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Whole Foods Plan Revision Still Raises Concerns

Large, skeptical crowd—most in opposition—came to Parsippany High to address economic development plan that would bring Whole Foods Market to Parsippany.

A revised Waterview Plaza development plan was presented before a loudly skeptical audience at Monday night's Parsippany Planning Board meeting.

About 200 residents turned out for the gathering, which was held at Parsippany High School. On Dec. 17, the last time the board attempted to continue hearings on the proposal at Town Hall, a fire official shut down the meeting because the crowd the discussion attracted exceeded fire standards. The hearing was rescheduled and relocated. 

The large numbers attest to . That was in evidence Monday as residents from the Intervale area, from other areas of Parsippany and even from Mountain Lakes and Boonton stood in long lines waiting for an opportunity to state objections or ask pointed questions about the project.

In the end, 11 p.m. arrived before the developer's attorney could finish his case. The matter will continue before the Planning Board on Monday, Feb. 11, at Parsippany High at 7:30 p.m.

This project has become highly controversial in and around the township: The law firm Garofalo and O'Neill, representing the project, is trying to obtain approval for the site to become an overlay zone that would allow mixed commercial and residential use on the land, which is zoned for office space.. The Planning Board is determining whether to recommend the matter to the Township Council. The governing body ultimately will decide whether the overlay zone designation is appropriate.  

The developer, having heard many objections, offered a number of changes to its initial proposal at the Monday meeting. Attorney Robert Garofalo called the changes "significant" and said they were based on comments from Planning Board members and the public. 

Architect and professional planner David J. Minno was called as a witness to describe the revisions RD Realty is proposing. 

The , include:

  • moving residential development access from Intervale Road to Waterview Blvd.;
  • increasing building setbacks to 65 feet (Minnow wanted to be more conservative than the 75 feet attorney Joseph O'Neill stated previously);
  • reducing residential component density to seven units per acre and bringing down the non-residential component's net floor-area ration to .3, which is the same as similar districts in Parsippany;
  • adding a pedestrian connection to the shopping center; and
  • cutting the residential building height from 40 feet to 35 feet, making it conform with the maximum allowed by the town.

"We've listened," said Minno.

He also provided a first look at the townhomes that are proposed. Minno described them as three-story dwellings: the ground floor would consist of a two-car garage and a back room that could be used as a family room or den, the second level would be the main living level, the third level would have bedrooms.  

The architect said the developer expects "young professionals, empty nesters and...some divorcees" will be the prime market for the townhouses, which would list in the $450,000-$500,000 range. He said that 14 school children are expected to come from the townhome community. 

Minno also said the project would have "positive tax implications for the school district."

"A total of $748,000 is expected in tax revenue beyond what the project will bring in," Minno said. "$337,000 for the township itself."

He argued that this type of development is what's needed if the town wants to turn around its ever-growing office vacancy rate.

"What a thriving city like Parsippany needs to maintain offices is to provide housing for young professionals and people working in these offices," Minno said. "It's a competitive market in New Jersey. People will look elsewhere if they can't find housing close by. It's something corporations look at when evaluating doing business in a city."

The architect characterized the Waterview tract as a "transitional zone," one between a highway commercial district and a less dense residential neighborhood.

"This is Planning 101," said Minno. "If you were voting a zone ordinance for an image city… you would locate retail along the arteries, single family away from that and a transitional comfortably in the middle."

A number of attendees had questions regarding setbacks, which initially were projected to be 50 feet. 

In the announcements of revisions, it was said that setbacks would be increased to 75 feet, later scaled back to 65 feet.

Planning Board members offered a number of concerns.

Township Council liaison Michael dePierro was one of many who questioned the size of the project's residential component.

"The density still too high: Ten acres, 72 units..., " he said. "Since we've had a Master Plan we've not approved anything with a density greater than six units per acre."

Board member Steve Dinsmore shared a concern regarding the distance between residents and the back of the "Whole Foods grocery store."

Minno said evergreen plantings would help obscure the view of the commercial component, He also added that odor should not be a problem.

"I believe Whole Foods refrigerates its waste, so they don't have smelly, dirty waste sitting," he said. 

Dinsmore also voiced concerns about the townhouses' height.

