Anti-Waterview Plan Residents Decry Developer's 'Threat'
A letter from developer RD Realty's attorney saying that if the Whole Foods plan dies, a more controversial project could replace it angers residents and officials alike.
Spirited opposition to a plan to develop 26.6 acres of the Waterview tract for a retail-residential project erupted at Parsippany Hills High School Tuesday night as the Parsipany Township Council met for its monthly business meeting. A Wateview-themed ordinance proposal expected to be introduced was discussed at length and passionately, but at the end of a four-hour-plus meeting, the body voted 5-0 to table its introduction.
The council is considering whether to go forward with a plan recommended by the Planning Board to turn the undeveloped Waterview acreage, currently zoned for planned office development, into an overlay zone that would allow mixed-use development.
Residents oppose the project as currently proposed in a plan that calls for a retail center anchored by Whole Foods Market and a 60-unit townhome community. However, a letter to the council from attorney Carl S. Bisgaier of Haddonfield law firm Bisgaier Hoff set off a major outcry among audience members.
Bisgaier Hoff is now representing developer RD Realty, which is purchasing the land in question from Bellemead Development Group.
The letter offered an alternate scenario for RDR's plan to buy the 26.6 acres on Waterview Plaza: erecting a high-density affordable-housing apartment complex.
“The current market for exclusive residential use on the property and at this location would be extremely profitable and would support a rental apartment complex at a realistic density of 20 units per acre," the letter said. "This would achieve up to 530 units. Higher densities could be achieved with a four-story or greater product.”
RDR's letter continued with words that appeared to resonate negatively with many of the residents in attendance at the council meeting.
“[The developer] does not intend to simply make a proposal and terminate its land contract if that proposal is rejected," the letter said. "If this option is rejected, RDR will pursue alternative development avenues. Not developing the property is not an option.”
Bisgaier wrote that the tract's POD restriction "has zoned the property into inutility," and that RDR's mixed-use plan and its apartment complex Plan B are ways to ensure that some development goes forward to make use of the land.
Many in the audience criticized the letter, and accused the developer of threatening Parsippany and its residents.
“I really think that this is an insult to the residents of Parsippany,” said Lake Parsippany resident Mary Purzycki, a citizen-activist who told the council that residents from all over the township would feel a negative impact from Waterview development. “This developer coming in here and saying if you don’t like it my first way, I’m going to make it worse for you, I’m going to really give you something you don’t want.”
Even town officials noted a perceived threat.
“This letter really grinded me,” said Town Council member Michael DePierro.
The veteran lawmaker told attendees that this is the third attempt since the 1980s to develop the site and that previous attempts were beaten back successfully by opposing residents. He said the current proposal is more troubling to many because it offers resident buffers as small as 65 feet, a much lower buffer offered than in earlier proposals.
DePierro said that if this measure does not pass, others will try to develop the land—and he issued a warning to development foes.
"What’s coming next you may not like even more," he said. "...Even if it’s not this developer, which I’m really mad at, it could be someone else."
Buffer size is a major obstacle for a lot of residents from Parsippany and Mountain Lakes, including members of grassroots nonprofit Citizens for Health, Safety and Welfare (formerly Don't Rezone Waterview). The group unveiled a new slogan in response: "The bigger the buffer, the better."
Other objections surround issues such as environmental protection, particularly as it involves water supply; traffic concerns; property values; traffic and general quality of life.
“For the last few months we as residents have believed this developer has come here to bully us and scare us into allowing them to develop this land the way they want,” said David Kaplan, CHSW's president, in regard to Bisgaier's letter. “So, I’d like to thank the developers for putting that in writing and proving it.”
Township Attorney John Inglesino said RDR has a right to propose what it wants as long as it can make the case that a project provides a tangible benefit to the town. Even if residents oppose a plan, according to the lawyer, a court can rule that a development may proceed, even over the town's objections.
Inglesino also addressed comments that Councilman Paul Carifi Jr. should recuse himself from the proceedings given his public statements in opposition to RD Realty's proposal. The lawyer said that he researched the matter and determined that Carifi does not have to step away from voting on the issue.
After a public comment portion that went on until nearly midnight, the council voted unanimously to table the introduction of the ordinance that would allow the overlay zone designation.
The matter is expected to arise again at the council's next meeting, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 9 at Parsippany High School.