Sewer plans move forward in Mansfield

Planning board expected to begin process at the end of the month

By: William Wichert
   MANSFIELD — The planning stages of the Columbus sewer project have begun.
   The proposal to bring sewer service to this 318-year-old village was approved in October 2005 as part of the township’s court settlement with a developer intending to build over 400 housing units along Petticoat Bridge Road, but much has yet to happen before that proposal becomes a reality.
   Municipal officials still have to permit zoning changes that fit the size of the new development, the builder’s proposal has to receive formal township approval, and various state agencies must still sign off on the township’s overarching vision for Columbus and Mansfield in general.
   "This will change the whole township and village of Columbus," said Township Administrator Joseph Broski, who also serves on the township Planning Board. "This is one of the biggest things, seriously, in a couple of decades to come out of here."
   The Planning Board is expected to begin this process at the end of the month by issuing a recommendation to the Township Committee to rezone the Petticoat Bridge Road property to meet the developer’s plans, said Township Planner Harry McVey.
   The developer, Dallas-based Centex Homes, has proposed building 310 age-restricted, single-family houses; 36 apartments for low- and moderate-income residents; and 60 apartments for physically disabled residents, as well as contributing $4.58 million in seed money to build a sewer system for the 200 Columbus households.
   These zoning changes, which would be in the form of amendments to the township’s Master Plan, would increase the allowable development from one housing unit per 3 acres to two units for every single acre, said Mr. McVey.
   "The density and development standards will be pretty close to what is in place in Homestead (at Mansfield)," said Mr. McVey, referring to the 1,000-house development near the Centex site. "It’s nothing that’s earth-shattering. It’s more of an evolution of the zoning."
   These amendments will most likely be reviewed by the Township Committee in March and, if approved, the zoning changes would send a green light for the developer to submit its formal application to the Planning Board, said Mr. McVey.
   The Centex application process could then proceed on the township level, he said, but no actual construction can begin until the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approves the township’s wastewater management plan — one of two stages involving the state in the Columbus sewer project.
   The second stage entails receiving certification from the State Planning Commission (SPC) to show that Mansfield is aligned with the state plan designating development and preservation areas in the township. While officials will debate zoning amendments for the Centex property later this month, the municipality will submit its formal application to the SPC, said Mr. McVey.
   Although the municipality has been waiting several years for DEP approval of the wastewater management plan, Mr. McVey said that process will be sped up, because the DEP is closely involved in the SPC review, which is expected to end later this year.
   The township’s application to the SPC will demonstrate its plans to create a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, said Mr. McVey. Within this program, landowners sell "credits" based on the value of their property to developers who can use those credits to build in the "receiving areas," which are the sections of a municipality that are designated for development.
   Mansfield officials have selected Columbus and the Hedding section as the two "receiving areas" in the township. The choice of Hedding has drawn ire from residents in that neighborhood, who want to see the area preserved, but Mr. McVey said Hedding may not necessarily be developed.
   Developer D.R. Horton has proposed building a 690-house community in that section, but its sewer application was rejected by the DEP in October 2004 due to the presence of a bald eagle habitat in the area. Given the sewer plans for Columbus, the TDR program will begin there, and the future of Hedding will be determined afterward, said Mr. McVey.
   "There’s too many questions, too many issues, open to seriously plan that area of the township," he said. "Hedding may never be needed."