State regulations thwart projects

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:44

    Council peeved by DEP plan that would block development, By Mark J. Yablonsky FRANKLIN — Franklin Borough Councilman Pat Barton has had it up to here with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. And he thinks it’s time to revolt against the agency that is putting the kibosh on potential development in Franklin and elsewhere in Sussex County. “In my mind, it’s time for a revolution,” declared Barton at a council meeting on May 26. “I really think it’s time to say ‘enough is enough.’ We have to be united with the rest of the county.” But the DEP has not budged from its position and there seems to be little the town can do. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection revised its statewide planning and development maps last year to disallow sewer service area coverage throughout nearly all of Sussex County. The DEP is sticking to its guns. And as everyone concurs, without adequate sewer service coverage, there is little possibility for development. “If all of these areas are taken out of the sewer service area, their development potential is severely limited,” said Jim Kilduff, the borough’s director of planning and community development. “It’s an incendiary issue. I think it says a lot about what the state’s plans are for Sussex County.” Not alone “And it’s not only in Franklin, but on the county level as well,” added Mayor Paul Crowley. “But people who believe like we do in the state are in the minority...but I don’t think there’s a lot that can be done.” Nor do representatives from the county, who have taken up Franklin’s cause but seem to feel there may be no real chance at effective opposition. “As to what can be done, we have brought all of the interested parties together,” explained county planner Eric Snyder in an interview last week. “We’ve brought DEP up (here), with a view toward showing that we support Franklin’s planning developments. I’m not sure what that does for us. The fact is that planning is not doing well in New Jersey, and the state DEP has taken it upon itself to enmesh us in what they feel needs to be done. That’s pretty much where we are. It’s unfortunate, but that’s about where we stand.” Projects in limbo In Franklin, the planning board has already approved at least one major project, while preparing the finishing plans for another. Both of these are to be built on the heavily-trafficked Route 23 corridor. The first involves a big-box retail outlet not far from where other development already stands. The second, proposed by Manhattan-based developer Harry Grant, involves a major retail/residential plan along and near Route 23 in the borough’s northern reaches, not far from the Hamburg border. Both lay in areas that the state DEP has deemed unacceptable for receiving sewer service. Other potential development sites in the borough and countywide may also be on the line. Concurrently, Franklin has been considering whether to “opt in” to the state’s Regional Highlands Master Plan, which would also curtail or bar most development. Crowley had said earlier that if the DEP does not relent on this issue, the borough may have no choice but to fully commit to the Highlands Act of 2004. “We have major projects on Route 23 and others on 517,” said Crowley. “And without sewer service area (inclusion), we cannot get the infrastructure needed. The developers have put major monies into these plans and investments, and the town has also. We’re going through the process of appealing.” Borough officials say the DEP’s decision is not yet final. “The revisions to the sewer service area are ongoing right now, but they have to be resolved before the county can file its wastewater management plan,” explained borough attorney John Ursin.