Why Would County Open Space Money Be Used to Buy Land That Is Already Protected by Law?
The Parsippany Council recently submitted a Morris County Open Space application to preserve a buffer on the western part of the 26.5 acre forested Waterview property. This property was the subject of a heated community debate last year as an outside developer, working with the land owner, petitioned to have the land re-zoned from corporate planned office development (POD) to mixed use (commercial, residential). The proposed re-zoning was defeated in a tight vote before over 500 cheering neighborhood residents.
One of the many reasons that neighborhood residents were so against this proposed development was because it removed the current zoning protection of a 200 foot undisturbed buffer along Intervale Road and Forest Drive, replacing it with a mere 50 feet. The proposed buffer was later changed to 65 feet – still, in the opinion of adjoining homeowners, woefully inadequate to preserve real estate values and quality of life. That 200 feet buffer is currently protected under zoning law.
Now the Parsippany Council, with the support of the Mountain Lakes Council, has petitioned that Morris County Open Space money be used to purchase a triangular buffer of 300 feet at its widest (at Intervale and Forest) tapering down to 65 feet at the point of the “triangle” at Intervale and Route 46. What’s wrong with that? Everyone loves open space right?
There are a couple of things about this that don’t quite make sense. For starters, why is this 9.26 acre triangular buffer appraised at $3.5MM in the open space application?
The current POD value of the entire 26.5 acres is $5-7 million. How can roughly a third of the land – the most hilly and thus least developable piece – be worth over half the entire parcel’s value? One third of the value would make this “open space” parcel worth roughly $2 million…and when properly discounted for the steep topography, perhaps half of that?
A study of the tax roles supports the premise that the open space application is over priced.
The entire 26.5 acres is assessed for tax purposes at only $2 million. How does this align with $5-7 million POD land value? This low assessment means that landowner, Bellemead, a subsidiary of insurance giant Chubb, pays only $50,000 in taxes on this parcel. Plus, they have negotiated a steep reduction in these low tax rates in 2015 when the land is designated as a tree farm. In fact, they will pay less than $2,000 in taxes next year. IF Parsippany is so in need of ratables, why is this land being undertaxed? Have Parsippany taxpayers been paying a subsidy to compensate the landowner for their inability to develop outside of current zoning restrictions?
At $3.5 million this would be the most expensive county open space purchase EVER.
A review of 2012 and 2013 county open space acquisitions reveals that the average price paid per acre was $82,000 in 2013 and $138,000 in 2012. The Waterview application comes in at a whopping $378,000 per acre! Good use of open space monies or a payoff to a developer? Plus, on the open space committee’s website, an article highlighting what makes a good application states that on average, County open space monies fund only 40% of a property acquisition. Want to guess what % Parsippany is asking County open space funds (i.e.., YOUR tax dollars)? 80%.
If RD Realty is successful in building their strip mall on the last parcel of true open space in Parsippany, they should provide the 200 foot undisturbed buffer AT NO COST to Parsippany or County taxpayers – As REQUIRED BY CURRENT ZONING LAW.
An adequate buffer area is already mandated under current POD zoning. Why would Parsippany ever change the law and then buy this land from the developer? If RD Realty wants to develop, and Parsippany’s Council grants them this right, they should be required to follow the law without additional tax breaks, subsidies or hand outs from the County open space fund.
Lastly, calling this buffer “Open Space” is laughable.
This buffer in question sits along what is known as the “Doremus Ridge” which has an elevation of 364 feet at its highest point. It is topped with a mature forest of hardwoods. The neighborhood opposition group, Citizens for Health, Safety and Welfare (C4HSW) hired geographical experts, Princeton Hydro, to do a site visit and provide an educated point of view about the buffer requirements to preserve the ridge and its tree cover. Based upon the geology of the site (loose soils), Princeton Hydro stated that a buffer of at least 300 feet would be needed to preserve the stability of the ridge. Cutting into the loose soils at less than that could be expected to result in some soil collapse and the loss of the tree cover. Plus, to add insult to injury, the “Open Space” application allows for the partial grading of the buffer.
