In a 3-2 vote, the Manchester Township Council approved the ordinance authorizing the Manchester Town Square redevelopment plan for the Heritage Minerals site Monday night.
At the contentious council meeting, not a single resident spoke in favor of the project, with residents speaking for over two hours against the project in a lengthy public comment session.
Last week, the Manchester planning board favorably recommended the plan after a presentation by the township’s professionals. State land use law gives the final say to the township governing body, which accepted the plan as recommended by planning board. At that meeting, residents shared concerns about the project ranging from a lack of demand for current residential & commercial property in the township, to the increased demand for police, fire, EMS and school services that will inevitably come with a project of this size.
6543 new housing units
1 million square feet of commercial space
1 million square feet of industrial space
Planning Board Member: Concerned Seniors Will Be Dead By The Time Project Is Built
At the last Manchester council meeting, planning board member Steve Bates offered what was perhaps the most “creative” reason in support of the project, as he brushed off the concerns of “some of the more seasoned adults” who spoke in opposition to the project by reassuring them that they will probably be dead by the time the project is fully built out. Seriously!
His comments from the last council meeting did not sit well with one resident, who publicly called for Bates’ resignation. The resident argued that the planning board member’s judgement was shown to be compromised – revealing a bias against the needs of senior citizens – as a result of his statement, which he later claimed was just a joke. The retired corrections officer later apologized for offending any senior citizens at last week’s meeting, attributing his comment to him being “rough around the edges,” and emphasizing that he is new to the planning board. You can view a video of the resident’s comments and Mr. Bates’ response here.
From the onset, environmental groups have stood in opposition to the project, which they say would radically transform sleepy Manchester Township into an urban community uncharacteristic of the Pine Barrens.
“This project will have tremendous environmental impacts ranging from water pollution to over-pumping the aquifer to destruction of open space and air pollution,” said the New Jersey Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel Monday night.
“By the time the project is complete we would have a city bigger than New Brunswick or Perth Amboy right in the middle of the Pinelands.”
While the township has given its blessing to the project, this is certainly not the final chapter in the ongoing controversy surrounding the Heritage Minerals site and the redevelopment plan. The developer will still have to obtain outside approvals from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Pinelands Commision due to portions of the site falling within the jurisdiction of those agencies.
Either of those agencies could place additional restrictions or conditions on their respective approvals, and environmental groups could intervene with litigation, which is a likely possibility given statements made by the attorney representing the Pinelands Preservation Alliance at previous meetings.