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September 9, 2004

Access road group retains legal counsel

Staff Writer

Howell neighbors split on question of town’s proposal

Residents of the Ramtown section of Howell who are unhappy with a proposed road that would run behind their rear yards have formed a special interest group and retained legal counsel to represent them at future municipal meetings.

Residents Opposing Access Road (ROAR) hired the Princeton law firm of Lieber-man and Blecher to see that environmental concerns related to wetlands receive appropriate attention, according to attorney Stuart Lieberman.

Lieberman said his firm concentrates in environmental law and had been retained by ROAR to ensure there are no environmental issues associated with this road.

He said his clients remain staunchly opposed to the proposed road construction.

“They are concerned about the wetlands and also concerned about the impact the road will have on their lives,” he said.

According to a press release issued by ROAR, the group was incorporated two weeks ago and has three unnamed trustees. ROAR claims it is being funded by many Howell residents.

At issue is the township’s proposal to construct a road that would wend its way behind Jacob Drive and Deborah Lane. The cost of the road and a sidewalk is estimated to be $750,000. The road would provide access to Hidden View, an age-restricted development being built in neighboring Wall Township. The development can not be reached from roads in Wall. It can be reached from roads in Howell and Brick Township.

The press release from ROAR states that the group is concerned with the environmental effects associated with a lengthy road proposed by Howell that may bisect sensitive wetlands and open space for the purposes of providing access to a subdivision located in neighboring Wall Township.

In a legal challenge to Hidden View, Howell lost an appeal before the state Supreme Court, which left it to Howell to work out a solution with Wall Township.

Township officials have said they are trying to make the best of a bad situation. They have contended that the lesser of two evils is to build a road that runs behind some residents’ homes rather than directing traffic heading to and from Hidden View down a street in front of other people’s homes.

The construction of the proposed road – Memorial Drive – would convert Jacob Drive into a T-intersection meeting the new road which would run behind homes on Jacob Drive and Deborah Lane and open on to Newtons Corner Road.

The Township Council is also proposing to annex the 50-acre Hidden View site and make it a part of Howell. In that way, Howell would realize some property tax benefits, council members have said.

Officials have said that regardless of the outcome of the annexation plan it will be Howell’s responsibility to initially respond to calls for police, fire and first aid services at Hidden View. It is estimated that a response from Wall will take at least 25 minutes, while the response time from Howell will be much quicker.

The construction of Memorial Drive and the annexation of the Hidden View property were proposed in response to the Pine Needle Street, Cherry Lane and Red Bud Lane residents who addressed the council for years about the volume of traffic that would pass in front of their homes on the way to Hidden View.

The council’s proposed solution was for Howell to take 14 acres of vacant land behind Jacob Drive and construct a road that would become the only access road to be used by motorists driving into Hidden View.

The announcement of that plan prompted vocal opposition this summer from the Jacob Drive and Deborah Lane residents, many of whom said they paid premium prices for their lots and were promised that the wetlands behind their homes would never be developed in any form.

A planned buffer zone would run between Memorial Drive and the rear yards of the Jacob Drive and Deborah Lane homes, but the residents have said they believe the new road would put their children’s safety at risk.

The council named an ad hoc committee comprised of three representatives from each side (for and against Memorial Drive) to review the options. A consensus of the committee’s findings is expected to be delivered later this month by George Krebs, the committee chairman.

Copyright 2004 Tri-Town News.

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