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BY JENNIFER AMATO
NORTH BRUNSWICK - There is still a chance that the Pulda farm along Georges Road and Route 130 will not be developed as high-density housing.
North Brunswick Residents Against High Density Housing (NBR), a citizens group composed of about 500 residents who oppose building a condensed housing development on the last farm in the township, has taken issue with the zoning of the property being changed from residential to planned adult community. Although the lawyer for Edgewood Properties, the developer of the 67-acre farm, had said his firm made an agreement with NBR to settle the issue, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division reinstated the lawsuit brought forth by NBR. That lawsuit questioned whether a settlement had been reached by the grassroots organization and Edgewood.
After the turnover in January, a hearing is now set for Sept. 18.
NBR attorney Michele Donato originally claimed that the suit "would not be settled until [the parties] had a written stipulation and … had agreed upon the terms of the settlement in its entirety," but that "it [became] apparent that [the parties] had a significant misunderstanding as to what had been agreed to."
On the other hand, Edgewood attorney Doug Wolfson claimed the parties had in fact come to an agreement, including the payment of a confidential amount by Edgewood to NBR, the understanding that no statements would be made to the press outside of a joint press release and that both parties would abide by a mutual nondisparagement agreement. According to the appellate document, Wolfson said his records showed a settlement was reached on Sept. 13, 2005, and that additional settlement requests were not presented by Donato until the beginning of October.
"We feel that there was never any settlement made, just an exploration of the idea of a settlement," NBR trustee Larry Witlen said.
The contention of NBR is that although they wish to see the land as open space, they prefer the original zoning of residential as opposed to high-density housing because of the traffic, environmental, school and quality of life impacts they believe the Cascades at North Brunswick development would bring. The Planning Board approval in April 2005 allots for 325 homes, including 131 singlefamily homes worth around $600,000 each, 114 condo flats around $250,000 each, and 80 townhouses around $425,000 each, as well as a clubhouse and other amenities.
Residents have continually expressed their concerns as to the affordability of the homes, traffic, pollution, accessibility to Farrington Lake, and the township's need for open space. Township officials said that there was no choice about developing the land other than taking it by condemnation, because the property owners would not sell. They also said the project could generate $2.45 million for the local school district without adding school-age children, and there will also be a donation of $3,500 per unit for the township's Senior Building Fund.
"This is the last farm in North Brunswick. It is a piece of lakefront property accessible to the community. To me, it needs to be preserved," said NBR member Rita Goldstein. "It's such a valuable asset for the community to enjoy but we're faced with hundreds of high-density homes."
"Our objections have always been that this is not in keeping with the neighborhood," Witlen added.
However, the hearing next month will not determine if the zoning is acceptable or must be changed; instead, it will determine if the two organizations ever reached an amicable agreement. After the hearing, if the judge declares that there was in fact a settlement, NBR's mission is finished and Edgewood can continue with their development plans. On the other hand, if there was no settlement, then the case can move to trial and the zoning will then be challenged, according to Witlen.In the meantime, NBR has retained Stuart
Lieberman, a lawyer specializing in environmental and land use law. The venue was changed to Monmouth County to ensure a fair trial and Paul Matacera, a former mayor of North Brunswick and representative of Edgewood, was removed as an arbitrator in the case.
Yet despite the ongoing legal disputes, the developer has had the right to begin construction when he sees fit with the agreement that if a settlement in favor of NBR is granted, he must tear down any buildings he has already constructed. As of last week, the farm had hundreds of stalks of corn still growing and the farmhouse, dating back to the late 18th century, has not yet been touched and is being evaluated as a possible historical landmark as well as a possible site of slave graves. "Every year there is a corn crop it's a victory," Goldstein said. In the meantime, NBR is seeking new members and donations from the community in order to pursue the fight against the development. The process thus far has cost about $30,000.