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UPDATE: Massive Berkeley Brush Fire Nearly…

208-Unit Apartment Complex Concept Struck Down by Township

208 apartments won't be built; subcommittee created to explore other options.

A development plan that would bring 208 apartment units to the bottom of Kings Highway was declined by three members of the Township Committee Monday night.

The concept, brought forth to the township by Kings Highway, LLC and owners of USR Optonix – an industrial factory that once operated on the site in question ­– proposed an apartment complex mixing one, two, and three-bedroom units that was passed on to the governing body by the planning board after 18 months of review.

In order to move forward, the township committee would have to agree to either rezone or redevelop the site, as its current use is strictly for industrial zoning.

But committeemen Tracy Tobin, James LiaBraaten, and Donald Babb decided against that proposal. Mayor Ken Short and Vice Mayor Bill Roehrich did not vote, as both have conflicts of interest on the matter. Short has used Kings Highway, LLC attorney Michael Selvaggi for personal matters, and Roehrich owns property in close proximity to the site.

The issued isn’t dead, however, as the committee decided to move forward in the creation of a subcommittee that will work alongside Kings Highway, LLC to see if another solution can be made.

Related items:
Apartment Complex in Limbo Despite Expert Analysis
Apartment Complex 'Not What Our Town Needs'
Kings Highway Apartment Complex Scrutinized by Officials, Residents

That working subcommittee will include one committeeman (Tobin), township planner David Banisch, one to two planning board members (to be determined), and representatives from Kings Highway, LLC. Members of the Highlands Commission and officials from Mansfield Township will be invited to attend as well, Tobin said.

The purpose of the subcommittee, Tobin said, will be to try and find a less intensive use for the property. “We still expect development, but what form it will take will be part of the process,” he said Tuesday. 

“Maybe we can mix it up with apartments and townhouses, something that has a lower impact on the area,” Tobin said. “But we certainly can’t disallow everything on that site.”

Tobin said one of the sticking points on the issue for him was the traffic study provided by Kings Highway’s expert. “It just didn’t hold water for me,” he said. “It wasn’t believable.”

The traffic study said the addition of 208 apartment units in that area would not make a drastic increase in vehicle volume to the area of Rt. 57 and Kings Highway.

About 15 residents attended Monday night’s meeting, Tobin said, a much smaller turnout than a December meeting when more than 50 residents – all living in the Kings Highway area – attended to show their disapproval of the project. At that meeting, more than a dozen residents spoke to the committee with high emotion to express their concern.

Those residents were a small contingent of the group that signed an online petition, which netted nearly 300 e-signatures, fighting the proposed development.

Plan Wasn’t ‘Willy Nilly’

Michael Selvaggi, the attorney representing Kings Highway, LLC, said while the outcome isn’t what was hoped for, he looks forward to working with the subcommittee in an open-minded manner.

“(The decision) isn’t the way we wanted it,” he said Tuesday, “and it’s a bit frustrating, but we’ll continue to make the case that multi-family housing is the best (development) for that area.”

Selvaggi took issue with the idea that Kings Highway, LLC, and its hired experts came up with the apartment complex proposal out of thin air.

“It’s not like this whole thing was willy nilly,” he said. “It’s been much researched on our end and even further more by the planning board. We spent considerable time coming to these conclusions. We’re certainly willing to hear (from the subcommittee) counter arguments on a development that would be viable for that area. We hope the subcommittee will go in with an open mind.

“I think it behooves everyone to come up with a development for that area,” he said.

The lease for USR Optonix ends on Feb. 20, Selvaggi said. The company was providing $172,000 in a tax ratable to the township, making up for roughly 1.1-percent of the town’s overall revenue. If the apartment complex was approved, it would have provided more than $400,000 a year in property taxes to the township, Selvaggi said.

The subcommittee meetings will be advertised and open to the public, Tobin said. Meeting dates have not yet been made, but are expected to kick off in February. 