Parsippany planner Ed Sneikus reported that current plans are to grade 98 feet of the back buffer (leaving 290 feet undisturbed) and 15 feet of the Intervale (leaving 93 feet undisturbed). When questioned, he reported that grading means sloping, terracing and retaining walls. The area most impacted by this plan is the entranceway to Mountain Lakes on Route 46. Roughly 1/3 of the entire proposed buffer along Intervale would be “graded” which will essentially mean filled with shrubs versus trees.
Since when does “Open Space” consist of a partially graded buffer between a development and a neighborhood? Since when is “Open Space” purchased on a major highway like Route 46? Previously approved open space acquisitions appear to be legitimate open space, many with opportunities for passive recreation that benefit the community (hiking, etc). “Hey Honey, want to take a hike next to the strip mall?”
Morris County Open Space Dollars Can Be Better Spent.
As members of C4HSW, we think that there are many questionable aspects of this application. It looks uncomfortably close to an attempt to compensate RD Realty for their as yet unsuccessful attempt to force a re-zone of this neighborhood. And as County taxpayers, we sincerely hope that the Open Space Committee and Freeholders have more worthy open space applications to choose amongst. Given how scare these dollars are, we can only hope that they are well used.
Citizens for Health, Safety and Welfare
In October, 2013 the Citizens Group and concerned residents of Parsippany and Mountain Lakes achieved a great victory – the overlay zone proposal was voted down by a 3-2 margin. Councilman Stanton, Carifi and Nelson voted against this idea and we are very grateful for their support.
Unfortunately, the issues does not stop there. Developer RD Realty sent a letter in March 2013 stating that if its plan for the last open space parcel of land at Waterview was rejected, it would consider building 530 units of low-income housing there instead. “RD Realty does not intend to simply make a proposal and terminate its land contract if that proposal is rejected…RDR will pursue alternative development avenues. Not developing the property is not an option.”
Keep in mind that the land is currently zoned for commercial development and RD Realty does not own it. The hubris in this last statement is astounding – that the people of Parsippany and their elected officials do not have a right to maintain their zoning laws as they see fit.
So now that RD Realty was not able to get their way with the Council, they are suing Parsippany. So much for democracy. see news article.
The developer claims that the Parsippany Council acted capriciously despite 10 months of meetings and review. They were “unreasonable” in not seeing that a strip mall is really the highest and best use of the land in question.
This suit is without merit and we urge the Parsippany Council to stand their ground and not be bullied.
So What Are They Doing With All That Money Anyway? (Flyer distributed at April 2013, Jump in the Lake fundraising event.
A legitimate question to ask when one donates to Citizens for Health, Safety and Welfare (CHSW)
The Citizens group fighting the Waterview development, as currently proposed, has been hard at work since January 2013. We have a core team of 9 individuals from Parsippany, Boonton and Mountain Lakes that meet on a weekly basis to pursue our goal of having a meaningful seat at the table when decisions are made about the future of the Waterviewtract and any attempts to rezone.
Early in this fight, we saw how fast this project was moving, how little the Parsippany Planning Board was listening to the hundreds of residents who came out to protest, and how unlikely it seemed that the Mountain Lakes Borough Council was going to play any significant role. We sought outside advice from similar grassroots groups who had fought unwise local development and quickly came to the conclusion that the only way to have a voice in this fight was through legal council. We hired Rob Simon, one of the best land use litigators in northern NJ, to represent our interests.
We also learned the power of grassroots pressure when the developer withdrew their request for an exemption to Parsippany’s wellhead protection ordinance. Although no final ordinance has yet been introduced, at the moment it looks like there will be no gas station on top of the aquifer on the corner of Intervale Road. We had our next “win” when Parsippany’s Council tabled the proposed rezoning ordinance in order to further investigate the buffer issue championed by residents and CHSW. Lastly, Mr. Simon has been invited to a series of meetings with Parsippany’s Planner and Legal Council. This kind of access makes us hopeful that we will have significant influence over whatever zoning decisions are ultimately made.
What else is going on? The Board of CHSW is meeting individually with Parsippany Council members. We want to make sure community concerns are front and center in their decision-making and ensure open channels of communication. Our initial meetings with Councilmen Cariffi and Nelson were very encouraging . We have also, at the recommendation of Mr. Simon, hired, or otherwise engaged, additional experts in the fields of planning, traffic, finance and the environment to advise us as to the best possible use and zoning of the Waterview parcel.
