost. The court found that although Howell had "legitimate needs and concerns," the township could not land lock the Wall Township development by vacating adjoining Howell streets.

The court’s decision, Gannon said, was that the towns should work together to remediate any problems.

"The township, despite expending its best efforts legally to negate the approval given by Wall Township to this development, was unsuccessful," Gannon said.

Gannon said officials in both municipalities realize there are quality-of-life issues for the Wall Township residents who will be living in Hidden View and the Howell residents who live on the roads that will provide access to the development. Howell officials believe thatif the township is to be burdened, then Howell should have some jurisdiction in the area, Gannon said.

The property owner appears to be open to the idea of annexing the property to Howell, since all public services such as police and first aid will likely have to be provided by Howell.

However, one of the sticking points is that Wall Township officials do not want to give Howell the affordable housing credits Hidden View was supposed to add to their town’s state Council On Affordable Housing (COAH) certification.

The purpose of the recent special meeting was to air concerns Ramtown (southern Howell) residents had about the Wall Township development. The meeting was attended by Mayor Timothy J. Konopka and Township Council members Joseph M. DiBella and Juan Malave.

Howell officials also wanted to gauge residents’ reaction to proposed traffic remediation measures the township is considering for Hidden View’s access roads. Specifically, the township is considering installing "traffic calming" measures such as flat speed strips and speed humps along areas of Cherry Lane and Pine Needle and Poplar streets.

Traffic Safety Officer Matthew Bishop of the Howell Police Department said one drawback is that speed strips and humps are noisy and also impede emergency response vehicles.

Township planner Michael Vena had prepared a traffic study addressing the impact the development would have on Howell roads. Vena, referring to a draft report he had with him at the meeting, said he would revise it based on citizens’ concerns.

Officials said 75 percent of the affected residents would have to approve any traffic control method before it would be installed.

Township Engineer William Nunziato addressed flooding problems Howell residents have been experiencing due to runoff from the Hidden View construction site. He said once the site is stabilized the flooding will stop because soil erosion at the site will stop.

Nunziato said both detention basins in the development conform to all codes and standards.

Larry Diamond of Pine Needle Street said he did not believe Howell fought hard enough to prevent Hidden View from being built. He wanted to know why the developer hadn’t pursued placing access through Herbertsville Road.

Nunziato said access from Herbertsville Road into Hidden View would have meant prohibitive costs for the builder to ameliorate the wetlands. Therefore the builder, Howell Properties, of Woodbridge, chose to not pursue it.

Konopka said that by annexing the property into Howell, the township would then be in a position to offset costs for police and emergency service response to the development. Konopka said that is why he supports annexation.

He estimated a $1 million annual tax gain for the township if Hidden View were to be annexed.

"A million dollars goes a long way in offsetting the costs of providing services for that community," Konopka said.

Hearing that Howell could annex the property and receive tax benefits did little to comfort residents.

Jim Burgess of Pine Needle Street said the idea of annexation "looked good on paper," but he questioned if taxes paid by Hidden View residents would make a dent in Howell residents’ tax bill.

Burgess asked if Howell officials could look at denying the Wall Township development access to Howell’s sewer drainage system.

"This is a different scenario than [prohibiting] access through a road," Burgess said.

Gannon told Burgess the township could try, but he said it would be difficult to stave off a court challenge unless Nunziato could prove the development’s tie-in would negatively impact Howell’s sewer system.

Residents also expressed concern that the detention basins would continue to overflow. Konopka said officials would reach out to Wall Township representatives regarding the Howell residents’ concerns.

Summing up the meeting, Konopka said it was clear residents want Wall Township to compensate Howell for wear and tear on Howell roads from construction vehicles entering and exiting Hidden View. Residents also want Wall Township to relinquish its COAH credits to Howell, he added.

DiBella and Malave said they, too, were sympathetic to residents’ problems but, DiBella said, "We are not dealing from a position of strength."

The Township Council will not be making a decision on the annexation of the development for at least two months, Konopka said.