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 . 

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 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.

JG February 16, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Im there with you Ulises. I was crushed as well and quite frankly it's obvious who the people are that are looking for ratables. No big picture in mind at all!
JG February 16, 2012 at 01:33 AM
And I'm SURE it wasn't 100's, for real?
Ulises February 16, 2012 at 03:00 AM
JG, thanks and I agree with your comment about what this town may turn into if they allow this development. Oh, the next M & C meeting, on the 27th, our Super Bowl Champion Junior football players are going to be recognized by the M & C, plus, when the meeting opens to the public, a proposal will be presented about a new multiuse field at the middle school. Hopefully, this will gain support - our kids need it, so show up if you are for it. Nancy, if they don't agree with us - it's okay. Look at all the disagreements I've had with many on the Patch but I still consider them my neighbor because we all live in this great town. Jimmy Drake, if you read this post, I love you man. Mr. DeSantis, if you read this post, you were right about about Ashley.
JG February 16, 2012 at 03:34 AM
All - I'll make it personal. I grewup in Paramus and the school system was great all around, (academic and athletics) i moved to Waldwick on first marriage and found a phenomenal school system and athletic program and academics were there too. I had friends in new Milford and never got the feeling from them that New Milford was a team/town to reckon with. Living here for 9 years and seeing neighbors kids excel in sports makes me want to live in this town and for it to be "a town to be proud to live in". As you can see by comments, it currently isn't and with a future build in the UW area will not bring any further "approriate residents" to the area. Sorry to say but this will bring down New Milford. It will not be a place families will seek for a proper residence and home for their kids and family. I wouldn't!
JG February 16, 2012 at 04:17 AM
My family and I WANT to live in New Milford, we need to make it a place for families want to come, live and excel in school. We CURRENTLY can't say this since schools are overcrowded. When a family is looking for a town to live in, why would they consider New Milford to live, a town that has two 7-11s, two CVSs, a phenomenal apartment complex (brookchester) and an overcrowded school system. Plus now add an over populated complex next to the high school that will flood. Hmm not MY first choice to move too. Would it be yours? This is exhausting and quite frankly a losing battle. This area "Petetzburgh" will be going downhill. People are living in this area for a reason, which may change the dynamics FOREVER!
Lori Barton February 16, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Shame on us, New Milford! The entire complexion of New Milford is at stake. Whether you are for or against the proposed development of the United Water property, the Feb. 14 meeting should have been so well attended that it should have been necessary to relocate the meeting to a larger location. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The developer is requesting a “D” variance which would allow the development to proceed if it is shown to be “inherently beneficial” to the public good. Since the developer is including “affordable housing” as part of this proposal, it may be construed that this development is “inherently beneficial.”While this may satisfy the positive criteria needed for granting the “D” variance, there are also negative criteria to consider. Negative criteria must be shown to not exist, meaning that if this variance is granted, it should not be responsible for any substantial detriment to the public good. I respectfully submit that these proposed plans will absolutely cause substantial detriment to the public good. Development on watershed property has already been implicated in the increased frequency and the increased severity of flooding. Further development that includes covering watershed property with impervious coverings will reduce the ability of such property to absorb water in a flood prone zone. This will negatively impact the community by increasing the frequency and severity of flooding even more. (continued)
Lori Barton February 16, 2012 at 02:07 PM
(continued)Increasing the flow of traffic in an area currently consisting of single family homes and New Milford High School will cause considerable detriment to the health and safety of the community. In addition, the increase in the number of school age students that will be added to the existing school population will have serious detrimental impacts on an already crowded school system. The proposed high-density residential development includes 16 three-bedroom apartments, 115 two-bedroom apartments and 90 one-bedroom apartments. However, a number of the one-bedroom apartments also include a “den.” Does anyone honestly think that this “den” will not be used as a second bedroom by most of the tenants? Will there be a maximum capacity established for each unit? And if so, how will that be enforced? There is nothing about this development that is in the best interests of New Milford other than new ratables. But with the existing Shop Rite moving to this new location, an empty commercial space will exist. And with the poor condition of the existing Shop Rite, it is almost certain that the building will need to be demolished. Until that space is developed, we will lose those ratables. How long will it take for that parcel to be sold? What will be constructed there? (continued)
Lori Barton February 16, 2012 at 02:08 PM
(continued)Let us hope that our Zoning Board will keep in mind all of the substantial detriment to the public good that granting this “D” variance would cause. The detriment will far outweigh the “inherent benefits.” And let’s hope that New Milford residents will find the time in their busy lives to make their presence and their feelings known at the next Zoning Board meeting regarding this proposed development. Mark your calendars now for Tuesday, March 13 at 7:30 PM.
John DeSantis February 16, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Hello Ulises, Councilman Ashley is a good man. Wouldn't it be nice if all are representatives were as honest about where they stood on an issue as he has been. We should demand that all our council members and the mayor let us know where they they stand on this issue and every issue that concerns this town. No more sitting on the fence or indecisiveness. They need to have the courage to make a stand one way or the other. They owe that to the community. I'm a Democrat, always have been, and invloved with the Democratic club in town. But, I don't care what political party an elected official is associated with. If they are not willing to honestly let the public know where they stand on the issues and what their ideas are for taking us forward into the future, they don't deserve our respect, our support, or our vote and should be voted out of office. Elections should be about issues and ideas not personalities, personal attacks, and past feuds.
Jon February 16, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Well said JG. I am in the same situation. With the school system finally seeing some improvement, it would be a shame for this town to take a huge step back. If this development is approved, I will no doubt move even though I had every intention of seeing my son complete his eduction for the next 10 years in New Milford.
John DeSantis February 16, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Ms. Barton, You are right in everything you say. If you haven't already kept a record of what you just posted, do so now. There will come a time during these hearings when the public can make comments and express opinions. That time may be months from now. When that time does come you should read your statement just as it appears here. You should submit a written copy to be recorded as part of the minutes of the meeting.