At the moment, it appears that the rezoning decision is off the fast track. To our knowledge, the May meetings of the Parsippany Council will not include the introduction of the rezoning ordinance. We are constantly monitoring this situation and urge you to sign up for our yahoo group where we post late-breaking news. You can sign up for this group from our website: dontrezonewaterview.com.
So in answer to the original question – “What are they doing with all this money anyway?” the answer is that it is being used to educate residents about the proposed development and to fund the efforts of our legal team. The goals of our group are not ideological and all options are under consideration. We seek a sensible solution which balances the quality of life of nearby residents, the needs of the aquifer with Parsippany’s desire for more revenues,
Thank you for caring enough to support us –
The Board of CHSW
UPDATE POST PARSIPPANY COUNCIL MEETING, MARCH 19
This was the first meeting in which residents could express their opinion of this proposed development before Parsippany’s Council. And express an opinion they did – the meeting lasted until 11:45pm with not one voice in favor of this project. Encouragingly, after a long time, one Councilman asked the Parsippany Planner how large the buffers would have to be on Intervale Road to maintain the berm or ridge that is important to Mountain Lakes. The Planner did not know so they voted to table the introduction of the ordinance that would change the zoning until that information was available.
Mountain Lakes Buffers – 200 Feet Not One Inch Less
Although there are many issues with this development from an environmental standpoint, the Mountain Lakes Environmental Commission has focused on the absolute necessity of maintaining the protective buffer along Intervale Road. The current law mandates 200 foot buffers and no access to Intervale Road. It is our position that these requirements are essential to protect ML residents from noise and light pollution, to maintain the wooded nature of our Borough character and to lessen the negative impact upon property values.
No Access on Intervale – Emergency or Public
The issue with allowing emergency access is that it will have to be cut through the ridge that shields us from this site. The typography of the site is such that the land will have to be graded and trees removed. This will essentially destroy the protective nature of the berm and cannot be allowed. For a copy of the proposed ordinance, click the link on the left to “Don’t Rezone Waterview.”
Understand Impact to Groundwater Supply BEFORE okaying dense development on an aquifer recharge area
Lastly, we remain very concerned about paving 75% of a key aquifer re-charge area. The group, Citizens for Heath, Safety and Welfare, of which some of the Mountain Lakes Environmental Commissioners are members of, brought Richard Plambeck, the Chair of the Groundwater Protection Committee, former mayor of Chatham and 20 year member of the Passaic River Coalition to address Parsippany Planning Board members in February. The Planning Board refused to hear his testimony.
We invite you to hear the Passiac River Coalition’s expert opinion about what impact the Waterview development could have upon aquifer water supply and quality. Remember – this aquifer is Mountain Lakes’ SOLE source of water.
Come learn more at the next Green Reels movie/speaker night on Wednesday, April 10 at 7pm at the MLHS Auditorium.
UPDATE POST PARSIPPANY PLANNING BOARD MEETING
The Environmental Commission of Mountain Lakes read the following memo at the recent February 11, 2013 Parsippany Planning Board meeting. Despite large public opposition and notice from the Don’t Rezone attorney, Rob Simon, that the Planning Board did not have jurisdiction to move this zoning change forward, the Board voted 8-to-1 to recommend the overlay zoning change.
Although disheartening, the lack of interest on the part of the Planning Board in representing it’s citizens versus representing outside developers, is not a surprise. Fortunately, Municipal Land Use Law is on our side, together with the fact that RD Realty does not own the tract in question. Members of Don’t Rezone are scheduled to meet with the attorney next week and next-step strategy will be developed.
What Can YOU Do?
1. Talk to members of Borough Council and let them know your concerns. Their contact information is on the website: mtnlakes.org. There is a link in the right hand navigation bar.
2. Donate to Don’t Rezone. We have hired an excellent attorney who is very familiar with the individuals in Parsippany government. He is also a master at municipal land use law. We do have a case; we do have the right attorney. We will need generous donations to stay in the game. Suggested amounts are: $100-$200/family. A link to the Don’t Rezone Waterview website is in the right hand navigation bar. The site accepts credit cards and debit withdrawals via PayPal. You can also mail a check directly to the Treasurer of the organization.
