SOD delivered this message to the Mayor and Council at Monday's meeting: "Say no to rezoning; keep New Milford green."
Prior to the start of Monday's Mayor and Council meeting, more than 100 people, many of whom brought their children, lined the sidewalk in front of Borough Hall holding signs saying "No Rezoning," and "Keep New Milford Green," in support of SOD (Stop Over Development) whose mission is to keep the United Water property from being developed.
"Rezoning the property is giving the developer what he wanted from the beginning," SOD Executive Director, Miriam Pickett said. "We need to let the Zoning Board do their job and let the application run its course."
"Look around you at all these people," Pickett continued. "This is proof to the mayor and council that SOD is growing and we're not going away."
SOD member John DeSantis said that SOD is doing what the Mayor and Council should have been doing all along. "We've reached out to assembly people, environmental groups," he said. "We're scrambling to get money from someone, somewhere so that piece of property won't be a supermarket, a 221 unit housing complex, a bank and a four-story parking garage."
Hekemian currently has a site plan application pending before the Zoning Board seeking variance approval to construct a 70,500 sq.ft. supermarket, a 4300 sq. ft. bank, and a 221 unit multi-housing complex with a four-story parking garage. The 221 units include 40 low-income units the developer says will satisfy New Milford's COAH obligation, despite the fact that COAH's status is currently undetermined.
According to DeSantis, the COAH argument has been "twisted and used by developers to bully towns into accepting their applications out of fear of a builder's rememdy suit."
SOD carried their signs inside the council chambers of Borough Hall where they were visible to the Mayor and Council throughout the duration of the meeting.
Regarding the application that is currently being heard by the Zoning Board and the potential for it to come before the Mayor and Council should it be appealed, Councilwoman Hedy Grant said, "I kept silent until today."
Citing the fact that Councilmen Howard Berner and Austin Ashley have recused themselves from discussion of the United Water property, and the fact that Councilmen Diego Robalino and Dominic Colucci have expressed their opinion, Grant said that it is "impossible for the appeal to be heard by this council."
Grant reiterated what she, Ashley and Councilwoman Randi Duffie included in their letter to the Freeholders--if the development goes through, it will destroy neighborhoods, neighboring towns and the quality of life in New Milford.
Echoing Grant's statement, Duffie added that as a first-term councilwoman in 2009, her understanding was that once the DEP cleaned the United Water property, New Milford would be given the right of first refusal to purchase it.
Duffie told the audience that the contract between Hekemian and United Water in 2011"was a shock."
Responding to Duffie's statement, Councilman Dominic Colucci questioned her on how a former mayor and council can say they were "for buying the property" and then park the town's COAH obligation there.
Berner questioned Duffie's statement by charging that she was a member of the Planning Board in 2004 when the master plan identified the United Water property for development.
"The former mayor and council parked our entire COAH obligation onto that property," Berner said.
According to Berner, "The plans for this property were put into place by prior administrations."
In response to the letter that Grant, Duffie and Ashley sent to the Freeholders requesting that they purchase the property for open space, Mayor Ann Subrizi said that although she "applauded the intent" she asked them to consider including the entire council on a letter such as that.
"You cc'd the River Edge and Oradell mayors, but you did not include me," Subrizi said.
Subrizi then read into the record a letter she received from Freeholder John Felice saying that before the Board of Chosen Freeholders can consider taking the necessary steps to undertake the purchase of the United Water property, they had to research the issue of the current status of the private sale contract between United Water and Hekemian.
Subrizi informed the council that she is meeting with Save the Watershed Action Network (SWAN) and agreed to include at least two members of the council.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, SOD member Anna Leone was disturbed by the fact that there is "no paper trail" indicating to United Water that New Milford was declining the offer to purchase the property.
Subrizi said that in order for there to have been a vote on a purchase, and, therefore, a paper trail, someone on the council would have had to first make a motion to bond for the money to purchase it.
"No one on the council did that," Subrizi said.
Berner said that his position on the United Water property is to purchase it, perform flood mitigation work, add fields, a dog run and other passive space.
"Now that the minutes of the closed session portion of the January 2011 have been released, the public can see that I am on record coming out against the development of this property," he said.
"I was begging for us to purchase this property--that was my position all the way back to 2011."