Apartment zoning approved over opposition

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  • Kevin Kelly, attorney for JCM Investors, speaks to the Franklin Borough Council on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

The Franklin Borough Council on Tuesday approved revised zoning for a proposed development project on Munsonhurst Road despite vehement opposition from the public.

The new ordinance allows for construction of 300 apartment units of mixed age housing on the 70-acre site, marking an increase from previous regulations that permitted 250 units of age-restricted housing.

The revision was made in accordance with a settlement agreement signed between the property owners, JCM Investors, and the borough. The borough entered into that agreement to avoid litigation from JCM after the Planning Board rejected the developer's application earlier this year.

However, in that ordinance the council also adopted an additional recommendation from the Planning Board to lower the amount of site disturbance allowed on steep slopes.

Borough standards divide slopes into three categories: slopes of 15-20 percent, slopes of 20-25 percent, and slopes of greater than 25 percent. The ordinance originally allowed for slope disturbances of 30 percent, 20 percent and 20 percent in those categories, respectively, but the Planning Board suggested those figures be revised to 10 percent, 5 percent, and 2 percent, respectively. JCM originally sought slope disturbance permission at 40 percent, 30 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Kevin Kelly, attorney for JCM Investors and Silk City, urged the council to retain language in the ordinance at least for 30-20-20 slope disturbance levels, arguing it would be nearly “impossible” for his clients to meet the 10-5-2 specifications.

“These numbers don't fit this project, they were never intended to and they can't,” Kelly said.

Borough Attorney Thomas Prol indicated the Planning Board's intent behind the suggestion was to maintain some level of control over the project's trajectory. The council opted to adopt the lower disturbance amendment. Prol, however, noted JCM will be able to seek a variance from the Planning Board for alternative slope requirements when they submit a project plan.

The zoning ordinance was approved despite unanimous opposition from borough residents who spoke during a public hearing on the measure. In their comments, citizens reiterated concerns about the proposed development's potential impact on water and sewer access, local ecology, aesthetics and traffic. Some called the prospective 300-unit complex a “monstrosity” while others warned granting special zoning for this project would set a precedent developers could use to extract concessions from the Borough on other projects.

But members of the council defended the decision, with Councilwoman Dawn Fantasia noting the members were bound by the zoning history of the property and the letter of the law.

“All we are doing is making it possible for the developer to put in a [new] application to the planning board,” Councilman Robert Dabinett added. “Then the whole thing will have to be heard right from the get go.”

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