Lastly, a fund-raising team is in place and preliminary plans are for a dinner/music party on St Patrick’s Day. Stay Tuned!
3. Attend the Next Parsippany Planning Board Meeting February 25, 2013
The next step in the process is for the Parsippany Borough Council to write the actual overlay rezone ordinance. To do that, they will rely upon the developer’s draft ordinance and recommended restrictions from the Planning Board. The Board will come up with these restrictions at their next meeting February 25 in the Parsippany High School (to be confirmed). In the past, this process has produced restrictions deemed “too severe” on the part of the potential developer and the project has failed. We know that the Planning Board does not intend to let restrictions on things that the residents care about, like density and adequate buffers, get in the way of development again. It will be imperative that we make our voices heard again. We must demand the maintenance of 200 foot buffers on Intervale Road.
Mountain Lakes Environmental Commission statement to Parsippany Planning Board; February 11, 2013
Based upon our research, the Environmental Commission of Mountain Lakes (MLEC) believes that the rezoning before this Board tonight poses significant potential detrimental effects upon our Borough’s quality of life. Notably, increased noise, light and air pollution, a potential reduction in water supply, and increased traffic congestion on 46W.
1. Reduction in the buffer from 200 feet to 50 feet
- Buffers provide a shield from pollution: The proposed reduction of the buffer would mean the physical elimination of a hill and the trees on it. Without these natural barriers, noise and light pollution from the expansive parking lot would be clearly visible and audible in adjacent Mountain Lakes.
- Maintain the Borough’s character and aesthetics. If this development goes forward as planned, a neighborhood known for “turkey crossings” and abundant wildlife, will become the “neighborhood next to the strip mall.”
Parsippany’s own Master Plan recommends against big box development and argues for broad buffers in order to protect it’s residents and maintain street aesthetics. Mountain Lakes residents deserve nothing less.
2. Potential Harm to the Shared Aquifer due to the Increase in Impermeable Surface Within a Key Water Recharge Area.
- Harm to the Groundwater Supply: Mountain Lake’s sole source of water is the aquifer shared with Parsippany. This development proposes to pave 75% of 26.6 acres within the aquifer’s most efficient recharge area. Compounding a potential lessening of supply, is the additional demand related to this high-density project. Mountain Lakes and Parsippany are already under mandatory water restrictions from June through September. This development can only increase conservation pressures.
- Aquifer Contamination: We are gratified to learn that the Developer has withdrawn their request for wellhead protection exemption. We have been vigilant about this issue because the Environmental Committee of Parsippany is still waiting to be asked to provide a point of view on this development.
3. Impact on Traffic on Route 46W
Traffic congestion on 46W begins to build on weekdays at 3pm and continues until 7pm making it difficult to enter and exit Mountain Lakes. Based upon a study of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, this development can be expected to generate 19,000 car trips per day. Again, this increase would only exacerbate an already difficult situation.
In an effort to understand the potential impacts, we requested a copy of the traffic study that was completed last October on January 28. We were told, “it’s not available call back tomorrow.” A copy did materialize tater that week but we were told we could not copy it, we needed to visit the report in the offices during business hours. When I explained that this would not allow experts to examine a crucial report and that I needed a physical copy, I was told they would call me back. I eventually got a rag-tag copy that could not be put into a machine for easy duplication. When I asked for more copies at $16/each an electronic link finally appeared. It appeared last Friday at noon for a study that was written in October 2012.
In closing, this is a critical study that we need time to review. We’ve heard from your expert traffic numbers of a couple hundred additional cars and 33 second delays and that makes the traffic changes sound minimal. The Trip Generation Report would suggest otherwise.
We very respectfully ask that you act as a good neighbor and give us more time to analyze this document.
MEMO TO BOROUGH COUNCIL FROM ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION, January 28, 2013
Update: The following was read to Borough Council in late January. It recommends that Council write a letter of opposition to the proposed development currently before the Parsippany Planning Board. Since its presentation, lawyers for RD Realty have come back to say that they no longer intend to put gas stations in the parcel on the corner of Intervale Road. The EC is gratified to hear this and requests that the developer withdraw their request for exemption from wellhead protection ordinances.
