Portions of Sharbell project on Gordon Road win final approval

The Planning Board gave final major subdivision approval to the northwest corner of the Gordon-Simpson tract mixed-used project, which includes 30 single-family homes and townhomes and 24 market-rate condominiums (shown in orange).

The Planning Board gave final major subdivision approval to the northwest corner of the Gordon-Simpson tract mixed-used project, which includes 30 single-family homes and townhomes and 24 market-rate condominiums (shown in orange).

The northwest corner of Sharbell’s 439-acre residential and commercial project off Gordon Road has received final Planning Board approval, but it’s up to the courts to decide if the remainder will be built the way the developer wants.

The Planning Board voted May 15 to grant final major subdivision approval for the project phases that include a 24-unit condominium building, 14 single-family homes, 16 townhomes and a lot that will be given to the township for the future development of a 60-unit Project Freedom facility for disabled people.

Sharbell Senior Vice President Tom Troy said that depending on what happens with ongoing litigation over another aspect of the project, there was a “strong likelihood” the developer would be breaking ground this summer.

The township and Sharbell have been locked in a two-year legal battle over the  developer’s right to convert 150 previously approved age-restricted housing units for seniors elsewhere in the same development into 120 single-family homes for people of all ages. The town opposes the conversion, contending it will bring an influx of students who will need more classrooms that will require higher taxes.

Both a trial court and appellate court have found in favor of Sharbell because a 2009 law, which has since sunset, gave all New Jersey developers with approved but unbuilt age-restricted housing projects the right to convert them into all-age housing provided 20 percent were set aside as affordable housing.

Even though the law has expired, all applications brought during the two-year period that the law was in effect remain valid.

The Planning Board had denied Sharbell’s conversion application in 2011, citing a provision in the conversion law that allows a project to be rejected if it poses a “detriment to the public good,” but a judge overturned that decision.

After losing again at the appellate court level, the Planning Board authorized its attorney to petition the state Supreme Court to hear the case. The court has not yet responded to the petition, leaving that part of the project in legal limbo for now.

Earlier this year, the mayor raised the possibility of the township purchasing the 40 or so acres involved in the conversion lawsuit to preserve that land as open space and eliminate the impact on schools, but said state or county funds would be needed to help finance it. Neither side has disclosed the asking price.

Troy said May 22 that possibility was still on the table.

“We are continuing our dialogue with the town in regard to the possible alternative use of the converted residential lots,” Troy said. “We hope to get to a conclusion, one way or the other within the next few weeks.”

The May 15 Planning Board hearing dealt only with the portion of the property that is excluded from the ongoing litigation.

“Nothing here tonight relates to the conversion aspects of the application,” Sharbell’s attorney, Frank Petrino told the Planning Board.

The non-conversion portion of the Sharbell project on the Gordon-Simpson tract received its preliminary approvals back in 2006. Under the law, the Planning Board is required to grant final major subdivision approvals if the application conforms to the conditions of the preliminary approvals, although minor deviations are permitted to reflect changing conditions.

One change the board agreed to was to allow the developer to construct a gravel parking lot, instead of a paved cul-de-sac, on an as-yet unnamed street (Road “B”) near a proposed tot lot playground. The road will eventually be extended as a through street when later phases of the project are built.

Traffic consultants for the applicant told the board the first phases of residential development involving only 54 residential units would generate about 40 additional daily vehicle trips traveling westbound on Gordon Road to the Route 130 intersection. Lengthening turning lanes on Gordon Road at that intersection would be unnecessary until the developer moves ahead with a later phase of the project adding 6,000 square feet of retail space near Route 130 North, they said.

Planning Board Chairman Kathy Goodwine, who was not a member of the board when preliminary approvals were granted for the project seven years ago, said she was more concerned about the project’s impact on traffic at the other end of Gordon Road where it intersects with Sharon Road. The developer is not being required to make any improvements at that intersection.

“It’s a terrible, terrible intersection there at Gordon and Sharon,” Goodwine said. “It’s not aligned properly and there’s a school there and a park there.”

Although there are no immediate plans to realign the intersection with Sharon Road, Township Engineer Tim McGough said at some point there would be a realignment of Bresnahan Road where it meets Gordon Road.

“It will bring it into a 90-degree intersection and at that parcel of land we were looking at for the possible location of some soccer fields,” McGough told the Planning Board.





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