U.F. mapped out master plan revision in ’06

Public hearings on plan will start this year


Staff Writer

Maybe Upper Freehold’s Planning Board will make a New Year’s resolution to finish revising its master plan in 2007.

This year, the Planning Board will continue the revision process it started in March 2005. A great deal of the Planning Board’s time in 2006 was spent on hearings for the proposed Rockefeller Group warehouse development on Breza Road, which generated much community opposition.

The Rockefeller Group finally withdrew its application shortly before the scheduled Nov. 30 hearing on the matter.

Mayor set goals

Prior to the Rockefeller Group plan’s taking up most of the board’s time, the continuation of the revision process kicked off last January with Mayor Stephen Fleischacker, who also serves on the Planning Board, stating his priorities for the town. He said he wanted to adjust and refine the township’s master plan and development regulations by examining future demands on water and community and school facilities. He also said he would evaluate traffic, affordable-housing needs and potential loss of farmland, open space and environmental resources in order to achieve Smart Growth.

The Planning Board appointed several new members in 2006. Longtime members Dianne Kelly, Daniel VanVoorhis and Joe Toscano were not reappointed, while Douglas Raynor and Corrine Szydlowski were appointed as alternates. Tax Assessor J. Stephen Walters replaced Kelly as a Class 2 member. Former alternate members J. David Holmes and Barry Wright became regular members. Rupert “Bob” Freiberger was also appointed as a regular member.

Board approved developments

After its reorganization, the Planning Board gave final approval for a 60-unit subdivision on Emley’s Hill Road and Route 537. Lee Ann Hoffman, the applicant’s engineer, said the subdivision is on 181 acres and would be developed under the township’s cluster option, which offers a 35 percent bonus density to developers who are willing to preserve at least 50 percent of the tract as dedicated open space. The board also voted to grant final approval to David Perlman for a 56-lot subdivision on Sharon Station Road.

White Birch took a stand

Early in the year, Joe Parisi, owner of White Birch Farm on Route 526, threatened to sue the township if officials attempted to rezone his property for a village center.

Depending on the season, White Birch Farm employs between 110 and 125 people, making it one of the largest employers in the township. Steven Williams, the farm’s general manager, said the farm brings in about $2 million annually to the local economy, including the agricultural sector.

The change in zoning would permit a greater density of development in the area of the farm. The reform would also make density transfers possible, meaning the township would promote more development in the area in an effort to keep other parts of the community more rural.

Township Planner Mark Remsa said rezoning White Birch for a village center makes sense in terms of traffic circulation. He said the designation would also allow for the creation of a sewage treatment plant that could service nearby Imlaystown as well, which is dilapidating due to a failing water/sewer system.

Township Committeeman Sal Diecidue, who serves on the Planning Board, said White Birch Farm is large and surrounded by three major roads, including I-195. The contemplated new village center would be located along I-195, Imlaystown-Hightstown Road, along County Route (CR) 526 and would back up to Imlaystown extending along Davis Station Road to CR 539. Diecidue said a village center designation would encourage the development of houses on that tract rather than in other areas of town.

The board also discussed creating an overlay zone for the Horse Park of New Jersey on Route 524. The proposed zoning would allow restaurants and equine-themed businesses in what is now an agricultural/residential and park zone.

Wright, a real estate appraiser, said he envisions high-quality adult communities in the Route 539 area. He said the benefit to the town would be that “no yellow school buses would go in there,” meaning that the communities would not have school-age children who would impact township schools.

Residents opposed village centers

At the Feb. 9 meeting, resident Gerald Nathanson said he had a problem with a letter to the editor in the Examiner written by Jon Tomson. The letter compared a proposed village center on White Birch Farm to the nearby Washington Town Center in Washington Township, Mercer County.

“This is a dispersion on the Planning Board,” Nathanson said.

Tomson responded that he is “most concerned that today’s decisions in the area of Smart Growth, whether they involve Imlaystown or some other area of the township, will have an impact on this community years after people like myself, our Planning Board members and other residents of Upper Freehold are long gone.”

Tomson said he asked the New Jersey Office of Smart Growth (OSG) whether the development of a town/village center is a requisite element of a Smart Growth plan and was told that it is not. He said village centers have a minimum gross population density of 5,000 people per square mile and a minimum gross housing density of three dwelling units per acre. In comparison, the 2000 U.S. Census indicated that Upper Freehold had a population of 4,282 residents, although several large developments have been constructed in the past six years.

In response to Tomson, Fleischacker encouraged residents to attend board meetings to gather information and ask questions. He said the Planning Board is trying to plan for development in a sensible, logical way.

Township looked toward build-out

While giving a PowerPoint presentation about the land use element of the township’s master plan during the Feb. 28 Planning Board meeting, Remsa said officials aim to prevent the homogeneous spread of suburban-type development throughout the township. He referred to such housing distribution as “the measles.”

Remsa said the board prepared a build-out analysis of the township showing potential for 3,561 new housing units and 8.2 million more square feet of nonresidential space under the township’s current 3-acre zoning. According to Remsa, build-out may take between 20 and 50 years.

