Residents Fight To Save Breton Woods From Development

Many residents came out to the Planning Board meeting to oppose the development of 59 new homes. (Photo by Alyssa Riccardi)

  BRICK – A large crowd attended the recent Planning Board special meeting where residents questioned whether the proposal to build 59 homes in Breton Woods would harm wildlife and the environment in the area.

  The 30-acre wooded property is owned by Visitation Roman Catholic Church and the Diocese of Trenton and has been the topic of discussion at the past Planning Board meetings. These sessions have now been held at the Civic Plaza to hold the large number of residents who are opposed to the development.

  D.R. Horton has plans to build “The Havens at Metedeconk,” a development of homes ranging from 2,600 square feet to 3,200 square feet. The property lies east of Laurel Avenue, backs up to the Osbornville Elementary School and borders Breton Woods.

  At the May 16 meeting, John Giunco, the developer’s attorney, brought in Kristin Wildman, an environmental specialist who testified for D.R. Horton.

  Wildman presented a report on the parcel stating that there are no wetlands on the property as well as it does not lie in a flood zone as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

  Wildman said since the property does not have wetlands and the proposal is less than 75 homes, the project does not need to be reviewed under Coastal Area Facilities Review Act rule. This is governed by the Department of Environmental Protection, and it oversees construction near bodies of water.

  Wildman explained how they were required to catalog species of plants, trees and animals on the property. In addition, she and her fellow teammates surveyed for any possible threatened and endangered species but were only required to do so within a mile of the site.

  According to Wildman’s testimony, clear-cutting the site would take over 30 days to complete with one acre of trees being cleared per day. In her testimony, she did not state the total number of trees being removed since they were not required to count the amount that exist on the parcel.

  Additionally, the application says about 1,100 trees and bushes would be planted to account for those cleared from the property.

  After Wildman’s testimony, Environmental Commission Secretary Vin Palmieri had questions regarding bald eagles foraging in the area.

  Wildman said bald eagles can forage over open land space for mammals and reptiles, but said they prefer to forage in open water.

  Palmieri asked to create a conservation easement or a pocket park on the property to preserve some of the forest.

  Giunco said D.R. Horton will not agree to the idea.

  “The plan we are proposing meets the requirements of the ordinance,” Giunco added.

  Attorney Stuart Lieberman, who was hired by the environmental group Save Barnegat Bay, questioned how many trees that are being cut down are native species and how many native species will be replanted. Wildman said she did not have an exact answer.

  During the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents questioned whether the site was reviewed enough because her report states conclusions were made based on only three to four trips to the property.

  In addition to bald eagles being seen in the area, residents also questioned eastern box turtles being a species of concern. Wildman said she didn’t see any and it was not likely there were any on the property site.

  After confirmation that the site would be clear cut, many residents expressed their concerns about the relocation of wildlife. Animals such as deer, foxes, opossums, raccoons and other wildlife could possibly spread into their back yards after the forest is removed.

  “The species will move about to the green acres in the area. They will dissipate into other areas,” Wildman said.

  However, several residents did not like that answer.

  Throughout the cross examination, Giunco repeated that the proposed property development follows township ordinances as well as state law. At this time, there would be no changes to the site plans, Giunco said.

  The next hearing is set for June 20 at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 270 Chambers Bridge Road.