Far Hills Planning Board Hearings to start on 134 Home proposal

June 28, 2021

FAR HILLS – A widely anticipated proposal for an “inclusionary” development of 134 townhouses and apartments off Route 202 is scheduled for its first public hearing before the Planning Board at 7 p.m. Monday, July 5.

The meeting will be held virtually via Zoom.

The proposal, sought by Pulte Homes of N.J., includes 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.

“We anticipate that several Planning Board meetings will be needed as there is much to discuss,” said Mayor Paul Vallone.

The layout, aesthetics, sewer and water service, and lighting and traffic impacts are all expected to draw scrutiny.

A Planning Board hearing “is much like a trial with the ability to question witnesses and give opposing testimony,” Vallone noted. “As I have said in the past, residents will have every opportunity to express their views, to ask questions, and to participate in the end product of this development.”

The Borough Council agreed in October 2018 to include the proposal in its affordable housing compliance plan after rejecting three other development proposals that were panned by the public.

Municipalities typically can’t afford to build affordable housing on their own so they let developers do it. State rules allow developers to build income-restricted homes and subsidize the cost by packaging them with a multitude of market-priced homes.

In December 2019, the council complied with a court-ordered deadline to rezone the Pulte site to allow multi-family housing. The rezoning ordinance set development standards for aspects like yard setbacks and building sizes.

With the borough having a 2010 U.S. Census population of only 919, the project’s scale has drawn concerns from local residents.

Two years ago, they launched a “Preserve Far Hills” Facebook page and placed lawn signs along Route 202 warning of “a major housing increase.”

“This plan may increase our population by 30-plus percent, causing traffic congestion and the need for increased infrastructure,” the group said in a 2019 post. “It will also decrease the value of our homes and increase our taxes.”

The Facebook page has been inactive recently but several residents have continued to seek updates from the council.

While the Planning Board can recommend that Pulte modify certain aspects of its proposal, such as building materials, landscape buffering or parking configurations, a denial of the project could lead a court to deem the borough in violation of its affordable housing deal.

Vallone said the state’s system of affordable housing requirements has been a largely court-ordered, “poorly managed and very expensive mandate for many, many municipalities.”

“That being said,” he added, “it is the law of the land and municipalities who have not complied and dealt with the requirements of affordable housing have been the subject of punitive actions.”

Site Details

As for the site selection, the mayor said he and the council analyzed numerous options and determined “what would be in the best interest of our borough and our residents.”

The borough has arranged to have a 200-foot-wide “scenic setback” along Route 202 that would largely obscure the sight of new housing from the highway.

In an effort to mitigate any increase in school-age children and the resulting taxes, the borough obtained an age restriction on the market-priced homes. Owners must be at least 55 years old.

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, along with 29 income-restricted rental apartments that would be in a single building.

There would be 23, two-and-a-half story townhouse buildings, each with four to five townhouses. Each townhouse would have four bedrooms, according to the application.

A variance is sought to allow each townhouse building to have a height of 38.8 feet, as opposed to the zoning ordinance maximum of 36 feet.

The 29 affordable apartments would be housed in a three-story, 42-foot-high building on a separate 2.9-acre lot facing a new road on the east side of the tract. Of the apartments, four would be age-restricted.

The apartments would include nine with one bedroom, 15 with two bedrooms and five with three bedrooms.

The project would have 479 total parking spaces. The townhouse development would have 421 consisting of garage, driveway and common visitor spaces. The apartment development would have 58 surface parking spaces.

Sewer service would be provided by an on-site, 1,800-square-foot sewer treatment building to the rear of the apartment building.

Vallone said similar concerns from the public arose some 30 years ago about the plans to build the Polo Club townhouse development, which now has 125 units, of which 25 are income-restricted, on Sunnybranch Road.

He said that “in spite of all the rancor back then, the Polo Club has been a wonderful addition to Far Hills, well managed and well maintained.”