Byram opposes Hopatcong housing

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    BYRAM-Within its 300 acres of steep slopes, rock outcrops, ridge tops, and thins soils covered by dense mixed hardwood and chestnut oak forests, a red maple swamp occupies wetlands along a tributary to Lubber's Run, an aquatic border to Hopatcong and Byram. Ask Donna Griff, the Byram councilperson. She knows the area well. "Just walk that area," she said. "It's actually one of the most pristine areas." Griff has no problem with growth, however, a proposed senior housing development for the area off Sparta-Stanhope Road, that -- she and her colleagues say -- is out of the question. The Byram Township Council unanimously passed a resolution last week opposing the Village Grande at Hopatcong, the 662 units of apartments, town homes, and single-family dwellings under consideration by the neighboring borough's planning board, which was scheduled to hear a summary of the project Tuesday. "The environmental impact to Byram would be substantial," said Louis Esposito Jr., a Byram councilperson and chairperson of the township Open Space Committee. "It's bad for us. We don't understand how Byram can be within the core of the HThe recently enacted Highlands legislation severely restricts building on thousands of acres in the northwest part of New Jersey. Byram is among six towns in the entirely preserved Highlands region. Esposito said the township fought hard for the preservation act so that future generations could enjoy the region's rugged natural landscapes of streams, wetlands, lakes, forests, and deep slopes. "It's not something Byram is interested in having; it's right across the street," said Esposito, alluding to the proposed site. "In this part of the state, we should be trying to protect land that is environmentally sensitive, not develop it." The Hopatcong Planning Board was scheduled to hear a summary of the project Tuesday, but the developer, DR Horton, requested an extension to allow for additional time to address sewer and water issues. "We have not taken a position on this because the project has changed dramatically over time," said Richard Hodson, Hopatcong mayor. "Who knows what they will finally propose and there's all kinds of details to be talked about once they propose something. There are so many things that have not been presented." Hodson said plans originally called for 1,500 units on close to 800 acres of property at three sites on both sides of Sparta-Stanhope Road. "This project may die under its own weight," said Hodson. "We haven't asked anyone to jump through hoops. The borough can't take a position yet. If this was something the borough was trying to sneak through, it would have been wrapped up a few meetings ago." County residents opposed to the project fear development on the privately owned land will destroy the rustic environment, displace wildlife, limit water supplies, and increase traffic on already congested roadways. "It's a huge project on a large piece of undeveloped land," said Margaret McGarrity, a member of the Byram environmental and open space committees. "It's going to generate an awful lot of traffic and a lot of other negative consequences." A traffic expert for DR Horton, the project's developer, has stated that approximately 1,500 cars or more will be added to nearby roadways. Not everyone is against the proposed development. Stanhope, another neighbor, is ironing out plans to sell spare sewage capacity to Hopatcong for the project as well as an easement for a water pipeline to support the site. "They don't even have drinking water or sewage to support it," said Griff. "It all comes down to regional planning. What can we sustain? This is an area that should be protected from this kind of aggressive development." The resolution will be sent to the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Stanhope, Hopatcong, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Highlands Council, and the Musconetcong Sewage Authority.