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Whole Foods Market Project Gets Chilly Reaction from Residents

An ambitious plan for an upscale mixed-use development is backed by town leaders, but not by those who would live near it.

About 50 Intervale area residents greeted the Parsippany Planning Board Monday night to hear testimony on a plan to bring Whole Foods Market to town—and to speak out against it.

Many in the township cheered in late July, when  . But when word came that the deal would involve putting up a new 26-acre development on Waterview Plaza on Route 46 across from the Parsippany Police headquarters, residents of the Intervale area cried foul.

The developer's idea is to construct a mixed-use facility that would include the high-end supermarket, other retailers and a residential component featuring 72 upscale three-story townhouses. The land being considered for use is the last undeveloped 26 acres of the 132-acre plot that stands between Route 46 and Intervale Road and borders residences on Intervale and single-family houses on Forest Drive.

According to Board Planner Edward Snieckus of Burgis Associates, this is not a concept plan."This is more than that," he said. "They are requesting recommendations of this board regarding uses [and making the area an] overlay zone" that would allow retail and residential units on a portion of land currently zoned for office development.

However, Snieckus recommended centering discussion for the night on the concept and whether it fits into the township's Master Plan, in that the Planning Board can neither approve nor reject the idea, but can only make a recommendation to the Town Council, which ultimately will make the final decision regarding the application.

The Waterview property is a controversial one: In the past, due to strong negative reaction from nearby residents, plans for an office development in the 1980s and a 2006 residential project have been killed.

Snieckus said RD Realty LLC is attached to the application to bring the retail/residential complex to Parsippany.

Attorney Joseph O'Neill, representing RD Realty, presented two witnesses in a gathering that lasted until 11 p.m.

First was licensed planner and landscape architect John McDonough, who attempted to make a case for the project.

"We have a distinct lack of grocery land use, particularly [of] the specialty grocer the developer wants to bring here," he said. "It's distinctly different than the Pathmark, which has a larger facility and a different product mix.

McDonough noted that the land is not constrained by wetlands, and that there would be little environmental impact.

Additionally, he said the commercial office market is suffering.

"We're seeing 40 percent vacancy rates for office buildings," he said. "And we're dealing with an area not zoned to be a park."

By ordinance, Waterview Plaza must be used to attract income-producing rateables.

McDonough argued that the project was compatible with the Master Plan and was not spot zoning.

"More than one landowner is benefitted. There is a community benefit here," McDonough testified, noting that it would put a more than $1 million rateable "over stagnant land that exists now" and would bring more than $1 million in fees to the township.

The planner said that Parsippany suffers from a glut of office buildings and achieve more balance. He added that the retail market for townhouses is strong and that the residential component of the project is in keeping with the Master Plan's call for a variety of residential land uses.

"We see townhouses in Parsippany account for 6.1 percent of residential availability," he explained. "In surrounding areas, it's 16.1 percent. That's an indicator of demand for townhouses in Parsippany."

McDonough added that the area has "excellent accessibility" in terms of vehicle traffic, that it was well buffered around its perimeter and that the residential density proposed, 12 units per acre, was "on par with Intervale Gardens."

Residents were not buying, and several on the dais voiced their concerns.

Town Council member Michael dePierro noted that residents are concerned with use of Forest Drive by motorists trying to get to Interstate 287.

"I want traffic away from Forest Drive," he said, earning a round of applause.

Board member Thomas Dinsmore echoed the councilman's worry.

"Circulation of large numbers of people into the current traffic pattern is one that has to be very carefully weighed."

Board member Robert Keller spoke out against the height proposed for the townhouses, which under the current plan would stand three stories—approximately 40 feet—high.

"Why do you need the extra height?" he asked.

Keller also asked whether there is adequate water supply for the development of the site?

Mayor James Barberio replied.

"Yes we do, and sewer as well," the mayor said, offering to have the township's director of water utility write a report on the matter.

Resident Nancy Choffo took issue with Barberio's statement.

"We're under water restrictions," she said. "How can we afford to add more residents?"

"We have plenty of water," insisted Barberio, adding that a study by the water utility director shows that the water supply is sufficient.

Choffo then asked about the impact the residential plan would have on area schools, citing overcrowding at a number of schools in town. The mayor said the issue would be addressed. Then the resident addressed McDonough's earlier claim regarding effects on the surrounding environment.

"This would be taking land away from the animals who live there, so to say there is no environmental impact... there is an impact," she said.

Resident Angela Piegari also spoke against McDonough's assertion that because the plan benefits the community it isn't spot zoning.

"The community directly affected may not agree that we benefit," she said. "I  consider another strip mall development with additional housing, more traffic, lighting, the possibility of crime and higher taxes."

