Letter from WWTP president Robert Baumgaertner

The Nelson Street Redevelopment Plan April 22, 2017
Whitehouse Station, NJ

In the last month and a half, I have learned the importance of paying attention to local politics.
I am not a political person by nature, but I, along with others, have learned some hard lessons
about the dealings of our local officials. The Nelson Street Redevelopment Plan, owned by
Readington Township, calls for 72 rental units on roughly four and a half acres of wooded,
wetlands in downtown Whitehouse Station. There will be approximately 300 people living on
these four and a half acres. I think it is safe to say that this will become the most densely
populated region in Whitehouse Station.

Back in February of 2016, the Readington Township Committee passed a resolution to give
people within 200 feet of the study area (the Nelson Street site) due notice of the date of a
public hearing to determine if the study area was an area in need of redevelopment. In July of
2016, the planning board held an open hearing so that the public could voice any objections to
this plan. Sounds reasonable, does it not? The problem is that we (the public living within 200
feet) were never notified of this hearing. When the planning board’s lawyer was questioned
about this lack of notice at the April 10, 2017 planning board meeting, she said something to
the effect that the planning board did not think it was in their best interests to notify the public
of this hearing. I am not quoting her, but are you kidding me? That is when I knew the fix was
in. If given the opportunity, the public could have easily rebuked this redevelopment plan in its
infancy. The township claimed evidence of waste dumping on the site detrimental to public
health, safety and welfare. There was no such thing. The site was “hindered by wetlands”.
When your township considers wetlands to be a hindrance, you know you are in trouble. They
said the site could not be developed by private means and yet Fallone Builders had acquired the
necessary permits to build two houses on this site. You do not spend years acquiring
permits if you are not given the impression that you can build on a site. Lastly and perhaps
most importantly is the word redevelopment itself. This site has never been developed so how
can it be redeveloped? By calling it a redevelopment plan the developer can apply for grant
money it would not otherwise receive. The township can then allow the developer waivers and
variances it would not otherwise be able to provide and the list goes on and on.

The crux of the matter is that developers are circling Readington Township like buzzards ready
to pounce unless we show in good faith that were are in the process of providing affordable
housing. While to some extent this may be true, the township acts like the Nelson Street site is
its only option. Here is why I think the township needs this plan “real bad” (their words, not
mine). I think the township has financial concerns. You cannot litigate the Solberg Airport in
the bucolic part of the township for millions and millions of dollars and not feel the
repercussions of your misguided actions. Yet, the township continues to appeal this case at the
taxpayer’s expense while this money could be used to purchase ‘true’ redevelopment
properties. These 72 rental units can achieve 144 credits through the Council on Affordable
Housing (COAH). I am not sure how this all works, but the township is trying to hit a home run.
While no plan is ideal, how about 20 units behind the Rail on Main Street (already developed)
and 10 rental units behind the gas station on Main Street (already developed) and 20 units on
Route 22 where the old dilapidated diner sits like an eye sore? There are many other locations
along Route 22 (like Merck) that have been developed but are vacant. We have motels along
Route 22 that could be bought and redeveloped. Instead of dispersing these rental units, they
want all of them in one location because it is more financially prudent to do it this way. When
you have financial constraints, your options are limited. Who is at fault here? The Nelson
Street site is not for the benefit of the citizens that the township represents, but our objections
fall on deaf ears.

The township is between a rock and a hard place. They never expected such resistance to the
Nelson Street plan, and they do not really have a plan B. The feeling here is that we are all
going to go off the cliff together. This is what happens when you withhold the truth from
people. They are full speed ahead on this plan even though they are staring an iceberg in the
face. The iceberg is the environmental constraints of this development (more on that at a later
date). The township wants to show the judges that they are acting in good faith on this third
phase of affordable housing because after three judges have ruled against them on the Solberg
case, they are not looking too good in the eyes of the court.

Julia Allen, the matriarch of Readington Township, a current member of the planning board and
someone I held in high esteem for years, told me after this past Tuesday’s special planning
board meeting (April 18, 2017) that is was a mistake to not notify us of the public hearing last
July. She also said that had we presented our objections back then, the planning board may
have recognized the building of this site to not be in the best interests of the community. My
response to that Ms. Allen is that two wrongs do not make a right. When I asked Ms. Allen why
this site had not been preserved as open space, her response was that the township had not
gotten around to it. My interpretation of this statement is as follows. The township will
continue to preserve open space in the southern part of the township. If you live in Whitehouse
Station north to Route 78, also known as the Whitehouse Corridor Strategic Plan
(located on the Readington Township Planning Board’s homepage), then you are a part of the
development plan. The proposed developer of the Nelson Street site is Whitehouse Urban
Renewal Associates, LLC which I find to be a bit disconcerting. Whoever thought that
Whitehouse Station would be classified as an urban renewal area?

We are not enjoying this process in the least, and we do not want to create financial hardship
for ourselves, our neighbors or for the township itself. We do not want to take the township to
court, but it may be our only recourse in saving an environmentally sensitive low-lying area that
abuts a trout maintenance tributary from development. On the Albanese Heller For Readington
Facebook page we are considered hypocrites for wanting to seek legal recourse in this matter.
We are not trying to claim eminent domain here. Are we not justified in trying to protect our
rights as American citizens? Whatever happened to liberty and justice for all? It is obvious to
me that most of the township officials like to keep their constituents in the dark on matters of
importance. They also seem to like to create a level of fear and panic as they have with all this
ambiguous talk of housing credits. I believe now is the time to stand up for our rights. I believe
now is the time to let our local officials know that we will not be fodder for their past
indiscretions. If you would like to help our cause, please go to whitehouse-wetlands.org We
cannot do this alone.

Robert Baumgaertner
Whitehouse Wetlands Tributary Preserve, Inc.