Board OKs 60 homes for 181-acre U.F. tract

Some are concerned one-lane bridge will take years to repair


Staff Writer

UPPER FREEHOLD — The Planning Board approved a 60-home subdivision with the condition that a nearby one-lane bridge must be repaired.

The proposed Galloping Hills subdivision on Emley’s Hill Road came before the board at its Nov. 23 meeting after being carried from the previous meeting.

Several board members and residents had said they were concerned with the added traffic the development would place on the bridge at Emley’s Hill Road and Route 537, which was deemed by many to be in need of repair.

The Galloping Hills development falls under the township’s new cluster ordinance, so the 60 houses will be built on the 181-acre tract, with 90 of those acres remaining open space. Builder Oak Tree Development of Holmdel received a 35-percent density bonus from the standard 3-acre zoning by using the cluster option.

Township Engineer Glenn Gerken said at the Nov. 23 meeting that he had met with county officials about the bridge repair schedule, and they had confirmed that work was to begin in the spring of 2006 and would take about seven months to complete.

Board member William Search asked if it were possible to tie approval of the subdivision to the completion of the bridge.

“It’s a one-lane blind bridge on a curve. You can’t see cars coming around the corner,” he said.

Planning Board Attorney Frank Armenante said issues of safety with respect to the bridge would have to be reviewed. He said if it were a safety issue, the board had the right to state that no building permits would be issued until the bridge was finished.

Mayor John Mele pointed out that the blind curve exists today without the development, and wanted to know if the township is in a situation where the unsafe bridge situation must be addressed.

The applicant’s attorney, John Giunco, said the bridge was not unsafe but “meritorious of caution.” He said if the bridge were currently unsafe, it is the duty of the township to cure the problem for the general population.

Board member Dianne Kelly brought up the issue of increased traffic on the bridge once the development is completed.

“It may or may not be safe,” Kelly said, noting that at least now there is a lower volume of traffic than if a 60-home development were built.

Kelly asked if the county would modify the bridge if the application for the development did not exist.

“I don’t want to see bridge expansion driven by development,” Kelly said. “I don’t want to see us have to change all of our roads due to development.”

She said she did not agree with having to widen roads for new developments.

“We have rural roads,” Kelly said. “I would hate to see us change the way the community looks based on development [with] wider roads, faster roads. Maybe if our roads can’t handle this development, we shouldn’t be having this development.”

Bob Abrams, a former township mayor, told the board that it took the county two years to rebuild the bridge on Millers Mill Road over Ivanhoe Creek. He called the county’s plan to finish work on the Emley’s Hill bridge within seven months “a pipe dream.”

He said that Hawkins Point Road, directly across Route 537 from Emley’s Hill Road, is a “deadhead” for morning traffic heading toward Freehold.

“With 60 homes, there’s 120 cars, possibly. If the bridge is not completed, they’ll head to Imlaystown, Millers Mill Road and Burlington Path. It’s just rerouting [traffic] onto rural roads,” Abrams said.

Resident Joe Valentine said he never imagined he would need to appear before the Planning Board for such an application.

“My wife and I moved here because we love the rural community. Everything we read said the community would be kept rural,” Valentine said.

Valentine lives at the intersection of Burlington Path and Emley’s Hill Road, about a half mile from the proposed development. He said he was already concerned about the amount of traffic at the intersection, saying that trucks ignore the stop signs, and cars fly over the hill.

Mele told him to contact the Township Committee about the problem.

Another resident, Jeff Ferrier, said he crossed the Emley’s Hill bridge every day, and that he often had to back up over it.

“I think no permits [for the subdivision] until the bridge is completed makes perfect sense,” Ferrier said. “Will 60 houses make it more difficult to get onto Route 537? No question about it.”

After hearing testimony, Giunco agreed that the bridge repair could be considered a condition of final approval.

His clients have agreed to pay $123,000 to the county for off-site mitigation, which he said discharged every legally applicable duty. Search said he would like to have the township’s own traffic experts look at the bridge from a safety standpoint.