By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
A previously approved but unbuilt townhouse development near the railroad tracks in Little Silver that local opponents had hoped to get a second shot at derailing is all but a done deal thanks to two-year-old state legislation, town officials say.
At Tuesday night’s planning board hearing, borough planner Richard Coppola said the 39-unit Carriage Park project on Eastview Avenue does not fall under the municipal land use law the state’s usual planning guide but rather, a newer one commonly referred to as the conversion law, which board Attorney Michael Leckstein said handcuffs the board and reduces its power.
“What this statute has done,” Coppola said, “is taken the rug from under the planning boards, or under the towns, and just pulled it.”
The revelation only further exasperated a small crowd of residents opposed to the project. They say it will add traffic to the area, strain the school system and, in general, is too large for the area, in a quiet residential neighborhood just off Oceanport Avenue.
The developer, Javin L.P., has asked that an age restriction be lifted from the project, which was approved by the board in 2007 as a community of owners 55 years old and older.
The statute, passed in 2009, supercedes the municipal land use law and says, effectively, as long as the project has prior approval (it does), has a certain percentage of affordable units (it does) and no units were sold since the approval (none were), then the planning board must approve the conversion.
“I’m not endorsing this law, by the way,” Coppola said. “It’s a troublesome law.”
Indeed, the board grappled with some of the provisions of the statute, asking whether it allows for a substantial change to the original application and if the board has any grounds for denying the conversion request.
Leckstein said the statute forces the approval by the board.
“If that’s the case, then what’s the point of this hearing?” Chairman Edward Jocobi asked Leckstein.
“To make sure they’ve dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s,” Leckstein replied.
And so the hearing went on, and well into the night, with the project’s lawyer and other professionals going over the slightly revised plan.
Known as Carriage Park at Little Silver, the development, if approved, would allow 39 units on a 4-acre portion of a 14.5-acre property at the corner of Eastview and Oceanport avenues. Thirty-one units would be priced for sale at market value. The other eight would be classified as affordable housing, project Attorney John Giunco said.
The original plan, for 32 market rate units and seven affordable units, was revised to conform to the conversion statute.
Also changed was a requirement to provide recreational facilities at the site. In this case, the developers propose a “tot lot,” or small fenced play area.
The change essentially assures that, unlike the original 55-and older plan, this version of the plan will invite families to move in an element neighbors have serious concerns about.
Already opposed to the prospect of new development in that area, neighbors argued that having families living in the units will add more traffic and higher taxes because of school enrollment.
Using quick math, Eastview resident Coralee Johnson, a former teacher, said she’s worried about safety in the area, which is across the street from the train station.
“Sixty kids are a lot of kids to be running around what is a main street and highway to the train station,” she said.
Other residents said the board should have more time to look into the conversion law to scrutinize whether it has grounds for denying the application.
“We have a right to question this,” said Rosemary Brewer, of Pirate’s Cove Road.
“You have to read the entire law. You haven’t had a chance to review this,” said Chester Apy, a former Assemblyman and lawyer who’s stayed up on the development since its earliest stages. “This is a difficult, difficult factual situation we have here in the borough of Little Silver.”
Giunco, however, said the proposed change falls within all parameters of the law and will be a benefit to the town.
“This, if approved, is not going to change life as you know it in Little Silver,” he said. “It’s going to have very little impact, if any.”
The board is scheduled to continued the hearing in September.