Franklin residents oppose housing project
By Diana Goovaerts
FRANKLIN — Franklin residents turned out Tuesday to voice their opposition to an ordinance revision that would allow construction of a 300-unit apartment complex on Munsonhurst Road.
During a fiery public comment session, locals charged the council with giving in to developer interests at residents' expense. Several citizens said they were worried the development would increase local taxes by adding to the school population and negatively impact the borough's water supply, while others raised environmental, traffic and aesthetic concerns. Former Mayor Richard Durina reminded the council the Borough's water used to be brown before the municipality gained access to the wells on the development site in the 1990s.
“The most important resource this town has is our water,” Durina commented. “We don't know how much water is in that aquifer. You don't see that aquifer underneath the ground, so how do you protect it from fertilizer, ground salt and other chemicals?”
Council members and Mayor Nicholas Giordano acknowledged school costs are subject to a number of factors, but contended impacts from the apartment project would be limited since a number of fixed operating expenses – such as lighting and heating costs, the number of teachers and busing – would remain the same. Addressing water and environmental concerns, Borough Attorney Thomas Prol noted there are provisions in the proposed ordinance that allow the Planning Board to require studies on environmental, traffic, economic impacts before the project is approved.
Ordinance change Zoning for the 70-acre property in question currently allows for construction of 250 apartment units restricted to senior residents age 55 and up.
The current regulations replaced an older plan that would have allowed for dense single-family homes to be built on the site. But last year, the Planning Board also recommended lifting the age restriction and allowing for up to 20 percent more units on the property.
The current owner of the property, JCM Investors, took a proposal requesting 300 units of non-age restricted housing to the Planning Board earlier this year, but the application was denied because the Council had not yet acted to implement the Board's 2016 recommendations.
JCM threatened to sue the Borough in response, and as part of a settlement agreement the Council agreed to revise the existing zoning ordinance to conform with the Planning Board's recommendations.
The council started the revision process in October, but abandoned its original effort in favor of a new ordinance, 20-2017, that incorporates additional suggestions from the Planning Board. The new ordinance is set for a tentative public hearing on Nov. 28.
However, attorney Todd Hooker called the settlement a “sham” and said the Borough didn't have to go along with JCM's demands. Hooker is representing Ian Sherwood, who owns a horse farm on Corkhill Road that backs up to the proposed development site.
According to Hooker, the Borough likely would have defeated a court challenge from JCM since they were seeking a variance from the existing ordinance and the Planning Board found the negative criteria in the proposal outweighed the positive.
“Ask any attorney that does planning work, I don't think (JCM) ever would have won that challenge,” Hooker said.
Though the council was hoping to avoid litigation with JCM, Hooker said they'll still face a challenge from Sherwood if the ordinance change goes through.