Developers need two more sessions before board to complete presentation

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:50

    Vernon-There may be no single word that has stirred as much passion over the years in the township as "Legends." It is the symbol of how shiny promises can dull and tarnish over the years, how grand plans can become eyesores, and, to many, why developers can't be trusted. And now, another developer is promising to resurrect the former Playboy Club and turn it into what everyone else has always promised it would be: A resort community that will bring big tax money and few additional children into the township. Spring Creek Holding Company last week finished its second of what it expects will be four sessions before the Vernon Township Zoning Board of Adjustment. The company is heir to a plan that goes back 15 years to build condominiums on the 583-acre tract. When first presented, the plan called for 674 units, many of which would surround the 27 holes of golf on the property. Now, Spring Creek is seeking approval to build fewer than half that number n 362 units n with 157 of them located across Route 517 from the hotel and golf course. The units on the other side of Route 517 along with a clubhouse would be built first, with no timetable given for the remaining construction. A tunnel for traffic by pedestrians and golf carts would connect those units to the rest of the complex. All of the housing will be in attached units. Average size of the units is $2,100 square feet and the average price $420,000. All 362 proposed units plus new parking and roads would cover just 46 of the 583 acres, according to lot plans filed with the board. Because a single-family home on a full building lot costs less and has more floor space on more land, the units will not be attractive to families with children, Spring Creek representatives said. More typically, according to the company's real estate consultant, Melina Duggal of Bethesda, Md., such units attract retirees, pre-retirees and people buying a second home. Similar housing at Crystal Springs in Hardyston produce 0.1 child per unit, testified John Lehman, one of two project engineers. And the 1,300 condos n of which some 400 are hotel units n in the complex behind The Spa contribute just 196 children to the schools, he added. Both of those projects were developed by Gene Mulvihill, who would also undertake the Spring Creek project if it is approved. Lehman said that even if the units generated half a child each n a figure neither he nor Duggal thought remotely likely n the project would still generate a net tax benefit of $2 million a year to the town. The board, led by chairperson Valerie Seufert, did not raise serious questions about the number of children that would be produced. They were more concerned about whether the project would resurrect the old Legends Hotel, a once-shining resort that grows increasingly decrepit by the year. Spring Creek representatives told the board that the hotel and spa would get a $15-million facelift as part of the project, turning it into a facility that would be a focus of the new resort community as well as one that can be used by area residents. The first floor, under plans shown to the board, would be renovated to house a 20,000-square-foot health club and fitness center, a 4,000-square-foot theater, a pool room, teen club, and swimming pool. The old, rotting wooden balconies on the hotel rooms would be replaced by metal balconies. But no one would commit to a timetable for the restoration, other than to say that it would take a year to redo all the rooms and the exterior. Members of the board questioned whether anyone would want to move into the first units built if the hotel were still in its present condition. "The whole town would like to see that hotel be a positive and become a success," said Seufert. At least a dozen citizens attended the hearing last Thursday, but few spoke. Because the hearing is a quasi-judicial proceeding, the public is limited to asking questions of the developers without making statements. Craig Williams, who is also chair of the town's Environmental Commission, which recommended against approving the project, was the most vocal. When he asked if the developers intend to update the environmental impact statement for the development that was conducted in 1988, he was told there were no plans to do so. "There are elements of the statement I find wanting," Williams observed. The third special session before the zoning board is scheduled for Oct. 18 in the meeting room of the municipal center.