The Galloway Township Board of Education began to realize what the Galloway Township Master Plan Subcommittee came to understand last Thursday night: one way or another, Ole Hansen and Sons’ proposed housing project across from Blue Heron Pines is going to happen.
“They’re going through with the project and either option is not good for us,” Board President Ernest Huggard said following Ole Hansen’s presentation at the school board meeting Monday night, Feb. 11, at the middle school.
The refrain was similar to the one expressed by members of the Master Plan Subcommittee last week, although one option favors the township more than the other.
The project calls for the creation of 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 Sarlo Bill. The group has not yet applied for a conversion in that way, and would have until July 31 to make application.
Any project approved prior to July 2, 2009 is eligible for conversion under the Sarlo Bill.
The Sarlo Bill isn’t the only option, however. Ole Hansen and Sons has proposed an ordinance change that would allow the project to move forward and give the township more control.
A conversion under the Sarlo Bill means 20 percent of the housing development would have to be set aside for affordable housing. Under the ordinance change, Ole Hansen and Sons would have to set aside funding for affordable housing in Galloway, but it wouldn’t necessarily be part of its housing project.
As part of a previous settlement between the group and the township, Ole Hansen and Sons set aside part of the township for affordable housing. According to Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola, this includes land off Aloe Street.
Through an ordinance change, the township can make adjustments to the proposed plans. However, the school board would have no such control, and the district disputes Ole Hansen and Sons’ claims that there is room in the school district for additional students.
Ole Hansen and Sons project 248 students would be added to the Galloway School District, and 117 to the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District. The Galloway School District has 1,170 students less than it did in 2007.
However, the district also had three additional schools in 2007. Since then, the district closed all three buildings and razed two of them.
“We don’t have the seats,” Huggard said.
He also said the district has a certain number of students in each grade level because it’s “educationally sound.”
“We can’t absorb two more students per grade,” Huggard said. “It goes against our philosophy.”
If the project goes through, the district’s philosophy would have to take a back seat to the reality of the situation. This includes busing costs and finding room for additional students.
While there is available land the district can build on, getting the approval to do so could prove difficult.
“The public was clear last year with the roofs,” Huggard said, referring to Galloway voters defeating a proposal to replace roofs at three district schools. “I don’t know if they would want another school.”
The district is moving forward with the roof replacements, using its own funds. The process will move much slower overall, and the result would likely be the same if they had to construct more schools or expand on the ones they currently have.
The Galloway Planning Board must first consider if it wants to grant an ordinance change. If that happens, Ole Hansen and Sons will have to submit a proposal, which can be modified by the Planning Board before being voted on by town council. The project may not be complete for another 15-25 years, and Ole Hansen and Sons is predicting the number of additional students will be phased in over time.
“You could build 100 houses to start with, and that 248 could come with the first 100,” Huggard said. “You can’t predict the future.”
Although family homes are being constructed, apartments will be part of the mix, according to Ole Hansen and Sons representative Dan Galetto.
“We may see less families and more empty nesters,” Galetto said.
Board Member Beverly Evensen added that certain families could buy homes at first, and end up selling those homes to bigger families down the road.
Ole Hansen and Sons emphasized that the township is trying to bring development to the White Horse Pike corridor, and putting homes in that area will attract commercial ratables. Currently, over half the population of Galloway doesn’t shop in the township.
“I don’t know how quickly that will happen,” Evensen said of attracting commercial ratables.
The Master Plan Committee is currently considering the ordinance change. The decision will likely go before the Planning Board sometime in March.