Hearings Begin on United Water Property
Chairman and Board of Adjustment member recuse themselves from proceedings; Councilman Austin Ashley retains his own counsel in an effort to stop development
Representatives for New Milford Redevelopment Associates LLC appeared before the Board of Adjustment Tuesday evening seeking preliminary and final site plan approval for the 13-acre United Water property.
Peter Hekemian, Principal and Vice President of Development for the S. Hekemian Group, is the managing director of New Milford Redevelopment Associates.
The standing room only crowd, which trickled out of the council chambers and into the hallway, was cautioned by Board Attorney Scott Sproviero that the public would only be able to speak to the plans as presented by the applicant's architect, Christian Lessard of Lessard Architectural Group.
The application includes:
- 70,500 sq. ft. supermarket
- 4300 sq. ft. bank with two drive-thru lanes
- Four-story 221 unit multi-family housing complex, that will include an affordable housing component, a 428-space multi-level parking garage and a pool.
At the opening of the meeting, Sproviero told the crowd that a decision regarding the application would not be made at this hearing.
"We are months and months away from a determination," he said, citing the fact that there are many components to the project that need to be considered.
"This is a very important application for this community and its future," Sproviero said.
"The integrity of these proceedings are very important and procedurally we must do it right."
Andy DelVecchio, the attorney representing New Milford Redevelopment Associates, said that development of the residential units has an "inherently beneficial use" with regard to the town's obligation to provide low-income housing. The borough's master plan places the fulfillment of this obligation on that property. The application calls for 15 percent of the 221 residential units to be set aside to satisfy New Milford's low housing obligation.
When asked by a board member if the housing units would be rental units, DelVecchio replied that all the units are rentals. However, he said that with regard to market rate units, "it depends what the market looks like" at that time that the development is completed.
Board members Joe Loonam and Frank Appice, along with members of the public Angelo DeCarlo and Al Alonso raised concerns about fire trucks being able to gain access to the apartment complex should the one-way entrance on Cecchino Drive be impassable due to floods.
"Building codes don’t require that a firetruck get to every apartment. There are standpipes within the stair systems," Lessard said, adding that he, along with engineers, would meet with members of the Fire Department to address their concerns.
During his opening statement, Chairman Karl Schaffenberger recused himself from the proceedings citing the public comments he made regarding the environmental impact of the development of that property at the Nov. 28 meeting of the Mayor and Council where representatives from United Water were in attendance.
Despite the fact that he was speaking as a private citizen at the November meeting, Schaffenberger did not want to give the appearance of impropriety and stepped aside.
"I reserve the right to appear as a citizen and question the environmental impact that this or any development will have on storm water management and flooding," he said.
Vice-chairman, Ron Stokes, will now be chairing the hearings on this application.
Following Schaffenberger's recusal, board member Fr. Aziz Hadodo recused himself for also making public statements regarding the development of the United Water property.
Sproviero informed the board that the borough planner, Burgis Associates, was also recused from the proceedings at the request of the applicant because the applicant's attorney performed work on behalf of the planner's wife. The Mayor and Council will appoint a special planner, Sproviero said.
Councilman Austin Ashley hired counsel to represent him in his objection to this development.
Ashley told Patch, "I retained counsel because it was clear to me that the mayor and council weren’t going to do enough to object to this development. I felt that this was the best course and the last option.”
When the meeting was adjourned, Ashley's attorney, Marc Leibman, told Patch that he's representing Ashley because, "Applications of this magnitude in towns of this character hold decisions that should be made by the mayor and council because it amounts to a complete rezoning." He added, "The board can't usurp the authority of the mayor and council to zone."
The hearing will resume at the next Board of Adjustment meeting, scheduled for 8 p.m. March 13 in the council chambers of Borough Hall.