Then Piegari offered a sentiment shared with Patch by many Intervale residents.

"Such a store as Whole Foods might be better addressed by the empty stores that already exist at the old Michael's [in the Morris Hills Shopping Center] and the old [Route 46] Walgreens. ... Has the concept developer ever considered the two vacant stores in the strip malls that already exist?"

McDonough replied, noting that the retailer has specific demands.

"When we talk about Whole Foods, we're dealing with a retailer that wants to be in a special location. It does not want to be with retailers that [are perceived to be lower-end]. ... This is very high-end look for this particular product.

"It's anything but a strip."

"I'm not convinced," Piegari said.

Resident John Gribben took issue with the whole project.

"Many residents disagree that there is benefit to the greater good," he said, his neighbors muttering agreement throughout Council Chambers.

McDonough argued that the Master Plan, created in 2004 and due to be re-evaluated and perhaps revised next year, is out of sync with the present time and changing circumstances. He added that residents would be protected with the installation of a 50-foot buffer of trees around the property's perimeter, which he said is appropriate from a landscape standpoint.

The audience howled its reaction: "No."

Resident Andrew Choffo followed up with another environmental concern.

"We're taking an awful lot of ground that could absorb water and trees that could absorb water," he said.

Another resident, David Kaplan, noted that the last developer who tried to build a project on Waterview Plaza offered a 400-foot buffer.

"Four hundred feet was still concerning to us," said Kaplan. "We have no interest in supporting any zoning change. We bought under certain conditions knowing it was zoned for office. It's not our fault it wasn't developed. Our conditions have not changed. We expect the zoning to stay the same so our quality of life is not impacted."

Resident Russell Arnold referred to a previous Planning Board discussion regarding installing solar panels at the Parsippany Free Public Library on Halsey Road.

"I was struck by the library's concern for light under a carport, while this project's gonna light up the entire neighborhood," he said. "They're concerned about 14 trees at the library. How many trees are going to get pulled down here?"

Chairperson Parikh repeatedly admonished residents for hurling comments and opinions rather than questions. Still, the complaints kept coming as residents continued to vent their displeasure with the proposal and raise issues regarding matters including school overcrowding, building when empty retail space is going unused, whether the town could purchase the land and keep it as a park or open space and whether the town really needs a Whole Foods Market when a Kings Supermarket exists in nearby Florham Park.

After some testimony regarding traffic use and circulation from a second witness, engineer and planner John Meyer—including Meyer's statement that there already is a signed lease for the property, which was all he was "at liberty to say"—Chairperson Parikh called for adjournment.

Patch asked resident Liz Lynch, another opponent of the project, whether she believed her neighbors would ever accept any development on Waterview Plaza. Lynch was quick and direct in answering: "No."

The matter will come up again Dec. 3, when the Whole Foods project will be the only agenda item.

