Controversial McConnell Tract Hearing Moved to Oct. 30

October 15, 2018
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By Chris Rotolo |

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – As trick-or-treat time approaches some residents involved in a fight to ensure bayfront access are bracing for a surprise.

An anticipated Sept. 27 Planning Board hearing for an applicant seeking to build three dozen homes on the 7-acre McConnell tract along the Sandy Hook Bay has been rescheduled to Oct. 30 at the Atlantic Highlands Elementary School.

The adjournment was granted so the applicant – Denholtz Custom Homes (DCH) – can finish revising concept plans to reflect comments and address concerns expressed by residents and the Planning Board at a previous hearing.

In the organization’s initial project plans, DCH set aside nearly a quarter of the tract for public use, including the entire waterfront portion of the parcel.

Improvements to this approximately 1.5 acres of land included the reconstruction of the property’s bulkhead and the installation of a 10-foot-wide boardwalk with a 100-foot-long walkway area along the front of the plot.

In an Aug. 23 interview with The Two River Times, DCH and Denholtz Associates CEO Steven Denholtz said the cost of improvements to the public portion of this proposed project would total about $1 million, a cost his company would completely absorb.

Borough resident Benson Chiles, who fronts the local opposition group Neighbors for Waterfront Preservation (NFWP), said he and his counterparts fear the revisions may reflect a comment made by civil engineer James Kennedy of Kennedy Consulting Engineers in Red Bank.

During that Sept. 27 meeting the applicant sought 11 variances for 11 of the 21 proposed homes that did not meet the borough’s lot-shape circle requirement. However, Kennedy said DCH could provide a totally compliant subdivision plan within the zone for just 17 homes, but in doing so would need to build upon the 1.5 acres of waterfront property set aside for the public as open space.

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“The reason they’re potentially proposing a development with fewer homes on it is because they’re trying to squeeze too many homes on the property in the first place,” said Chiles, a strategic consultant for conservation organizations who specializes in environmental policy development.

“The fact is that land is not buildable and they’re playing hardball with it. They’re trying to use it as a bargaining chip and it felt so obvious when (Kennedy) made that comment at the hearing,” Chiles added.

Though DCH refused to comment on the situation or shed light on what the revisions will entail, Denholtz did issue a statement to The Two River Times stating, “We appreciate the feedback we received from the board and members of the local community at August’s planning board meeting.”

“With these insights in mind, we are in the process of making revisions to our plan and we look forward to a continued dialogue with Atlantic Highlands at the next meeting to ensure that our final project reflects the wishes and character of the surrounding community.”

Some of the dialogue presented at the previous hearing focused on two particular features of the development, including the retaining wall proposed to separate the development from the nearby public beach and Sandy Hook Bay Catamaran Club near the western portion of the parcel, and an on-site sewage pump station, which is also located on the western part of the plot.

During the hearing Kennedy could not provide visual renderings of what these proposed items would look like, nor could he say what construction materials or style would be used to build the retaining wall.

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Residents raised further concerns about the unpredictable soil erosion and erosion of beachfront that could occur near these features.

Chiles said the sewage pump house is what’s most concerning.

“Aside from its location in a flood zone, which presents a risk to its long-term liability, people are concerned about possible smells emitting from it, given its location to a public beach. It’d be a shame if there were any odors from that station.”

Chiles and NFWP hope to resolve these issues and more at the Oct. 30 hearing continuance.


This article was first published in the Oct. 11 – Oct. 17, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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