Ulises February 16, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Ms. Barton and JG are 100% correct with their concerns. Mr. DeSantis, I think the town needs an ordinance which will not allow a members of the M & C to serve on the Planning or Zoning Board. Currently, the Mayor and Council President both serve on the Planning Board (no different than prior administrations) so when we ask them for their opinion on this property or other ones, they can't comment. It’s just not fair to those they serve to not come clean with their real opinions on these very critical issues, while behind the scene they are knee deep in deciding what the town’s future is.
JG February 16, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Lori - I totally agree with Mr DeSantis' suggestion, please bottle that comment exactly as you stated, very accurate and powerful statement. Well done!
John DeSantis February 16, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Hello Ulises, Thats a good idea. We could have one council person attend planning board meetings and act as a liaison to the council and mayor, and not be able to vote as a planning board member. That's how it works on the rent leveling board. I don't exactly know how the law reads as far as preconceived opinions of elected and appointed officials. But I think it's foolish to think that they don't have any, of course they do. The purpose of hearings is to educate themselves and the public, to gather enough information to affirm their opinions or possibly change their minds. I'm not sure that it is not just a cop-out when they refuse to let the public know where they stand on the issues. If the law does prevent our representatives from informing the public where they stand on the issues that concern the community, then you are absolutely correct they should not hold both offices. That is a disservice to the town's people. They are public officials, we are supposed to know what their opinion is on all issues that concern the community. How else can we vote intelligently. If their position on the planning board is preventing them from doing their job on the council, and part of that job is informing the public where they stand on the issues, then they should step down from one of the offices that they hold now and not wait for an ordinance to force them to do so. We the people are entitled to know.
Lori Barton February 16, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I have lived in New Milford for 33 years. Both of my children went through the school system. I have no plans to move. I do not live in any of the flood prone areas. But JG, you are absolutely right. If anyone does have an interest in selling a home in New Milford in the next 5-10 years, it is the school system and the recreational facilities for their children that they will be looking at. Taxes are secondary to those interests. If this type of development is permitted, we will have more kids in already crowded schools and far too few recreational facilities. Who would want to buy here then???? I just hope to preserve the small town we have and not to cause even more trouble for our friends and neighbors who already have to deal with floods.
John DeSantis February 16, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Hi Ulises, The more I think about it the angerier I become. Irregardless of political affiliation any canidate or elected official when asked his or her opinion on any issue that concerns the public should answer honestly. If he or she gives a long response that does not really answer the question or address the issue, don't vote for that person. That individual is evasive, dishonest and can't be trusted. If he or she has no opinion, don't vote for that person. That individual is an empty headed idiot. I wouldn't expect canidates or elected officials to answer questions imediately on the spot. But after some time of reflection they should be able to answer questions and state their opinions openly and honestly. That is not too much to expect of them.
Ulises February 16, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Mr. DeSantis, we should ask our elected officials to see if they can change this practice of serving on both the M & C and the Planning Board. In this coming election if hear, "I can't speak about this topic because I'm on the planning board...", my response is going to be, "I can't vote for you because you're on the planning board."
JG February 16, 2012 at 11:12 PM
How can this happen? Isn't this a conflict of interest?
Ulises February 16, 2012 at 11:17 PM
John DeSantis February 16, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Ulises and JG, Yes, it is a conflict of interest. Ulises is right, we should try to convince one of our council members to propose an ordinance that any council member serving on any board in any capacity other than liason is prohibited. That ordinance should be proposed as soon as possible.
DP February 17, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I'm thinking of moving to New Milford with my wife (having recently found a nice home in the town) and reading this is giving me some second thoughts. Does anyone know when this particular issue would be resolved?
John DeSantis February 17, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Hello DP, The hearing process for the variances have just begun. It will probably take many months before the zoning board makes a decision. Once the zoning board makes a decision one way or another it will probably end up in court. That could take many more months. Anyways if you decide to move here, welcome to New Milford.
Donna Colucci February 17, 2012 at 11:04 PM
You could end all your controversy by going to this link available right on our boro website and see what the state mandates for EVERY municipalty in the State of New Jersey...........http://www.newmilfordboro.com/index.php?view=article&catid=38%3Aboards-committees-and-commissions&id=58%3Aplanning-board&option=com_content&Itemid=80
Donna Colucci February 17, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Tony February 18, 2012 at 12:26 AM
DP... It's a great town with a nice small town feel. Unfortunately the Mayor and Council, with the exception of Councilman Ashley, are determined to drastically change all that, regardless of how people feel, all in the name of ratables which probably won't be used to lower our property taxes anyway.
Ulises February 18, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Ann, I feel like a smoker - I need a patch for the Patch... Mrs. Colucci, thank you, and I need a life. I found that document last night, looked up New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law and I think my hair starting to grow back from the reading; please pass this on to Dominick. In all seriousness, the only way to amend, what seems like a conflict of interest, is to take it up at the state level... Mr. DeSantis can you call Bob Gordon? Oy!
John DeSantis February 18, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Hi Ulises, I could write him, so could you, but I think first we should demand that every Council member and the Mayor let us know where they stand on this development. In favor of it or not. If it creates a conflict of interest they can recuse themselves if and when this issue ever comes before the planning board. The public's right to know the opinions of their elected officials on public matters should come first.
Ulises February 18, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Will do and I agree with you. Thanks.
Nancy February 18, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Those are going to be my words too, Will NOT vote for anyone that doesnt give a straight answer. If they do not want to discuss it after all of the time they've had to think about it, they're OUT.
Bob Lin April 25, 2012 at 10:25 PM


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