Constant urban development pervades Middlesex County

VASHTI HARRIS/STAFF

What I call the “Brooklyn-ization” of this area continues, in vulnerable, under-infra-structured southern Middlesex County. How far down will this constantly developing urban area extend? As all good farmers, professional planners and environmentalists know, there are limits to growth.

So on April 24 – despite all kinds of common sense opposition – East Brunswick’s [volunteer] Planning Board reluctantly approved HD Summerhill’s controversial plan to build 96 units of high-density housing on a spit of land, barely 11 acres, at the corner of Old Stage and Summerhill roads on the border of Spotswood and East Brunswick. That corner is known low spot and notorious for flooding after heavy rains. I hope we get plenty of them this summer and fall after the excavation holes for all this new housing are dug.

During the course of many controversial meetings where the public was invited, Planning Board Chairman Shawn Taylor repeatedly stressed that he had served as Planning Board chairman for 20 years and “all members of the planning board are volunteers.” Being an astute and reasonable planning board chairman, I’m sure Mr. Taylor also knew about affordable housing laws and the need to comply with them 20 years ago when he started, since these laws have now been around for 30 years.

There are limits to growth. How can Spotswood, Helmetta, parts of East Brunswick, parts of Monroe and even parts of already over-developed Old Bridge put up with high-density housing at the former Helme Snuff factory, the part of Main Street, East Brunswick, near the Route 18 ramp where Section 8 apartments are being built, and now, 96 more units of “luxury” apartments with COAH units contained therein? Meanwhile the current East Brunswick Planning Board claims their hands were tied because the county planning board already approved the development of COAH and “luxury” apartment units. If you’re renting a $3,000-a-month “luxury” apartment, do you really want COAH units in your building?

What is under-infra-structured southern Middlesex County going to look like in four years? Like Route 3 or Route 17 in Paramus? Like the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn on a Saturday morning? There were three serious accidents on Manalapan Road, Spotswood, in a seven day stretch in May. And who knows if CVS pharmacy or Chase Bank will even be in business in 10 or 15 years.

Perhaps it’s time for that state judge to reconsider his decision to add 550,000 more “affordable housing” units around the state. How is a two bedroom unit that rents for $2,300 a month affordable?

Perhaps it’s time for the state to scrap volunteer planning and zoning boards in favor of a more realistic approach: regional planning authorities like MSM [Middlesex-Somerset-Mercer], with paid land use professionals, traffic experts and environmental stewards on board. That way, we can enjoy a sensible quality of life and have less long-term impact on the already fragile environment here in “the Garden State.”

Richard Skelly
Spotswood