Secondly, it appears that the egress onto Intervale has been removed from the 2nd set up plans. Again, this is good news however we will work with Don’t Rezone legal council to ensure that this development can never access Intervale Road.
Memo to Borough Council in Opposition to Waterview Parcel Rezoning Request
DATE: January 28, 2013
TO: Mountain Lakes Borough Council
FROM: Mountain Lakes Environmental Commission
RE: Proposed Parsippany Waterview Development, Route 46, Intervale Road, and Waterview Boulevard
On November 19, 2012 Joseph A. O’Neill, attorney for developer RD Realty,LLC, brought before the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills Planning Board (PPB) application No. 12:524 for a concept plan. He asked the PPB to recommend to the township council that they rezone 26.6 acres located on the border of Mountain Lakes at Intervale Road. The rezoning would be accomplished by an overlay option zone on the existing planned office development (POD) zone. The 26.6 acres is the last undeveloped parcel of a 132 acre tract zoned for offices.
Based on the aforementioned research and investigation the Environmental Commission (EC) recommends thatthe Mountain Lakes Borough Council engage the Borough Engineer to determine the impact of traffic, noise and light pollution in Mountain Lakes. Furthermore, we recommend that the Engineer evaluate the potential negative impact of grading changes on the water quality of the stream that runs along Intervale Road. Lastly, we recommend that Council ensure that the prohibition of any access to Intervale Road be restored in the new zoning ordinance.
Reasons for Recommendation:
1. Reduction in the buffer from 200 feet to 50 feet
- Provide a shield from pollution: The EC strongly believes that a buffer of at least 200 feet is necessary to shield Mountain Lakes residents from the noise, light and air pollution that a high-density development, such as the one proposed, would create.
The proposed tract is currently heavily wooded and contains a hill that provides a buffer between the area proposed for development and Mountain Lakes.” The reduction of the buffer to 50 feet would mean the physical elimination of this hill and the trees on it. Without these natural barriers, noise and light pollution from the expansive parking lot and all-night townhouse security lights would be clearly visible and audible in adjacent Mountain Lakes’ neighborhoods.
- Maintain the Borough’s character and aesthetics. For over 100 years residents of Mountain Lakes have treasured the wooded, peaceful character of our town. An “oasis” within an increasingly urban New Jersey. All entrances immediately immerse those who enter into a welcoming streetscape filled with trees. This is one of the reasons we pay a premium to live here.
If this development goes forward as planned, this will no longer be the case, particularly for residents on the eastern end of town. Now a neighborhood known for “turkey crossings” and abundant wildlife, it will become the “neighborhood next to the Target.”
Residents of Parsippany recognize the eyesore that these developments can create. According to an article in The Patch detailing community opposition at the last meeting, Parsippany resident Scott Hoffman “scoffed at the utility of a 50 foot or 75 foot buffer, using his experience at his own home involving an office building currently standing near the targeted 27 acres on Waterview Plaza. ‘From November through March, I see that building clear as day with a buffer in excess of 200 feet,” he insisted. “Explain how people are not supposed to see the development with a smaller buffer than I have?”
Parsippany’s own Master Plan recommends against big box development and argues for broad buffers in order to maintain character and street aesthetics. Quoting from their current Plan:
“Prospective development should include single-occupancy buildings as well as multi-use retail buildings. However, large-scale uses, commonly known as ‘big-box retail,’ should be discouraged. The objective of this plan is to encourage site design which enhances the character of the highway corridor.”
“To ensure that adjoining residents are not adversely impacted by on-site development, it is recommended that a broad perimeter buffer be provided and maintained around the tract where the project abuts an adjoining residential property. Similarly, broad buffers are to be provided along public streets in an effort to ensure the visual impression of an open space amenity along these streets. The issue of retaining the open space amenity along the roadway…is significant in light of the aesthetic character of this streetscape. The need to maintain a substantive buffer along Route 46…is particularly acute due to the need to physically separate residents from the Route 46 business corridor and the high traffic volumes which traverse this roadway.”
If the Parsippany Planning Board has made it a priority to protect the residents of Parsippany from the ills of bad development choices, Mountain Lakes residents deserve nothing less.
