It will soon be up to the Galloway Township Planning Board to decide if it will grant an ordinance change for Ole Hansen and Sons in relation to a proposed development project across from Blue Heron Pines golf course, or if the group will have to apply for a conversion under the Sarlo Bill on Age-Restricted Housing.
Representatives for the group met with the Planning Board’s Master Plan Subcommittee Thursday night, Feb. 7, to discuss the proposed project to build 944 homes. Initially, the homes were scheduled to be age-restricted, but when the country entered an economic downturn in 2008, the demand for age-restricted housing virtually vanished off the face of the earth.
Ole Hansen and Sons is now looking to convert the project to a development for all ages. The conversion is all but a certainty under the Sarlow Bill. The group has not yet applied for a conversion in that way, and would have until this summer to make application.
Any project approved prior to July 2, 2009 is eligible for conversion under the Sarlo Bill.
However, if the Planning Board grants an ordinance change, the township will have more control over how the project develops, including the size of the lots and any reasonable modifications that need to be made.
The Planning Board first heard plans for the project back in 2005, but due to litigation over recreation and growth sharing, the project was delayed. A settlement was reached in 2009, but by that point, interesting in age-restricted housing had waned.
As part of the settlement agreement, Ole Hansen agreed to pay $2.5 million to the township for affordable housing. The affordable housing can be constructed where the township’s master plan says it should go, not necessarily on the site being developed.
Under the Sarlow Bill, 20 percent of the development would have to be set aside for affordable housing. This amounts to about 189 of the 944 total units.
If a change is granted, the current plan for affordable housing could stand. However, the project would then have to go back before the Planning Board and be subject to approval once again. No part of the original project would necessarily remain the same.
“If we do the change, we can create specific guidelines,” Township Planner Tiffany Cuviello said. “We can say there has to be so many age-restricted homes and so many homes have to be a certain size. Anyone (in Ole Hansen’s position) would pursue Sarlo because there’s no market for age-restricted homes. Changing the zoning guidelines gives us the opportunity to create better guidelines.”
She said that at the time the project began, age-restricted housing was a good solution for the township to meet Pinelands requirements, but that solution was no longer realistic.
Galloway Mayor Don Purdy said the Sarlo Bill “ties the township’s hands.”
“The board can make recommendations and make sure restrictions are attached to it” if the ordinance change is passed, Purdy said.
“I wouldn’t normally be in favor of passing something like this, but given the option, I think it’s the best thing for the township,” Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola said. “It comes down to do you want to have some control or no control, because it is coming.”
Previously, the Galloway Township Board of Education expressed concern about the number of students the development would bring to the township, stating it felt the 248 students projected for the elementary schools and the 117 for the high school was too low. According to Richard Reading, who studied Richard Perniciaro’s financial analysis conducted in 2007, the population of students has declined, and has not even met the modest projections Perniciaro set forth in his last report. Reading said there are 1,170 less students in the two school systems now than there were at the school districts’ peak, from 2005-2008.
“Even if our projections were off by 200 or 300 percent, we wouldn’t exceed that number,” said attorney Steven Nemad, who was representing Ole Hansen and Sons.
He added the influx of students would stabilize the school districts.
“It would put students in seats that would otherwise be empty,” Nemad said.
Reading added that he felt additional homes would guarantee more retail within Galloway Township, where he said over half the population is leaving the township to do its shopping.
Reading also responded to questions of population characteristics set forth at the previous Master Plan meeting.
“We were told the township’s population characteristics were so unique you couldn’t use a statewide model,” Reading said.
He said that according to the 2010 census, the median age of Galloway residents was 36.6, while the median age for the county was 37 and 39 for the state; there are 2.64 people per home in Galloway, compared to 2.61 in the rest of the county; 25 percent of the township is 55 years old, compared to 26.7 percent in the county; and 16 percent of the township is 65 and older, the exact same percentage as the rest of the state.
Cuviello will draft a report for the rest of the Planning Board to consider. A public hearing must still be held, and the Planning Board will make a suggestion for township council to consider. If an ordinance change is granted, Ole Hansen will go back before the Planning Board. According to Cuviello, this process would take longer, but would benefit both sides. Ole Hansen projects the project wouldn’t be completed for another 15-25 years, in any event.