K.Carlson January 21, 2014 at 01:27 PM
I am glad to hear that the development proposal was struck down. It never made any sense, in spite of what Kings Highway LLC claimed. I do take exception to Selvaggi's comment about the complex bringing $400,000 in tax revenue to the township, versus the current $172,00 in tax ratables. Selvaggi neglects to mention that these apartment dwellers will be sending their children to local schools at a cost of approx. $16,000 per child. USR Optonix wasn't sending any children. Would that mean that the number of children living there would be restricted to an amount equalling the $400,000? Of course not! So then, who would pick up the additional costs? The homeowners of Washington Township? Taxes are high enough already with most of the money going to the school systems. Nor does Selvaggi mention the potential demand on local services - police, fire and first aid since hundreds of people will be residing there 24/7. Would that also come out of the $400,000? USR Optonix did not require those types of services on a regular basis, if ever. On the surface a net gain of $228,000 per year in tax ratables sounds nice...but the reality would be quite different when all is said and done. There would be absolutely NO benefit to the township, Kings Highway residents, local residents and neighboring towns; and I'm not even discussing the impact on the Musconetcong River and air pollution! My congratulations to those who realized that the proposal was way over the top and are seeking other more sensible solutions!
History WT January 21, 2014 at 01:50 PM
Mike, nobody said it was "willy-nilly" to my knowledge. It simply was the absolute maximum profitable use for your clients, rental apartments, as has been the highest profitable use for land, always will be given the rest of Washington Township's school pool. Couldn't have taken long to figure that out. Now, to say that the number one attraction to this place, as opposed to hundreds of cheaper apartments across the river, was anything but low end entry into a higher rated school system crosses the line to insulting the town's intelligence. And the backfilling with hired gun experts is just same-old for everybody. But good strategy, aim for the moon and your guys will probably get a better deal than you would have.
LV 1234 January 21, 2014 at 03:02 PM
Having a little trouble with this statement "The company was providing $172,000 in a tax ratable to the township, making up for roughly 1.1-percent of the town’s overall revenue. " I know the k-8 school local tax is about $30,000,000. I was always told it was about half my tax bill. So double that to $60,000,000 roughly that is what the town raises with property tax. 1.1% of that would be over $600,000. Not sure if I'm right or wrong just trying.
Dell Paxton January 21, 2014 at 03:12 PM
The $172K is 1.1% of the town's $15.6M portion of property taxes collected.
LV 1234 January 21, 2014 at 03:31 PM
Yes I thought that but that is a silly way to look at it. You can't decide how your tax bill is divided up. I guess Heath Village that pays close to $500,000 pays 3% . Crazy way to look at it.
Maria January 21, 2014 at 05:51 PM
It is great news, but it is not over... the developer will still be pushing for maximum profit. We need a RATEABLE, not more housing! The petition is at 306 signers and explicitly states: "Kings Highway Corporation, LLC should not be allowed to develop more densely than the residents of Washington Twp are legally able." https://www.change.org/petitions/no-overdevelopment-to-kings-hwy
Jacqui January 22, 2014 at 06:28 AM
Great work Town Committee! And thank you Maria, you've done a great job with keeping Kings Hwy residents and the town in general informed. We couldn't make this meeting, but will continue to follow the issue and participate in the process wherever possible. It is a great relief that the members of the town committee evaluated this for what it really was, a disastrous proposal for everyone but the developer. I can't tell you how many times I have been driving in town in the last few weeks, dealing with early morning or late day congestion where it bottlenecks through town, thinking about the impact that 300-400 more cars would bring. I am hopeful there will be a resolution that benefits both town and the landowners, and maintains the integrity of the Long Valley as the rural community I choose as a place to live, work, and raise my family.
Maria January 22, 2014 at 06:49 AM
It was a group effort. A petition with one signature would have done nothing, a meeting with one resident would have done nothing, but there are 300+ people on the petition and 50 people who attended the Dec meeting. There was a discussion among people on FB and I said I'll make the petition. A neighbor put flyers in all the mailboxes up the street. The Patch was vital to informing residents of meetings...I won't take the create for it. I will continue to email to all who supplied an email on the petition whenever there is a meeting, that is easy and it is the least I can do. Please consider attending future meetings if this issue is important to you, and I thank every person who did more than grumble to themselves...
History WT January 22, 2014 at 04:34 PM
I wouldn't sprain your wrists high-fiving. This is the first inning of a nine-inning game.
Maria January 23, 2014 at 08:52 AM
I agree completely History WT. The developer still wants to make as much money as possible. The comment, "mix it up with apartments and townhouses" makes that point. Why are we not looking at finding a business? Providing a rateable which would truly help lower taxes, AND provide jobs? The residents spoke and want to preserve the rural quality of the area and the town. (The current footprint of the building should be adhered to - it is set far back in the woods) There are rentals and homes available in LV in the price range. How will more housing help sell/rent housing currently on the market or help maintain property values in the area? Why is a different type of housing the alternative? This will still require rezoning, and it will still set a precedent for future development in LV. I'm in it for the whole game and I know area residents are as well.
Patrice Schaffer January 23, 2014 at 08:48 PM
Yes it is set far back in the woods... Right next door to my house that is just as far back. Even with my 11.5 acres and another 27 between us I can see the factory. The lights are fairly dim now as nothing is really there but apartments/town houses? My property value will definitely go down... No one is going to want it. (My house)
Maria January 24, 2014 at 07:32 AM
How does it make you feel Patrice, that a developer may be allowed to build more densely than YOU are legally able? Will this precedent pave the way for ANY landowner with 10+ acres to subdivide and build? Can we we legally stop people once this rezoning is allowed? Either build the three houses allowed or find a business... I believe with a little research, an ad in the right media for example, a business like solar panel manufactoring and installation would be perfect there and would do well. There might even be a Federal kickback for having a green business in town. The subcommittee should focus on ALTERNATIVES TO HOUSING. Think outside of the "let's make money for the developer" box and do what is best for the town.
Patrice Schaffer January 24, 2014 at 06:46 PM
If I can subdivide my property and build more houses? Hmmm... How about the 27 acres of industrial we own next to the factory... Can I rezone and add a few apartments too? You are right Maria, when does it stop? Let's find a suitable business to get in there and keep a rateable in this town for us taxpayers.
Maria January 25, 2014 at 07:51 AM
I agree, my point being that the town, if they agree to rezone, will be allowing a developer to do something the residents are not legally able to do. And it ONLY profits the developer, not the town.
Hookerman January 25, 2014 at 11:29 AM
Alternatives to housing; 1) a large warehouse with trucks going in and out at all hours of the day and night, 2) a bright and noisy industrial complex of some sort, 3) a busy strip mall, like the one that was built in the valley 10 years ago, which many resident vehemently protested. Since are residents don't want housing, what's your pleasure???
Maria January 25, 2014 at 11:46 AM
I don't think the town NEEDS housing...think big trucks would opt for somewhere else for storage over dealing with the curves on Kings Hwy... strip mall - too many empty stores already right on 57...I still like the idea of a green industry... Personally wouldn't care if the housing would stay within the current footprint of the structure already there and the increase in traffic wasn't significant, (under 100 people?) but the zoning precedent scares me for the future of the whole town.
Maria January 25, 2014 at 12:05 PM
OK, let's put aside the variance and talk in terms of housing - this is what I think would be ideal - what would sell in the marketplace today and what would be best for the town and the area. It is a beautiful wooded area and people are looking for smaller dwellings. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have "cabins in the woods". Small homes, cabin style exteriors, each surrounded by trees...

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