The planner also spoke about the ramifications of not meeting the vision set forth in the land use element of the master plan. If the vision is not met, according to Remsa, the township would lose its rural character along with its ability to preserve the maximum amount of farmland possible. If that happens, Remsa said, low-density suburban sprawl would cover the landscape, creating a homogenized land use pattern. The township would also lose its agricultural industry, which is the major contributor to the town’s economic base, he said.

Remsa cited the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s 2003 Agricultural Smart Growth Plan, which stated that “downzoning and large-lot zoning spread out homes that consume more land, with none of the remaining land usable for farming, forestry or recreation.”

Former board member took a shot

In a June interview, Joe Toscano, who was not reappointed to the Planning Board after serving nine years, alleged that the board had stalled in making final decisions about rezoning until a very large landowner in town could finish putting together a development deal for his property under current zoning.

Toscano alleged that by replacing him, Kelly and VanVoorhis this year on the Planning Board, the board had been stacked in favor of large landowners.

Fleischacker questioned why Toscano waited until more than five months after the Planning Board appointments to raise the issue if he believed that the board was biased. The mayor said the 2006 regular Planning Board membership is made up of five “large landowners,” three of whom have farms in the Farmland Preservation Program. Fleischacker said that a final decision regarding zoning should be made by the summer, but it wasn’t.

State explained Smart Growth

On Aug. 10, representatives from the state OSG gave the board a presentation on Smart Growth. Smart Growth is a term used to describe well-planned, well-managed growth that adds new homes and creates new jobs while preserving open space, farmland and environmental resources, according to the OSG.

OSG planner Russel Like acknowledged the enormous growth pressure Upper Freehold is experiencing and said that unmanaged growth leads to a deteriorating infrastructure and sprawl.

To put half of Upper Freehold’s 9,500 developable acres left into the traditional Farmland Preservation Program would cost an estimated $69 million, with $11 million coming from township coffers, according to OSG planning director Courtenay Mercer.

“You can’t buy it all,” she said. “The residents would not appreciate bearing that much tax.”

Planner said sacrifice

The township could sacrifice 1,300 of its acres to save 10,000 others, Remsa told the Planning Board at its Aug. 10 meeting. He said the township could save the acreage if it designated certain locations as send-receive areas for potential development density transfers. Remsa identified places that the township could use as receiving areas for density transfers.

Remsa called the first potential receiving place “New Sharon,” saying it consists of two separate parcels totaling about 131 acres off Old York Road. According to Remsa, the New Sharon tract could have a density between 270 and 1,500 housing units.

The second potential receiving area is White Birch Farm, which he said could contain between 340 and 1,900 housing units.

The third property, which Remsa called “Imlaystown South,” consists of acreage on Route 539 and Sharon Station and Davis Station roads. This tract contains land currently owned by Ronald Taft, David Perlman and High Ridge Farm. Remsa said the 700 acres of the combined parcels would yield 540 acres of developable land, which would hold between 1,090 to 6,000 housing units.

The fourth tract is the 110-acre Baier Lustgarten nursery near Hornerstown on Route 539, which Remsa said could hold between 178 and 970 housing units.

When a township uses density transfers to maintain continuous agricultural acreage, Fleischacker said it must also consider where its village centers are located. He said the concept is to locate concentrated housing in areas where it would be the least costly to the town. Fleischacker said officials are not discussing condemning property, but rather the “what ifs.”

At the Sept. 14 Planning Board meeting, Remsa said that 55 acres near routes 537 and 539 would be a fifth suitable receiving area for the township’s density transfers and could contain between 56 and 221 housing units, as well as some commercial uses.

During the meeting, Remsa also brought up the concept of a “floating hamlet,” in which large landowners with several properties could designate one of their parcels as a receiving area from their other tracts. He said the land would have to meet certain criteria, such as frontage on major roads or crossroads and the ability to perc for septic systems. As an example of a floating hamlet, Remsa said a landowner with 500 acres could put 100 of those acres into a receiving area and preserve the rest.

U.F. considered downzoning

Remsa proposed an idea that he called “radical and shocking” at the Oct. 12 Planning Board meeting. Remsa proposed that the township change its current 3-acre zoning to 6-acre zoning. He also said the township should increase the few areas in town with 5-acre zoning to 10-acre zoning. To further encourage density transfers from rural areas to other specified receiving areas in Upper Freehold, the township would not only give landowners credit for what they could build on their land, but a 35 percent bonus density as well.

“The idea is to reward the developer and landowner to take units from a rural area and put them in areas deemed appropriate for development,” Remsa said. “We will pay you for preservation.”

Under Remsa’s proposed concept, the township would pay a premium so the landowner would get full equity and the township would get the quality of life it is trying to achieve, he said.

Remsa added two more properties to the list of potential receiving areas. Remsa said Cox’s Corner at Route 524 and Imlaystown-Hightstown Road, which is near I-195, could be a potential receiving area. He also identified property near the proposed middle school site on Ellisdale Road as another potential receiving area.

Money spent to make a plan

At its Nov. 28 meeting, the township passed a special emergency appropriation of $300,000 to meet planning, legal, engineering and other expenses related to Planning Board and Township Committee actions.

The Planning Board will continue its discussion about revising the master plan at 7 p.m. at its Jan. 23 meeting.