OFFICIALS TOUT BAMM HOLLOW OPEN SPACE

bamm-hollow-gspA view of Bamm Hollow from the Garden State Parkway. Middetown officials say the view won’t change. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

If and when developers ever get to work on building 190 homes on the sprawling property of Bamm Hollow Country Club, its impact on the Lincroft area of Middletown, would be minimal, says township Attorney Brian Nelson.

Traffic would increase from present levels, and the local school system would take on new students. But when driving by the property, it’d be hard to notice any major impact, Nelson said.

That would not be the case had the township pursued, and lost, a two-year-old lawsuit opposing plans for up to 1,200 units on the site, Nelson maintains. Instead, the municipality reached a deal with the property owners.

“You can drive down West Front Street, and you won’t even know this development is there,” Nelson said in an interview shortly after the township committee announced an end to the lawsuit. “You won’t even see it from the Parkway. It’ll look the same as it is now.”

In the settlement, reached in May, the township got a huge win, Nelson said: the developer agreed to set aside nearly 120 acres for open space that can never be developed.

“To get 120 acres for free is huge,” he said.

Lawyers for Bamm Hollow filed suit against the town in 2005, and again in 2009, objecting to its affordable housing plan — a mandate set forth by the state’s Council on Affordable Housing — which did not include the 280-acre property. The township, which until May was under a gag order by the the state Superior Court, spent hundreds of thousands in litigation costs over that period contending that the plan met the state’s affordable housing requirements, officials say.

But had the township continued to fight,  the chance of winning was slim, given the court system’s bent toward developers in affordable housing cases, Nelson and other officials said. The settlement was the best possible option for the town, they maintain.

According to the settlement terms, about 118 acres — nearly half of the property — will be set aside for open space. About 85 acres, broken into 47-acre, 29-acre and smaller parcels, will be dedicated to the township for municipal purposes.

Some of that land may be used for fields or a playground, and a portion will likely adjoin the Monmouth County Park System’s Sunnyside Recreation Area, “so in a way it’s an extension of the park,” Nelson said. Another 35 acres “can never even be built on,” as the property will be classified as conservation easements that will provide buffer space for the open space and housing units, should they be built.

The remaining acreage, which is currently zoned to allow residential development of up to 50 units, will be rezoned to allow up to 190 units.

Assuming the planning board signs off on the agreement, the town must develop a zoning ordinance allowing Bamm Hollow’s concept plan by the end of the year, Nelson said. No date has been scheduled for a planning board hearing on the issue.

When that’s complete, Nelson said, “that gets into the very specific details of exactly what they want to put in there.”

The individual homes will be allowed, and are expected, to have a footprint of about 3,000 square-feet, officials said when the agreement was reached.

Once the property is rezoned, Nelson said the town will be able to facilitate the developer’s project application.

“Presumably they would move quickly on it, I think,” Nelson said. “But they could put it on hold for years.”