clyde donovan November 21, 2012 at 06:24 PM
The citizens will not be able to stop this project. The developers own Parsippany's politicians. You can see that from the federal prosecution of the former Parsippany planning board attorney. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2008/02/parsippany_planning_board_atto.html There's plenty of money in the open space fund to buy this property from the developer and keep the area wooded - not as another soccer field with astroturf.
ringaling November 21, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Snobby Intervale residents. This is your kind of store. Just goes to show the type of people you are. You would travel all the way to Florham Park to shop at a Kings Supermarket when you can drive a short distance to Kings in Boonton. I guess Boonton would be slumming it.
Dave Phillips November 22, 2012 at 02:06 AM
@ ringaling, The writer got that part mixed up (though the rest of the article is well done). I was there and what was said was that there is already a Whole Foods in Florham Park (actually Madison) and a Kings in nearby Boonton. Whole Foods is also planning to put up a new store in Morristown, which is only about a 10 minute drive down Route 287 from Parsippany. They are trying to saturate the market, they should just do the Morristown store and not Parsippany. Intervale residents are far from snobby. They are middle class homeowners that are voicing their valid concerns to protect the integrity of the neighborhood that they bought in to. A quiet residential one that is filled with small children who play alongside 25mph streets such as Intervale Road and Forest Drive. The nearby "Dodge Tract" was given away decades ago as a gift so it be kept untouched for natural wildlife and a buffer to Route 46. The tract is zoned for office space, not a few big box stores and high density 3-story high condos with 900 parking spots, steps from their backyards. It's classic spot zoning. The mayor sees tax ratables but he fails to see the larger picture that this project is not good now for Parsippany and it will be even worse for the township and its residents for years to come. Unless you like heavy traffic, crime, littered streets, crowded classrooms and no open space in town.
Natalie Davis (Editor) November 22, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Yes, that's on me. I was not aware of the King's in Boonton and thought the closest one was the one in Florham Park.
Natalie Davis (Editor) November 22, 2012 at 02:18 AM
And I have to add: Where is the notion that Intervale folks are snobby coming from? That's a new one. The many of them I met last night were, as Mr. Phillips said, normal middle-class people.
Annie November 22, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Adding retail space with 900 parking spots is going to add much more traffic than we currently have along rt 46 and the surrounding streets where they plan on developing this. Parsippany already has traffic backup issues during rush hour. This traffic will only get worse during this time and impact evening and weekends too. Parsippany does not need anymore traffic running through the town. It already takes 30 minutes or more to get across town on a good day, imagine what it will take once the roads are clogged due to the traffic from this development.
Harland November 22, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Mayor Barberio, Do yourself a favor and keep your mouth shut because every time you open it, you embarrass yourself. Run a search on Parsippany Patch for "water restrictions", and the very first article in the results is from July 2012 which says "The head of Parsippany's water utility says water levels are now normal, but 'could change in a heartbeat.'". Everyone in Parsippany is aware that water resources in this town are strained, and we need to carefully consider impacts on water supply in any development decision. 70+ condos and paving over 26 acres of permeable land will definitely have a negative impact on the water supply, which will impact EVERY resident of Parsippany. Do your job and start working for the residents of Parsippany instead of the developers from out-of-town.
Sick of the trolls November 22, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Hey "Clyde", What exactly does that have to do with this? That happened 5 years ago. Why can't you stay on topic? And no, I won't let you watch my kids, so please stop asking.
Pete November 22, 2012 at 01:53 PM
It certainly DOES look like the developers and outside interests have the town firmly in their pocket. I'm surprised the Council hasn't taken this into "closed session" to keep it out of the public eye. There already are five good-sized supermarkets (counting Kings in Boonton), and altogether too many convenience stores, in the area. And Rt. 46 is gradually becoming one long strip-mall. WRT the water situation, if as Mr. Barberio says "We have plenty of water", why are we under un-ending water restrictions ? If it's a "delicate balance", wouldn't this additional development add the risk of tipping it the wrong way ? (Wrong for us, not for the money-grubbers, that is.)
tanked405 November 22, 2012 at 02:07 PM
The school issue will be address? When, after everything is built? When another school is needed, who will pay for it, the additional teacher, maintenance, etc? Taxes will again go up to support the burden of the kids in the new homes. How about making the homes age restricted?
tanked405 November 22, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Whole Foods does not want to be located in an area of stores that are perceived to be lower-end. This is not Madison. The majority of Parsippany are middle class with the income that leaves people living paycheck to paycheck. I believe there is a lot more that is not being said but this is typical.
Annie November 22, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Whole Foods does not want to be located in an area of stores that are perceived to be lower-end. What other stores will be in the retail space that will qualify as High-end that will meet Whole Foods expectations? I would bet the other stores are going to be the typical low-end stores they claim to not want to be near.
Roberta Chopko November 23, 2012 at 04:33 AM
After leaving the meeting on Monday night we were all convinced that the mysterious unnamed "department store" that the developer referred to is a Target since he mentioned that 2 of his recent developments in other parts of New Jersey contained a Whole Foods and a Target. Can you imagine the nightmare of the possible 900 vehicles provided for in this parking lot exiting onto Rte 46 during rush hour? Heading west on Rte 46 is already a nightmare during rush hour. Mayor Barbario thinks this is a great idea, but he also thought the infamous field of dreams was a great idea. His judgement is clouded by visions of rateables and a developer who is willing to pay for road "improvements". Obviously he cannot see the forest for the trees... literally. How many trees will be leveled on this tract to be replaced by retail stores, a 900 space parking lot, and a lot of traffic?? this proposed development will impact more than the residents who live near it...it will impact the whole town.
