43 houses, or open space? Future of nine acres on Koelle Blvd. debated

A developer is planning to put 43 new housing units on Koelle Blvd. near the town swimming pool, but some officials would like to see the nine acres remain open space.
The matter came to light recently when the developers, Mill Creek Association of Edgewater, applied to the Secaucus Municipal Utilities Authority for 43 sewer hookups.
The plans had already received conditional zoning approval from the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which oversees zoning in 88 percent of Secaucus.
However, the developer also has to get sewer permits and a construction permit from the town before building.
And some town and sewer officials do not want those units in that space.
They would like the New Jersey Meadolwands Commission (NJMC) to buy property, which is presently owned by Louise Petrillo of West New York, and keep it as open space. They also feel that the units will increase traffic problems in the area, which is served only by one road. The property, which contains wetlands and uplands, is listed on the property acquisition list for the NJMC’s Harbor Estuary Program. It has also been targeted by NJMC for acquisition and preservation. In January of 2003, Petrillo was approached by NJMC to sell, but she decided not to continue negotiations. More recently, the NJMC began negotiating with the Mill Creek Association for the land. Mill Creek had entered into a contract with Petrillo in November to buy it. But an appraisal commissioned by the NJMC resulted in a $6 million market value. The price was too high for the NJMC, and they forwarded details of the appraisal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, since the NJMC utilizes them as a funding source.

Permit process

An application for the hookups was sent to SMUA engineers at the beginning of April, said SMUA Executive Director Brian Bigler. The SMUA is responsible for the treatment and conveyance of all the wastewater generated within the Town of Secaucus.

“Their submittal followed all the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission guidelines, but the impact the development would have on the community is considerable,” said Bigler. “Our hands are tied on this situation since our authority is limited to our guidelines. Anyone can come in with the proper paperwork and get an endorsement.”

In other words, the town can’t really prevent the developers from building if they meet proper guidelines. But Mayor Dennis Elwell would like to see the property remain open space.

“This is not the place for any kind of housing,” Elwell said last week. “I don’t want to see a developer come in to make a profit and walk away and leave the residents hanging. We have a great treatment plant, but it is what it is. I’m not going to issue any permits on this property unless they come and tell me to.”

At this past Monday’s SMUA meeting, an attorney for the developers, Timothy Dunn of Closter, spoke. Dunn said the development is in progress, with the land under contract pending the acquisition of permits.

The Association has had a conditional zoning certificate issued by NJMC since March 2005 that is contingent upon a detailed geotechnical investigation report in accordance with state Administrative Code. They must also apply to the town of Secaucus for a building permit, which would mean another review with the NJMC.

Secaucus has a site plan review ordinance that allows the town to be made aware of the development details.

Commissioner lives nearby

SMUA Commissioner Tom Lee, who lives on Koelle Blvd near the property, said that close to half of the nine acres of the lot sitting along the western bank of Mill Creek Marsh are wetlands. The other half is upland.

“We were not prepared for the request,” he said. “The best we could do was to make a motion to table the vote in order to review more closely the application. We were presented with the [SMUA engineers’] summary, and would like to see the full report.”

Lee and Bigler said the high-density neighborhood could have extreme traffic problems due to new construction like the new 1,000-seat auditorium at Secaucus High School and new playing fields.

“Putting in 43 units is preposterous,” said Lee. “There’s only one road in and out. People in the community need to know about this and not be blind-sided by it.”

Lee says the SMUA is caught “between a rock and a hard place” since it is difficult to stop the process once all the permits have been approved.

Dunn, the attorney for the developers, said he hopes the necessary permits will be approved within the next two months.

When the NJMC received a development application from Mill Creek Association in November 2004 as contract purchaser of the property, they notified the town.


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