"Our zoning ordinances have a reason why we discourage three-story homes," he said. "Empty nesters don't like three-story homes."

Minno begged to differ, offering a list of examples of successful three-story townhouse complexes in the region, among them the Brownstones in Morristown at Convent Station, Regency Club in Livingston, Coventry Park at Morris Plains (which he noted has 70 units and a density of 14 units per acre), Park Place in Mountain Lakes.

"And this just got approved, a three-story townhome project with 39 units at Kushner Academy with 18 to the acre," he said. "Market acceptance is very strong for this project."

Many in the audience shouted back in opposition, pushing Chairman Kaushik "Casey" Parikh to call for order.

Board Planner Edward Snieckus asked why a three-story building was appropriate.

"When you think about density and a three-story townhome, it's almost invisible density," Minno explained. "This project is not visible from many places in the township. We are setback building to building 250 feet from adjacent homes.... For the most part, it's an invisible project."

Much of the audience broke into disbelieving laughter.

"The [three-story] building height is comparable to other residential neighborhoods," Minno retorted. "It is no higher than single-family residences."

People from Parsippany and surrounding towns offered questions on concerns ranging from dealing with bears and addressing woodland habitat fragmentation to retaining undisturbed buffer and researching potential light pollution. Much of the questioning from residents came in the form of statements opposing the project and challenging the architect on issues outside of his expertise. 

Resident Nicholas Homyak of Lake Hiawatha called the Waterview tract an "open, living thing."

"In this economy," Homyak asked Minno, "who can afford to live in a nice little private city with a Whole Foods Market?"

Homyak accused the developer of trying to "erase this tree and bird sanctuary, this living organism. ... This is sprawl, helter skelter based on 'the divorcees are coming to Parsippany.'"

He asked Minno a question: "Do you represent Main Street or Wall Street?" 

He didn't get an answer.

Resident Scott Hoffman scoffed at the utility of a 50 foot or 75 foot buffer, using his experience at his own home involving an office building currently standing near the targeted 26 acres on Waterview Plaza..

"From November through March, I see that building clear as day with a buffer in excess of 200 feet," he insisted. "Explain how people are not supposed to see the development with a smaller buffer than I have?"

"Part is the difference in height," Minno explained. "The office building is much taller."

"The philosophy seems to be, 'Build it and they will come,'" said resident Robert Crawford. "You make reference to affluent retirees and office workers. Based on what facts have you drawn these conclusions to show these people would rather come here than, say, Hoboken or Jersey City?"

"They're currently buying in this region now," Minno said.

Sharon Ash of Mountain Lakes shared concerns over the tentative nature of the pproposal.

"This undermines what is a great community," she said, noting that the contract Whole Foods Market executives have signed with the township can only be contingent upon approval of the development project. "This could become, not Whole Foods, but something else. Parsippany already has one-third vacancy of commercial office space, and that info came from the secretary of the board!"

Councilman dePierro also put the architect on notice. Regarding setbacks, the original plan offered 50 feet. The revised plan increased that to 65-75 feet. Minnow talked of 250-foot "building to building" setbacks.

"We draw setbacks from property line, not from the back of the house," the politician said sternly. "I don't think anyone in this audience was fooled."

Members of the crowd applauded.

"I'm not trying to fool anybody," Minno responded.

Resident Andrew Choffo complained about "imprecise numbers."

"When will the public get actual numbers?" he asked.

"We're not at the site plan stage," Minno said. "Then there will be precise numbers and calculations. Right now we're talking about a zone change. We're showing plans merely to illustrate what we're planning here."

The four-hour session, which started with reorganization and a reappointment of existing professionals and minor site plan committee members, ended with a reappearance by a previous witness, professional planner and licensed landscape architect John McDonough. 

"We will start with the questioning of Mr. McDonough, cross examination and then public comments," said Chairman Parikh, noting that he will institute a three-minute limit for comments.

He added that anyone interested in looking for transcripts of previous testimony can find it within 10 days of a meeting at the Planning Board office at Town Hall.

