Decision Draws Closer For 134 Home Proposal In Far Hills

November 8, 2021

FAR HILLS – An effort to tie up loose ends involving site work and sewage treatment for proposed 134-unit “inclusionary” development on Route 202 dominated a fifth virtual hearing on the plans before the Planning Board on Monday, Nov. 1.

The proposal was essentially unchanged aside from minor adjustments to recreational plans and tree removal.

After two hours of expert testimony, the hearing was carried to a special meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23.  Craig Gianetti, attorney for the applicant, told the board he planned to complete his presentation with testimony from a professional planner.

That would set the stage for public comments, a board deliberation and a vote.  If a vote is not held that night, it would likely occur at the following meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 6.

The project, sought by Pulte Homes of N.J., would include 29 income-restricted units to help the borough meet its state-mandated “Round III” affordable housing obligation through 2025.

Pulte is seeking site plan, subdivision and variance approvals to develop the 42-acre Errico Acres tract on Route 202 opposite Lake Road. It is doing so in partnership with Gladstone-based Melillo Equities.

The Borough Council was pressured by a court to rezone the site in December 2019 to allow multi-family housing. While the Planning Board can seek modifications to the proposal, a denial could lead the courts to deem the borough in violation of its affordable housing obligation.

The project, billed as “The Residences at Overleigh,” calls for 105 market-priced, for-sale townhouses that would be spread among a network of roads, plus 29 income-restricted apartments that would be in a single building.

All 105 townhouses and four of the 29 apartments would be restricted to residents age 55 and older.

At the initial hearing on July 5, testimony about engineering site details drew numerous questions from the board’s consultants.  The board agreed to have its consultants meet with the applicant’s experts in private to pare down the questions and make the board’s review more manageable.

The next three hearings were then devoted to testimony from Pulte’s architect, landscape architect and traffic consultant.

At the Nov. 1 hearing, project engineer Ron Kennedy was recalled to testify.  He began by noting that no changes had been made to the proposed road network, unit locations and parking lot.

One change involved recreation. Kennedy said a one-and-a-half acre drainage recharge area behind a Route 202 buffer, initially envisioned as a meadow, would instead be maintained as “more of a lawn area.”  It would be about 150-by-400 feet.

A stone walking path would be located around the lawn.

In addition, a 40-by-50-foot lawn or play area would located near the multi-family building.

The number of trees to be removed was reduced from 631 to 609, while number of replacement trees was increased from 855 to 888, Kennedy said.  The new trees would include 286 evergreens and 602 deciduous and ornamental trees.

The area of disturbance would be reduced from 26.1 acres to 25.7 acres, he said.  The impervious coverage would increase to 28.2 percent due to the new path but would still be less than half of the permitted 60 percent, he said.

Kennedy noted that a “sliver” of disturbed area would occur within a borough-regulated stream buffer area.

Sewerage Plant

Adam G. Stern, an engineer with Natural Systems Utilities (NSU) of Hillsborough Township, then testified about plans to build a package sewer treatment plant within the development.

The facility was sought by borough officials, who preferred that the development provide its own sewer treatment and disposal needs.

Borough officials did not want to extend the municipal sewer line from the village section east to Errico Acres, fearing that would open more land to high-density development.

Stern said NSU manages more than 250 sewer plants, and the industry is “highly regulated.”  Once built and operational, the facilities are continually monitored, with monthly reports filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), he said.

The sewer water would be treated to “near drinking water standards,” with 99 percent of it being recharged to groundwater, he said.  The remaining 1 percent, he said, consists of spent bacterial matter grown to consume waste.  It would be removed every 30 to 40 days.

In response to questions from board members, Stern said the facilities are designed to last indefinitely but do need equipment replaced every so often.

Mayor Paul Vallone sought assurances that the borough would not be financially vulnerable if the plant fails.  Gianetti replied that the plant would be owned solely by the homeowners association, and the association would build up a reserve to address any issues.

W. Jacob Perry