2. Potential Harm to the Shared Aquifer due to the Increase in Impermeable Surface Within a Key Water Recharge Area.
- Harm to the Groundwater Supply: Mountain Lake’s sole source of water is the aquifer shared with Parsippany. This development proposes to pave 75% of 26.6 acres within the aquifer’s most efficient recharge area. Such actions imperil the supply of groundwater we all depend upon. Compounding a potential lessening of supply, the additional demand related to this high-density project will increase demand. Mountain Lakes and Parsippany are both already under mandatory water restrictions from June through September. Additional demand plus potential future draughts can only be expected to increase conservation pressures on all municipalities that rely upon the aquifer.
- Aquifer Contamination: Potential aquifer contamination can occur on two fronts: concentrated pollutants coming from pavement runoff descending to the aquifer, and development that brings hazardous chemicals in proximity to the wellheads.
While the concentrated pollutants is unavoidable with the level of impermeable coverage proposed, harmful development is currently prohibited by Parsippany’s Wellhead Protection Ordinance. The developer has, however, requested an exemption from this ordinance. The exemption can allow for the development of a gas station or dry cleaner in close proximity to Parsippany’s wellheads (Tier 1 and Tier 2 ). In fact, a “convenience store with gas pumps” in one of the proposed uses for a 13,000 sq foot site on the corner of Intervale Road. Putting a gas station within sensitive wellhead protection zones would place Parsippany’s water supply at high risk and there is no one to speak for this resource. The Environmental Committee of Parsippany can only provide a point of view if requested to do so by Parsippany’s Borough Council. That request has not been made. As a good neighbor we feel it is imperative that we speak out.
3. Impact on Traffic on Intervale Road
Current POD zoning regulations (section 430-156 in Land Use Development Staging) stipulate the following as pertains to Intervale Road: “No access of the tract shall be permitted along Intervale Road frontage.” The new overlay zoning ordinance makes no mention of prohibiting access, however, it does prohibit access onto Forest Road in Parsippany. Secondly, access onto Intervale would provide direct access to Route 287S which would be desirable from the developer’s perspective. Lastly, the current site drawings show a significant gap in the buffer in an area that would provide prime driveway access. Consequently, we believe that if this project is approved, access from the development onto Intervale Road is inevitable.
Although the Developer’s Traffic Study is not yet available, the amount of traffic estimated from this development is significant. Planners and developers estimate the traffic impact of proposed development with a resource called the Trip Generation report produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. According to Wikipedia, “Trip generation is the first step in the conventional four-step transportation forecasting process (followed by trip distribution, mode choice, and route assignment), widely used for forecasting travel demands. It predicts the number of trips originating in or destined for a particular traffic analysis zone…The planner can add local adjustment factors and treat mixes of uses with ease. Ongoing work is adding to the stockpile of numbers; over 4000 studies were aggregated for the current edition.”
According to his resource, the proposed development can be estimated to generate over 23,000 trips a day.
|ITE Trip Generation Waterview Development|
|Facility||Sq Footage||ITE Avg Daily Trip/1000 Sq Foot*||Daily Trip Estimate||# ITE Studies Supporting|
|Target Discount Store||
|Convenience store w/gas||
|*ITE Trip Generation Report, 7thedition 2003|
The majority of these trips are generated by the potential convenience store with gas pumps. This type of traffic is particularly concerning because it generates a lot of noise from starting and stopping of engines as well as truck traffic coming in to replenish stocks, etc.. It could also potentially be open quite late in the evening.
In closing, The Mountain Lakes Environmental Commission has studied the concept plan for the proposed rezoning of the Parsippany parcel abutting Intervale Road, and researched its possible impacts. The Commission is concerned that Parsippany’s re-zoning of this parcel as proposed will have significant detrimental effect on Mountain Lakes and strongly urges the Borough Council to write a letter of opposition to this application.
Parsippany Wellhead Protection Zones
The area marked in red is the proposed 26.6 acre development site. The bottom left hand corner represents the intersection of Intervale Road. The fact that this parcel contains Tier One and Tier Two wellhead protection areas is clearly visible. These parcels need to be protected from development that contains hazardous chemicals in order to protect the public health of Parsippany residents.
ITE Trip Generation Report, 2003 – Report from which traffic numbers were calculated.