Between a Rock and a Hard Place

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    GREEN-Green Township has found itself in the middle of the Highlands debate, with residents debating the pros and cons of the environmental program's benefits and restrictions. Green Township's Planning Board Secretary Patricia Sullivan said recent modifications to the bill now place most of Green Township in the planning region of the program, with only a small piece of land in the southeastern portion of the township in the core area. Previously about 20 percent of the township was in the core area. Placement in the planning region allows the township to decide whether it wants in or out of the program. "Opting into the program would put the area in the core under the jurisdiction of the Highlands Regional Planning Board, passing control over zoning, planning, and boundary issues from local government to the state board," Sullivan explained. Any additions or building improvements homeowners would like to make, therefore, would have to be approved by the board. While the township is currently deciding whether or not to opt into the program, its lands have become a subject of interest to developers who have recently found their plans in other towns smashed by the program's expansion. Toll Brothers, Inc., a development firm touted by its Web site as "the nation's leading builder of luxury homes," had previously only entered into projects in communities capable of offering 200 to 300 lots. Due to the closing up of such areas by the Highlands program, however, the company has recently acquired a contract on Green's 150-acre Guidi property on Route 611, a property which, given Green's current minimum lot size of five acres, would provide far less than 200 lots. The company, therefore, is also attempting to contract the adjoining 100-acre Dobson estate. Together, the two properties would provide approximately 250 acres, or 50 lots. Toll Brothers intends to build homes worth up of $700,000 apiece. Yet the development may not stop at 50 new homes. Toll Brothers has reportedly expressed interest in other properties in the township, as has the development firm J.S. Hovnanian & Sons. One area that cannot be touched, however, is the Stuyvestant estate on Route 517, which was bought by the state's Department of Environmental Protection for inclusion in the Green Acres program. The debate over whether the township will opt in or out of the Highlands program encompasses two major arguments, explained Sullivan. "Anti-Highlands officials point to the troubles of the Pinelands region of South Jersey, while pro-Highlands officials argue that opting out of the program would lead to major development," she said. Some property owners in the Pinelands say making changes to their property is more complicated now that control has shifted from local government to state government. While the pro-Highlands predictions have been proven true by the proposed Toll Brothers development, anti-Highlands officials argue that entrance into the core of the Highlands program could effectively limit the value of all private homes in the area, as all building applications would be heard by the Regional Planning Board. Toll Brothers officials could not be reached for comment.