GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The push to bring a 944-unit housing complex to the closed Blue Heron golf course will continue next month along with the fight to have the township lift the proposed development’s age restrictions for a senior community.
“We’re seeing it across the state because of the Sarlo act that now allows developers previously approved for age-restricted development to convert back to non-age-restricted projects,” said Stephen Nehmad, attorney for Ole Hansen & Sons Inc., which owns the property at the site of the former Blue Heron Pines East championship golf course located off Tilton Road near Pomona Road and Aloe Street.
Mayor Don Purdy, who sits on the Planning Board, said the developer’s latest application is maneuvering through the process of a Sarlo conversion to remove the age restriction, and there are certain criteria they have to meet for the board to approve the conversion.
In 2009, legislation sponsored by state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, was enacted by the state to allow developers to convert age-restricted development projects to all-age projects with the caveat that they set aside a portion of the units for affordable housing.
Ole Hansen will present more witnesses for their application to the township Planning Board at its meeting on Sept. 19, to remove the 55-and-older age restriction and allow housing for all ages in the proposed development, said attorney Stephen Nehmad, who is representing the developer. Earlier this month, a portion of the application was presented to the Planning Board, but there was no decision made, and it was carried because of the late hour.
In 2006-2007, the property was approved for senior housing for ages 55 and older, but developers have made some changes for the $233.2 million complex to accommodate a residential community for all ages, Nehmad said.
“Age-restricted housing fell into an extreme recession and there are findings in the statute that point to oversaturation and the need for more workforce housing,” said Nehmad.
In neighboring Absecon last month, Boardwalk Development received approval for its Absecon Gardens townhouse complex when a court ruling backed the city Planning Board's decision to roll back the age restriction.
A state appeals court rejected a group of Absecon residents’ argument against the city lifting the 55-and-older age restriction for the development.
Nehmad said he believes there is stronger argument for rolling back the age restriction in Galloway than there was in the Absecon case.
Councilman Jim McElwee said he is still undecided about the project because a lot of information and changes to the project are still coming in.
“The consensus among me and most of the council is that this is approved so we have some control instead of letting the developer go through the Sarlo act and having no control. This project is constantly changing, so it’s better to have some control,” McElwee said.
Originally, residents were concerned about the influx of school-age children, which would mean an increase in taxes and burden to the schools; that issue still remains, McElwee said.
A report for the project by Richard P. Reading Associates of Princeton found that the development would bring 2,587 people to the township, which currently has a population of just over 39,000. This would include an influx of 248 grade-school children and 117 high school-age children.
But there is also another concern about the developer’s ability to even sell the homes because of their location, McElwee said.
“Why would someone pay $250,000 to $300,000 to buy a house, when to the left you’ll have the runway at the airport, to the right of your house you’ll have the empty Lennox China building and behind you, you will have Academy Bus Tours, which is a round-the-clock operation,” McElwee said.
Nehmad said the township has a significant residential base, but the western portion of the White Horse Pike has languished because there are not enough homes.
“If you’re going to bring commercial ratables to the township, you must have the residential base to match it,” Nehmad said.
He added that for several years many residents there would leave the township to spend money because of the lack of commercial ratables. The density the project calls for is very low, he said.
Purdy agreed that adding homes in the western end of the township is a good thing and needs to be done.
There are different obstacles on the western side of town, including the Pinelands, which comes with environmental constraints, Purdy said.
Purdy added that the property is in the redevelopment zone, but he is skeptical that there could be incentives for the Blue Heron project compared to if it was a commercial project.
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