Builder now accused of disturbing wetlands

County and state both allege violations at Woodhaven


Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE – Infractions continue to pile up against the developer of the Woodhaven community on Old Bridge-Englishtown Road.

While Middlesex County officials have warned the Woodhaven builder, Atlantic Realty, to immediately perform road improvements or face action, the state Department of Environmental Protection has issued two notices of violation to the developer. The DEP found Woodhaven in noncompliance with the Flood Hazard Area Control Act and the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.

“They went into areas they weren’t supposed to,” Township Planner Sam Rizzo said of the residential construction.

Additionally, he said, the violations allege that Woodhaven added fill to wetlands areas.

The DEP also did not agree with the builder’s outline of wetlands, he said.

“They’ll have to do a new delineation,” Rizzo said.

Mayor Jim Phillips, who had sent a letter to the DEP asking for a review of Woodhaven, received notice of the violations last week.

In his letter, Phillips said he was concerned about future flooding in the area around Woodhaven as a result of the ongoing development. He also asked for an updated letter of interpretation regarding the extent of wetlands interference on the project site.

Phillips said he was expecting a harsher letter from the state, possibly calling for a halt in Woodhaven’s construction and application processes. The builder has another large-scale housing development and commercial plaza currently before the township Planning Board.

“It wasn’t the strong letter I was hoping for,” he said.

But the DEP is concerned about the status of Woodhaven.

“Please be assured that the department shares your concerns regarding the potential impacts of this project,” DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson says in the letter.

Jackson also said in her letter that her staff was conducting a review in order to more effectively deal with the environmental issues surrounding Woodhaven.

According to the DEP’s violation notices, the developer disturbed approximately 24,900 square feet of freshwater wetlands transition areas due to the widening of a roadway at multiple locations and the clearing of vegetation, filling, grading and construction operations.

The builder is also accused of disturbing 58,025 square feet of freshwater wetlands due to the same activities.

Also, the placement of fill material associated with road crossings disturbed approximately 21,850 square feet of floodway, according to the DEP.

And that may not be all.

“We have reason to expect there are other notices of violation that go further back,” Phillips said.

Jackson’s March 17 letter explains that Woodhaven must submit for and obtain freshwater wetlands permits and a restoration plan for the site within 30 days. Also, Woodhaven representatives must submit in writing an explanation of the corrective measures they have taken or will take in order to remediate the situation.

Rizzo said he is unsure of the consequences for Woodhaven if they do not comply with the DEP’s requests in the allotted time.

Though Woodhaven Plaza, a related commercial application, was on the Planning Board’s agenda for a review Tuesday night, Atlantic Realty attorney Ron Shimanowitz sent a letter to the board requesting that the hearing be postponed. The board granted that extension, and the hearing is expected to resume in June and July.

Board Chairman Lawrence Redmond said he would contact county and DEP officials to make them aware of the new hearings and urge them to attend and voice their concerns.

“These issues need to be dealt with,” Redmond said.

The county, meanwhile, has imposed a time limit on the completion of road work on Old Bridge-Englishtown Road.

The county Department of Planning’s Land Development and Review Division ordered the developer on March 24 to immediately complete road improvements that were cited as unmet conditions of Woodhaven’s approval. The county said it would take action against Woodhaven if its conditions were not met within 10 days.

The county is involved because Texas and Old Bridge-Englishtown roads are owned by the county, and Woodhaven received building approvals from both the township and the county.

Redmond said he has not yet heard from Old Bridge’s Department of Code Enforcement on whether improvements have been made. He does not want to issue any type of approval on pending Woodhaven applications until the issues are resolved.

Already, the township has put a hold on the granting of certificates of occupancy for the development at the request of the county.

“If they don’t comply, our Code Enforcement Department will write them up and they’d have to go to municipal court,” Redmond said.

But since the county is also involved, there may be other repercussions. Redmond said he would be in touch with county officials within the next few days to gauge the status of the issues.

Woodhaven I, which is largely built out, consists of 73 single-family homes, 19 patio homes, 12 duplexes, 70 townhouses and 136 flats. Woodhaven II, now in hearings before the Planning Board, calls for 113 single-family homes, 292 townhouses and 358 multi-family homes. Woodhaven Plaza includes 118,050 square feet of retail space on 27 acres of property fronting Texas Road.

Shimanowitz could not be reached at press time for comment on this story.