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March 10, 2005
- Margaret Mead
Dear Friends of Holland Highlands,
Yesterday afternoon, the real estate transaction was closed and the Shire Road property was purchased for preservation. Below is a press release that we are sending today to the newspapers that have covered this story over the past three years, announcing that our group will be dropping our lawsuit because the land has now been safely preserved as a natural park.
I salute all of our members who showed up for the many planning board meetings since 2001, and especially the throngs who attended the three public hearings in 2002 and spoke so forcefully against the proposed major subdivision on Musconetcong Mountain. You have demonstrated that an active citizenry can influence the well-being of their own community.
Special thanks to our many members who contributed to our legal fund that helped us overturn the planning board decision in January 2004. Without your generous support, our group would not have been successful in making it apparent to the developer that selling the land for preservation was a more attractive course than continuing to battle the citizens of Holland Township.
All of us owe a debt of gratitude to the conservation groups that testified at the public hearings and supported us publicly in our battle against this unwise intrusion into the precious Highlands areas of Holland.
As you'll see in the news release below, we're now declaring that our citizens' activities are far from finished. If we've learned anything from this long and painful battle, it's that we need to update our land use law and adopt more modern tools to ensure that we plan more wisely for the future of Holland Township.
I hope you'll remain committed to preserving the beauty and rural character of Holland and keeping the pure waters that flow from the Highlands pristine and clear. Today's happy ending shows that concerned citizens can make a difference. Give yourself a pat on the back.
FOR RELEASE THURSDAY, MARCH 10, 2005
Holland Citizens Group Drops Lawsuit after Shire Road
Property Preserved, Urges Changes to Land Use Law
HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, N.J. - Friends of Holland Highlands, a local citizens conservation group, announced today that they will immediately be asking a State Superior Court judge to dismiss their lawsuit against the Holland Township planning board and the developer of a proposed major subdivision on Shire Road in the township because a deal to purchase the 90-acre property for preservation was completed yesterday.
During three public hearings in 2002, the local group of more than 150 Holland residents vigorously opposed plans by Hunterdon Capital, LLC, to put 15 large suburban houses on the steep slopes of Musconetcong Mountain in the Highlands region of Holland. At their own expense, these citizens hired a Princeton land use attorney, an eminent environmental expert, and a hydrogeologist to demonstrate to the planning board the legal, health, safety and environmental reasons why they should not approve the plan for this subdivision. When the planning board approved the project in October 2002, the group sued to have the decision reversed.
In January 2004, the Superior Court overturned the board's approval and sent the project back for new hearings. The judge ruled that the application had never been complete and that the board was negligent by not insisting that the developer prove that he met requirements for putting three-acre lots in a protected five-acre zone.
Following the court decision, the developer entered into negotiations to sell the land for preservation as a natural area with hiking and walking trails. The purchase price of one million dollars was assembled from a state Green Acres program grant of 500 thousand dollars to the Phillipsburg Riverview Organization (PRO), and appropriations of 250 thousand dollars each from Hunterdon County and Holland Township. The transaction was completed on Wednesday, March 9, with title to the land passing to Holland Township.
"Our members are very gratified that this environmentally-sensitive land will now be preserved in its natural state for future generations," said Michael Keady, president of Friends of Holland Highlands. "We salute all our supporters, PRO, Hunterdon County, Hunterdon Land Trust and everyone who worked together to create this nature park. Preservation ensures that the water quality of the protected trout-breeding streams that run through the property and the public drinking water well serving the Holland School and 312 homes won't be threatened by the septic systems proposed in this ill-conceived housing project."
"However, we learned from this campaign that it's not enough to oppose poorly planned growth in Holland development by development," Keady continued. "We believe our Holland officials should be making fundamental reforms in our township's land use law and its enforcement."
The group says it will now focus on basic changes such as expediting the move to 10 and 15-acre zoning in the Highlands areas of Holland and adoption of a proposed Environmental Impact Assessment that would be required with each major subdivision application.
In May 2001, Holland Township adopted several new portions of the township's Master Plan, including a recommendation to move to 10-acre zoning in the Rural Residential sections. In 2004, the township received certification of its Council on Affordable Housing plan, a step that had to precede this rezoning.
The township also commissioned a study by a consulting hydrogeologist who concluded that in the Highlands sections of Holland that have very shallow soil above the bedrock, nitrates from septic systems move sideways rather than downward. Ten-acre lots are required to provide sufficient nitrate dilution to meet state safety standards for clean drinking water. The township's consultant also recommended that in order to achieve no degradation of pure trout-breeding streams, properties adjacent to such C-1 streams should be zoned for 15 acres.
"We now have scientific support for moving to 10-acre zoning as the Master Plan envisions," said Keady. "And with the state requiring that there be no degradation of C-1 trout streams, we would be justified in changing to 15-acre zoning for properties that abut these streams in Holland. Rezoning is aimed at preserving our pure water and our rural character, but it would also have the added benefit of slowing growth and holding down our growing school population, the biggest expense in the property taxes we pay."
Three years ago, the Environmental Commission representative on Holland's planning board drafted an Environmental Impact Assessment that developers would have to submit along with an application. Members of the planning board still have not moved to adopt the requirement.
"Most other townships in Hunterdon require an Environmental Impact Assessment because it highlights any environmental problems right at the beginning of the process. We're urging our planning board to adopt this useful tool and others as soon as possible. New major subdivisions continue to come before the planning board, and we need new tools and new zoning so we can have well-planed growth in Holland. Preserving the Shire Road mountaintop was an important step forward, but there's much more to be done - and it needs to be done with a sense of urgency."