Dave Phillips January 09, 2013 at 10:32 PM
Only 2 or 3 members on the board seem interested, the others look lost up there.
Nicholas Robert Homyak January 09, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Waterview Fantasy verses reality The most important paper for this "development" is the Environmental Impact Report" is was not examined nor was it present the night of January 7; as to sites' wetland and the wetland transition area; how this will affect the aquifers; underground system. It mentions trees but no balance on hand of the types nor their age and ecological significance, for example food for birds, butterfly and other mammals. IN ORDER FOR THE DEVELOPER TO DESTROY THIS REMAINING WOODED AREA THE TOWN WOULD HAVE TO ALLOW CHANGES IN THE ZONING ORDINANCES. We must ask; when was this area zoned; what year exactly? Things have changed much in time. Therefore the area should be considered for Re-Zoning as an open space or wildlife bird sanctuary. This would maintain our sense of place and community. One witness for the corporate developer stated; "this development is unique" and admitting other developments already abound in the North Jersey Area. THINK PARSIPPANONG NOT PARSIPANNY..
Nicholas Robert Homyak January 09, 2013 at 10:43 PM
Wake up people think, birds not bears; yes, birds, butterfly s and wildlife bears are rare in Parsippanny even before the three year consecutive bear hunts under Chris Christie..sure many song birds appreciate these trees and other flora existing on waterview woodland; Is not Parsipanny Tree City?
Nicholas Robert Homyak January 09, 2013 at 10:46 PM
Let them open pandoras' box and we can re-zone it back to open space or wildlife refuge; "bird sanctuary..
Nicholas Robert Homyak January 09, 2013 at 10:57 PM
You must be a developer or contractor; and yes Climate Change is just an opinion; why not; anybody can pay for one; especially now that corporations are people. This development or rather destruction is just what Parsipanny needs, right? Its' been zoned for garbage; trash, litter fool!!
Nicholas Robert Homyak January 09, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Where else is Donald Trump gonna hide his Ex-Wife's? Yes where exactly will this waste of money come from? Crooks; off-shore; Tax loop-hole...It is really sleezy..
Kenneth Kaplan January 10, 2013 at 03:28 AM
Mr. Homyak, you are a loose cannon whose accusations and speculations are baseless. As long as this project is designed to prevent run-off to adjacent properties, prevent light pollution, have sensible traffic flow, and otherwise be designed using good enginering practices, this will be an asset to the community.
Kenneth Kaplan January 10, 2013 at 03:37 AM
You have no idea what a majority of this town want. The nature of these things is that opponents turn out to testify at planning board meetings, much more so than supporters, and only 2 or 300 were there Monday night. To me, that says that a vast majority of our town's residents would welcome Whole Foods at this site. Personally, I can't wait!
stan January 10, 2013 at 12:19 PM
Lose the creeps looking to get a kickback from the profits on the townhomes..72...that's rediculous...and tell the hypocrites to imagine THEIR kids have to grow up eating GMO foods covered with pestesides.....these people are real piece of work....
Parsippany Taxpayer January 10, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Stan -- to think that you shopping at Whole Foods is going to help you avoid the crap that goes in today's foods is just not a reality. There are antibiotics and hormones that go into the feed of the livestock across the board. All corn in the US is GMO -- same corn we feed the animals. Farm raised fish also are pumped full of stuff to get the highest yields. The reality is the US has one of the least regulated food markets as far as industrial countries are concerned and if you feel better because your grocery receipt says WHOLE FOODS on it then you must believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny too... The other reality is that there will be more air pollution for the additional traffic around Parsippany and less oxygen in the air from the environment impact. I am not a tree hugger but I am more in touch than the troll (pretending to be sick of his relatives that he lives in their basement).
Parsippany Taxpayer January 10, 2013 at 09:25 PM
Also you have never been to the docks in NJ and Philly where they go ahead and repack those same non-organic fruits and veggies in organic labelled boxes so that they can charge twice as much for slapping Organic on the box. But if it is your perception that it is healthy -- then your perception is your reality. Just I hope down the road when the turn hits you that you don't have hard feelings about all that money you wasted on the dream. Kind of like me wasting money on the pipe dream slogan that Parsippany is a great place to be. Great if you like congestion, corruption and falling property values due to incompetent local government.
