Rocky Hill housing plan modified

Schafer proposal faced criticism from residents, officials

By: Jake Uitti
   ROCKY HILL — Responding to objections raised by residents and the borough Planning Board, the Pulte/Schafer group presented two major changes to its application for Rocky Hill Estates on Thursday.
   The development is proposed for a 16-acre former horse farm owned by Schafer Capital Management.
   The changes were presented at a special Planning Board meeting, with about 70 residents and professionals on hand. No formal action was taken.
   The applicant’s engineer, responding to concerns raised by the board at a previous meeting, proposed a relocated, two-way entrance that, instead of intersecting Princeton Avenue at a blind bend in the road as first proposed, would intersect the road farther south, opposite the small Russian Orthodox church building.
   The change to the placement of the entrance road, the only access for cars into the site, allowed for a redesigned detention basin, which previously was planned to be about 5 feet deep, but now is designed to be shallower but wider and thus safer, the applicant said.
   The relocated road and redesigned basin met with the board’s approval.
   The plan for Rocky Hill Estates also allows for a public walkway from the southwest corner of the site to lead into Van Horne Park, which was recently developed jointly by the borough and Montgomery Township.
   The proposed Rocky Hill Estates project will contain 34 age-restricted, single-family dwellings in 17 duplex-style buildings, nine of which will be 6,000 square feet each and eight of which will be 7,000 square feet, not counting the buildings’ basements and garages.
   This is "the largest development proposal in the borough in the last 30 to 40 years," Mayor George Morren said.
   "I think people were pleased with the work the applicants did with the road relocation," the mayor added. "The question of the size of the units surfaced, and the Planning Board will be listening to residents on these matters, but I can’t anticipate if the size will change either way," he said. "That has to be a collective decision."
   When asked by board members why the buildings were designed to be so large, the applicant’s engineer, Richard A. Moralle of T&M Associates of Middletown, said, "People over 55 do not want to get rid of their things, they want to get rid of the responsibility to shovel their driveways and take care of their lawns. They still want the extra bedrooms for visits, and still want their furniture. So, this is the market."
   Mr. Moralle said the application meets borough ordinance requirements.
   Pointing to the western side of the property, board members asked if there should be an alley connecting the dwellings or small driveways shared by sets of two buildings. If the alleyway is preferred by the board, Planning Board Chairman Charles Pihokken said, a variance may be needed.
   "They are waiting to hear from the board," he said. "Right now, they are not asking for a variance."
   The applicant’s traffic expert, Lee Klein of T&M Associates, said the project will not significantly increase traffic on any of the surrounding roads including Princeton Avenue, Crescent Avenue, or Routes 518 and 206.
   Because the site is in the historic district, Mr. Pihokken said, the application must go through a strict process of approval by the board.
   The applicant must file a preservation plan, which is a prerequisite for any application within the historic district. The preservation plan focuses on the appearance of the design, Mayor Morren said.
   Some residents, including former Planning Board Chairwoman Susan Bristol, contend that the application does not meet the historic ordinance, calling the proposed buildings "mega-homes." Ms. Bristol asked if the age restrictions put in place might change down the road, to which the applicant’s attorney said there are no plans for such a change.
   Steve Morrison, a resident of Princeton Avenue whose house directly abuts the project, said the buildings are too close to his house. The applicant’s engineer responded that the plan would be examined to see if some of the driveways could be rearranged to "tighten" up the plans, keeping the required buffered distance of 150 feet.
   At the next meeting, slated for 7:30 p.m. March 30 at the First Reformed Church, the applicant’s architect will testify, as well as a blasting expert, who will discuss possible implications from charges that may be used when digging the dwellings’ basements and installing utilities.
   After the professionals have spoken, the board will discuss what changes it wants, if any, Mr. Pihokken said.