Council, Residents Wary of New Hovnanian Hilltop Plan
Developer tries again to gain nod for former Essex County Hospital site redevelopment.
Cedar Grove residents at Monday night’s township council meeting appeared steadfast in their opposition to a developer’s revised redevelopment plan for the Hilltop — going as far as unanimously voting against the blueprint in an informal show of hands sought by Deputy Mayor Joseph Chiusolo after the discussion.
After the meeting, Cedar Grove resident Joe Moroney said, “If this goes through, it will be a cancer that kills Cedar Grove and I’ve been here for 60 years. We don’t want something of this magnitude.”
Cedar Grove’s Township Council and residents filled council chambers and cautiously listened to the revised Hilltop redevelopment presentation plan from developer K. Hovnanian that would involve building 482 townhomes — 97 of which would be lower-priced units for affordable housing — in the township.
But after hearing the new plan, township residents immediately expressed concern during the public comment portion of the meeting citing more traffic, possible increased school enrollment numbers and a variety of other issues.
Chiusolo asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they favored the new plan and no one did. However, when Chiusolo asked for those opposed to the plan, nearly everyone in attendance raised their hands.
The revised plan is a minor variation of the developer’s 2010 blueprint, which was rejected by council in November of that year, and would satisfy a requirement by the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing. The rejection of that plan has resulted in litigation between the developer, township and county.
The new plans call for a doubling of the buffer area to a width of 400 feet between the proposed development and the adjacent Winding Way neighborhood to the north, as well as the return of nearly 20 acres west of Fairview Avenue back to Essex County as open space.
In all, the proposed development would cover 46½ acres and construction would be completed in phases over six to seven years. It would result in 96.2 acres remaining as county open space.
Before his presentation, Joseph Riggs, K. Hovnanian Group President said the developer was, “hoping we’ve made some strides in the direction that will be more acceptable. It’s just one last final effort to try to put our best foot forward to reach a compromise with all parties.”
Just prior to wrapping up his presentation, Riggs underscored the current legal situation, “Here is our collective reality. We’re in litigation. We’re both [Hovnanian and Cedar Grove Township] about to start investing in a bunch of legal fees and a bunch of time fees . . . all of which, in my own opinion, are counterproductive all the way around.”
In December 2010, Hovnanian filed suit against the township pending changes to the Coalition On Affordable Housing being considered by the state Legislature at the time.
K. Hovnanian officials said at the time the suit was intended to "protect the interests" of the company, and was not intended to be adversarial. One proposed change to COAH would force developers to wait a year before filing a remedy lawsuit against a municipality. Officials for the developer said the lawsuit was intended solely to ensure it may sue at a later time, if necessary.
Council members reaction to the presentation focused on concerns about the development’s potential quality-of-life impact for township residents.
“I would need to know answers to the questions we heard tonight,” Mayor John Zunic said. “I definitely think school impact is a big issue, traffic is a big issue, as is what’s going to happen with the open space. Before I can tell anyone how I feel, those are the answers I’ll need.”
It was estimated with almost 500 new units in the development, almost 1,000 more vehicles could be operating in the area. It may also mean as many as 500 to 900 more students attending Cedar Grove schools.
Cedar Grove resident Mike Grabas said safety was the reason he opposes the development.
“My concern is how this will also add responsibility to the police, fire and rescue squads,” Grabas said. “Our volunteers are stretched as it is right now. You will need more volunteers. They [the developers] might sweeten the pot with football fields and baseball fields but they aren’t giving us additional equipment or volunteers.”
Another resident, who lives in K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Cedar Grove development, complained about the structural problems and workmanship in that location, saying he found fault with the stucco, water leakage and poor response from management at addressing these problems.
The next step in the process calls for K. Hovnanian to present studies of traffic impact and student enrollment in addition to financial impact studies.