Bob Crawford November 23, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Roberta When a group of concerned citizens challenged Mayor Barberio's secret back room wheeling and dealing to spend the town's Open Space funds to construct the "Field of Dreams", we learned that Mayor Barberio was either incapable of or disinterested in doing the hard work required to fully understand the economic, safety and long range implications of his Field of Dreams plan. Given his penchant for being a cheer leader rather than a thoughtful leader, push the Mayor hard and demand that he demonstrate, in a well reasoned and articulate manner, why he supports the Whole Foods Project and insist that he share all of the facts about the Project with the Planning Board and the public. Mayor Barberio's inability or unwillingness to do so will tell you all you need to know when he asks for your vote next November.
clyde donovan November 23, 2012 at 03:15 PM
We pay an open-space tax in Parsippany for the purpose of acquiring an undisturbed piece of property like the Whole Foods property. Buy it and leave it as as a wooded site. If need be, get some of the county open-space money too. There's too much development in Parsippany and the developers shouldn't call the shots - no matter how much bribe money they have to throw around. http://www.northjersey.com/news/161530145_Mosberg_s_lawsuits_against_the_town_are_costing_money.html?page=all
rafaella November 23, 2012 at 03:48 PM
angela I was struck by all the talk about Whole Foods being a high end store needing a community that would fit its demographics. Frankly I was insulted by the presenter who kept stating that this project, strip mall, was a "classy" project. It was as if he was trying to confince those of us who reside in the Intervale Section that we were "classy" high end people while those residents residing in other areas of town were not. That because Whole Foods would never put there store in a non classy area. That is trying to divide people at the very least. But to the point of the demographics Whold Foods attracts, the store in both Montclair and West Orange attracts all income, ethnic and racial groups to its credit. The line of food is attractive to many groups of people and for this Planner who presented the project to try to pitch the strip mall as a "classy, high end" enterprise to make it more palatable to the residents, he failed. It only serves to turn us off because we are more savy than he realizes and so are the rest of the population of Parsippany.
Parsippany Taxpayer November 24, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Strip mall, townhouses, and more traffic to an already congested Parsippany. I wasn't at the meeting but am in Intervale and if this goes through I think my wife and packing it in and moving to a town that is more resident friendly. I pay a lot of taxes and to have the Intervale section littered with yet another strip mall and townhouses is appalling. Also it isn't going to do anything for the tax base -- more people, more kids - more spending... You do the math... Just another disappointment like the handling of the Sandy situation. This is blatantly spot zoning because the local politicians are in bed with the developers. Forget the salaries paid by our taxes and focus on the extras from the developers instead -- business as usual...
Parsippany Taxpayer November 24, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Also -- Whole Foods... I am so ecstatic... Sarcasm...
Ben M. November 24, 2012 at 03:05 AM
I think characterizing Whole Foods as "classy" is a euphemism for "$$$", as in "Whole Paycheck". Mr. McDonough may have been trying to hand the audience a compliment be saying it was for them, but the reality is that the target market demographically is Mountain Lakes. Now Mountain Lakes residents would have easy access via Intervale Road and the Boulevard, without sacrificing any space. I agree that to suggest otherwise is simply patronizing the residents of Intervale. -- Ben
Parsippany Taxpayer November 24, 2012 at 03:07 AM
It is time to vote this clown of a Mayor out -- he is so out of touch with reality. A Target and a While Foods in this area is disastrous. 11 days without power (10 without any JCP&L trucks). I swear - this guy got his leadership skills out of a cracker jack box.
Sick of the trolls November 24, 2012 at 12:31 PM
You should really try Grammar Checker, because this post is unreadable.
Sick of the trolls November 24, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Oh, Mayor Barberio was the one responsible for keeping the power out in Parsippany. That makes total sense, I mean, he is the mayor after all, so why would he want basic services restored to his constituents? Obviously he's been reading your posts and said to JCP&L "Make sure that guy doesn't have power for at least a week. Restore all the rest of Parsippany's power, just not his neighborhood." Who needs reality checked now?
coldburr21 November 24, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Whole Foods and Target. Target, hmmm. Target is high end? Maybe if I squint.
Harland November 24, 2012 at 02:46 PM
This isn't a question of whether or not Parsippany wants a Whole Foods in town. If approved, ANYTHING can go into that development. Even if it starts as a Whole Foods, they could decide to pull out 5 years down the road and another store could move in. Or worse, the property could become another vacant storefront in Parsippany, like the Michaels , Walgreens, Shoprite Liquors,etc, etc. This development brings no benefit to the town and will only serve to further deteriorate the quality of life for its residents.
Bob Crawford November 24, 2012 at 03:43 PM
The key issue here is that the Mayor and the Town Council do not appear to have an integrated and intelligent plan to guide them and Parsippany through what, during the Barberio Administration, has become an endless and relentless attack on many of the neighborhoods we live in. Simply put, what is Mayor Barberio's and the Town Council's vision for Parsippany and what are their specific plans to balance the need to grow ratables with the need to preserve and strengthen Parsippany's neighborhoods? Rather than careening and veering from one poorly conceived development boondoggle to the next, Mr. Mayor how about sharing your vision and your plan with the citizens of Parsippany. You said you had a vision and a plan three years ago when you were running for office. How about sharing that vision and plan with us before you run again?
Ed Dantes November 25, 2012 at 02:25 AM
How I think Mayor Barberio will respond (Que dance): "Ooh, I love to dance the little sidestep / Now they see me, now they don't / I've come and gone / And ooh, I love to sweep around a wide step / Cut a little swath / And lead the people on!"
Ken Nolan November 25, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Whole foods doesn't like to be with lowend stores? Then why does it's West Orange location sit next to a Kmart

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