The South Orange Board of Trustees voted to introduce an ordinance that would allow Orange Lawn Tennis Club at 305 Ridgewood Road to subdivide its property in order to sell a parcel for development.
According to Trustee Mark Rosner, the decision to introduce the ordinance did not necessarily signal support for the action by the Board. Rather, said Rosner, the introduction begins the public process. The proposal for the development will next go to the Planning Board for presentation, questioning and deliberation (meeting is Feb. 2, 7:30 p.m.). The Planning Board would then make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees at the second hearing of the ordinance. Village President Alex Torpey noted that there would be opportunities for public comment at the Planning Board and the second hearing of the ordinance.
Township Administrator Barry Lewis said there would be notification of the Planning Board hearing(s) as well as mailings to residents.
According to Rosner, a developer (later identified as BNE Real Estate Group by two residents present at the meeting) has proposed purchasing a portion of the property and developing it as 27 town homes. The development would take up about one third of the current 16-plus acre site. Lewis said that the ordinance would not change the current zoning, which allows for residential development and recreational use of the property. However, the ordinance would clarify that the property could be subdivided for two separate uses.
Rosner, who is Chair of the Planning & Zoning Committee, said that Orange Lawn has come to the town repeatedly with financial problems. He said that Orange Lawn contends that, if it is not allowed to subdivide and sell a portion of the property, it will be forced to close and sell the entire property for development.
Rosner, however, did not sound like a champion for the proposal. He noted that the site presented “concerns” regarding access and parking. He also questioned “how honest” Orange Lawn was being with the Village. “They haven’t opened their books to the town,” said Rosner.
Two local residents spoke against the proposal during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Joan Youell said that Orange Lawn appeared to be under “continual financial crisis” and had appealed to the Village on financial grounds before, in at least one case obtaining permission to expand. She said that the current proposal runs counter to the Village’s Open Space Master Plan of 2004 as well as its Smart Growth Plan of 2007, which call for maintaining open space and recreational uses. Youell also said the slope of the property presented issues with water runoff. She said that traffic, access and parking would all be problems and noted that the development would displace current parking for the club’s recreational and catering facilities. Youell noted that the property is surrounded by single family homes.
Nearby resident Joe Korb questioned that the project was already “well baked.” He asked that the process be “slowed down.” Korb also noted that the property had been rezoned in 1993 to help the town meet the state-mandated Mount Laurel Doctrine which requires municipalities to plan for and provide affordable housing and that Orange Lawn had benefited financially from that designation. Korb said that Orange Lawn had successfully derailed previous efforts to return the zoning to recreational only.
Rosner acknowledged that Korb’s comments about Mount Laurel-related rezoning were accurate, saying that the zoning was not changed back to recreational-only in 2006/7 because Orange Lawn cited “issues with finances and how much they could borrow” and said that the “club would go under” if it was rezoned.
Concerning Korb’s request to slow down the process, Trustee Sheena Collum responded that Orange Lawn had come to the Planning & Zoning Committee months ago and that “this starts the public process. We have to start somewhere … to get to some resolution.”
Korb and Youell told The Village Green after the vote that representatives of Orange Lawn and BNE had held an informational meeting with neighbors in December where they explained their plans and presented a drawing (see below).
No representative from Orange Lawn or BNE was present at the meeting. Village Green is reaching out to both for comment and further details on the proposed development.
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