Kenneth Kaplan January 10, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Reality Checker is such an ironic name for you since you just make stuff up as you go. If you have actually seen fruit being intentionally mislabeled, you witnessed a crime and should have reported it. Otherwise you are just repeating hearsay. Reality Checker, you need a fact checker!
KEY January 10, 2013 at 10:27 PM
KEY Please lets not lose our focus, our concen is this development and the damage to our neighborhood and not the peripheral issues.
Lee Goldberg January 11, 2013 at 12:03 AM
Residents of Parsippany...please see this website of an organization that was formed in Morris Township in response to Honeywell wanting to rezone. It was almost a two and a half year process from Planning Board to Township Committee stages but having an organized group to advocate on behalf of residents was a lot of work but VERY effective. http://c4bpmt.org/
Kenneth Kaplan January 11, 2013 at 06:06 PM
Lovely website, Lee, but, in the words of an opponent of the Honeywell project, "On Oct. 1, I attended the Morris Township Committee hearing on Honeywell's request for a Master Plan change to their corporate headquarters site. At 1:30 in the wee hours of the morning the ordinance was passed without any discussion or recommendations for change by four Township Committee members. All concerns expressed by the citizens were ignored." Obstructionism by opponents leads to intransigence by developers. I welcome the idea of a Whole Foods coming to Parsippany, but there are legitimate concerns about run-off, drainage, light pollution, traffic flow, etc. These issues should be addressed fully during the site plan approval process if and when the overlay zone is approved. Rather than completely opposing the project from a NAMBY perspective, I urge residents to participate in a more constructive way to assure the best project possible on the site.
DMHerinya January 11, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Just thinking out loud here. Has anyone considered trying to reach out to the Whole Foods corporation in the form of an open letter, a petition, or something? Whole Foods is involved in developing land that was gifted to Parsippany as open space by the Geraldine R Dodge foundation. Isn't that at least bad PR for the Whole Foods image, if not a bad idea in general? Why not question someone at Whole Foods about these contradictory philosophies? Anyone thought about contacting a larger news organization?
Nicole January 11, 2013 at 06:52 PM
DMHerinya, There are many good reasons to be opposed to the development, but inaccuracies are not one of them. This land was never gifted to Parsippany or anyone else. It was sold to developers by the Dodge estate after she passed away in the 1970's.
Nicholas Robert Homyak January 11, 2013 at 07:06 PM
DM Herinya Why haven't you reached out; Whole Foods may not be involved at all. If what you say about the Dodge Foundation is true and the Wetland status is still involved. The how did JMF Properties get hold of it? If the zoning board can't get rid of these guys by simply using the SMART GROWTH SCORECARD put out by The State of New Jersey; well then they are crooks and something will have to be done.
Nicholas Robert Homyak January 11, 2013 at 07:15 PM
The developers admission; that the areas was “zoned for trash” as part of the reality of what may take place. Trash and litter go together so we will inherit even more loss of quality of life and further encourage our society’s “loss of land ethic”. . How could this alteration of the landscape not affect the remaining wooded wetland ecosystem? Runoff from the development was not discussed. (Litter;oil, lawn treatments). The destruction of this wooded area will lead to the further invasion of exotic species into the area; like Japanese knotweed which is very bad.
Sarojni January 13, 2013 at 04:06 PM
They are going to sterilize the entire community that move in to this complex.
Curt January 13, 2013 at 06:58 PM
This property was owned by the Dodge Family and given to Parsippany. When Frank Priore was Mayor the property was sold to developers I'm not sure which developer but this is a fact. How could the town even consider taking property that was given to them for open space sell it and approve a development. Geraldine R. Dodge meant for this to stay open space and she was a great environmentalist who loved animals. Also has anyone read the Township Open Space Plan, I have read every page and that document screams for this land to be left open!!!!!!
Nicole January 13, 2013 at 07:47 PM
Curt, As a Stated to DMHerinya, it does not help the case by stating inaccuracies. Parsippany never ever owed the property. A quick drive to the county clerks office or phone call to the tax assessors would confirm this. Dodge may have meant for the property to remain open space, but the fact is that her estate sold the property to developers and honestly, Route 46 is a much different road now than what it was when Mrs. Dodge started purchasing the parcels in the 1940's. By your argument, every single home on Forrest Drive should never have been built as that land was once owned by Dodge as well.
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 13, 2013 at 08:52 PM
