DEAL ALLOWS 190 UNITS AT BAMM HOLLOW

bamm-hollow-signMiddletown reached a settlement with Bamm Hollow Country Club last week, effectively ending years of litigation. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Nearly 200 homes may be built on the property of Bamm Hollow Country Club as a result of an affordable housing lawsuit settlement between the town and the country club.

Officials say the deal was the best option for the town. Neighbors say it will crush the area’s quality of life.

The settlement, under which the owners of Bamm Hollow will be allowed to build up to 190 single-family homes and must set aside 120 acres of open space on the approximate 280-acre property, effectively ends a two-year lawsuit that bled hundreds of thousands of dollars from township coffers. The resolution outlining the terms of the settlement must be approved by the planning board to end the litigation.

While residents of the Lincroft section of town are strongly opposed to getting upwards of 200 new neighbors, 1,200 units were initially proposed and this settlement represents the best option for the town, officials said.

“I make this vote not because I want to,” Mayor Tony Fiore said. “I make this vote because I have to.”

In 2009, attorneys for Bamm Hollow filed a suit against the town for not including the property, a 280-acre golf course and country club, in its affordable housing plan, and proposed building 1,204 units on the property. The township fought the suit, which was subject to a court-imposed gag order, contending that it did meet the state’s affordable housing requirements, and spent “hundreds of thousands” before striking a settlement late last week, Attorney Brian Nelson said.

Some residents said the township didn’t fight hard enough and was hit hard by the “sledgehammer” that is the state Council on Affordable Housing, which they said jams affordable housing down municipalities’ throats.

“I think Middletown is setting a real poor example if we fall prey to that,” said Diane Sweeney, of Lincroft. “Something has got to be done. I am hoping for courage from the township committee to stand up and maybe say, we’ve had enough.”

But Fiore warned of the potential fallout of denying the terms of the settlement and seeing the case through. Nelson said the courts tend to rule in favor of developers, and  if a ruling went against Middletown, 1,200 units — possibly more, Administrator Tony Mercantante said — would be inevitable.

“Showing that level of fortitude can come at a cost that we would never be able to survive,” Fiore said.

Meanwhile, Fiore pointed out that the town is fighting the council in state Supreme Court challenging its affordable housing requirements.

“We’re not done fighting COAH,” said Committeeman Gerry Scharfenberger. “We’re not going to let up now. It’s just for the time being, our hands are tied.”

Nelson said Bamm Hollow’s conceptual plans for the 190 units will be made available on the township’s website sometime this week, as well as in the planning office. Worries from residents about buffers have been addressed, he said.

The settlement with Bamm Hollow is one of two prongs jabbed into the Lincroft neighborhood recently.

Residents continue to raise issues against another affordable housing plan, a 342-unit proposal at the former technology giant Avaya property on Middletown-Lincroft Road, not far from Bamm Hollow. That plan is currently being heard by the planning board, and is expected to take months getting through red tape.

Resident Allen Vrabel, in summarizing the two developments, told the township committee, “this sounds like you’ve got a gun to your head.”

“This whole process we’ve had a gun to our head,” Fiore said.

Download and read the full resolution here.