I have questions in to Whole Foods' media office on this. They have yet to contact me, and presently I am out of state. And the Dodge Foundation, according to what I have read, allowed the selling off of the land to developers. I already have an interview request in to the foundation (I also plan to speak with a local historian when I return to NJ) in hopes of speaking with someone and getting the info this week.
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 14, 2013 at 03:09 PM
Annie asked me to delete her comment regarding the meeting for residents. She learned that there had to be a limit of 90 people and didn't want to go over capacity, so she and her fellow organizers from Stop the Overdevelopment of Waterview are considering other options.
DMHerinya January 14, 2013 at 05:08 PM
Hi Nicole, My apologies. I was under the impression that the land did NOT go directly from the foundation to developers. If in fact it did, then you are right—this is a non-issue. I read that in at least 3 separate comments from different individuals on other related articles, so I assumed it must be correct. (Silly me.) I figured if that was brought to the attention of Whole Foods, I would really want to hear their response. In any case, it looks like our local editor Natalie is on the case, so I'm sure she'll get to the bottom of this.
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 14, 2013 at 06:24 PM
OK, this is the extent of what the Dodge Foundation's CFO, Cynthia Evans, could tell me: "Regrettably, we are unable to provide any help in answering your questions about Mrs. Dodge’s intent for the property in Parsippany. It is our understanding that Mrs. Dodge’s land holdings in Parsippany were sold in the 1960’s, long before the Foundation was incorporated in 1975." The infohunt will continue.
DMHerinya January 14, 2013 at 06:38 PM
Natalie, Thank you for looking into the history further. I look forward to your findings. Local history can be fascinating but I can't always find what I'm looking for on my own. NIcholas, I didn't reach out because I just don't have enough facts. I was seriously just asking if anyone else had gone that route yet, since I kept hearing that story about the land being "gifted" to the township and later sold off. I didn't say anything about wetland status or law breaking. I am concerned about the principle though. I look forward to learning the facts. I just wish Whole Foods was interested in one of the existing vacant buildings instead of taking part in overdevelopment. It wouldn't hurt their image to "repurpose" a vacancy in town.
clyde donovan January 14, 2013 at 07:09 PM
It's might be possible to look at Mrs. Dodge's will with the MC Surrogate's office, if it was probated in Morris County. In addition, someone could do a search of the ownership of the Dodge tract using the existing Block and Lot numbers. The county tax office records might be a place to start, before resorting to the deed books. However, the history really doesn't matter. I want to know why county and township open-space funds aren't being used to acquire the "Whole Foods/Condo" property. The freeholders just spent $5,100,000 of your tax money to preserve 113 acres in Harding Township. http://morriscountypr.blogspot.com/2013/01/morris-helps-preserve-113-acres-in.html
Nicholas Robert Homyak March 12, 2013 at 01:34 PM
Its amazing how "some people" can ignore; purposely undermine, legislation and guidelines developed with public funds that helps us develop a sound healthy future concerning our water supply and landscapes integrity, landscapes that should have already reached a "post development" phase. Waterview; "rezoning", this by itself is an audacious act by corporate forces to plainly undermine environmental law. New Jersey Master Development Plan, Wetlands Protection Act, New Jersey Highlands Protection Act, Clean Water and Air Acts and subsequent studies concerning Troy Brook Watershed. Our Parsipanny Planning Board has become part of this Axis will our town-council also join this Axis??
Erika Bongort April 11, 2013 at 02:05 AM
I have just 1 comment for the architect and professional planner David J. Minno. Whole Foods does NOT refrigerate its waste but the company does compost large quanities of waste each year. The exact tonnage I could not tell you but in Austin ,TX where I work(former resident of Lake Hiawatha) for Whole Foods we do compost a considerable amount. I appreciate and respect all of the residents concerns to this project especially as buildings lay vacant in the township. I would suggest that you stand your ground on this one. I think it is wrong when developers dangle the Whole Foods carrot to attempt to make a project more appealing and then if things go wrong the my employer Whole Foods is seen in a bad light. This is not about which store should go where this is about the possibility of a developer trying to make some project that serves their interest appealing to an area. From an environmental standpoint I say fight, fight like it the last thing you will ever do and don't back down. You may not ever get what everybody wants. But enforcement of environmental law for the state of New Jersey and Parsippany is extremely important.Erika Bongort former resident of Lake Hiawatha.

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