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Shop Rite Development

Lauren Bruno, Staff Writer

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For a few years now, New Milford has been debating whether or not the town needs more housing and a new ShopRite with other commercial stores. The people of New Milford have been arguing this request, and the talk stopped for a while, but now it’s back again because of the law suit the builder has filed.

According to the website NJ.com, an article written by Myles Ma said the Borough Council voted on December 21 to settle a court fight with S. Hekemian Construction to allow the development of a new shopping center on an empty 14-acre lot. Mayor Ann Subrizi cast the tie breaking vote, bringing the final vote to 4-3. The Borough Council could have continued to fight the new shopping center, but Subrizi said the shopping center was the best option for New Milford. The shopping center is allowing Hekemian to build a new ShopRite, with affordable housing to replace the current ShopRite in town. The company also plans to donate part the 14-acre lot to the borough and $800,000 for construction and maintenance of an athletic field.

Hekemian will replace the existing New Milford ShopRite, a little more than a mile south of the 14-acre lot, with 145 units of multifamily housing, 27 of which will be priced below market rates. The settlement will also absolve New Milford of its state affordable housing requirements until 2025. The developer, Hekemian, filed a lawsuit called a “builders remedy” against New Milford in 2013 after the zoning board rejected their plans for the shopping center. A builders remedy lawsuit is simply a legal action taken by a property developer in an attempt to force a municipality to permit construction of a large, multi-family housing structure or complex. Many residents opposed the shopping center, over fears that it will cause traffic problems and force New Milford into spending money on streets, safety, and sidewalk improvements.

A former council member, Michael Gadaleta, said the borough should continue to contest the the shopping center in court. “We fight like Americans, like we’re used to fighting and we stand up for ourselves,” he said.

A resident living on Summit Avene, Roy Williams, said, “I would much rather see a 5-story apartment building down the street from me than a ShopRite with tons of traffic and all the trucks and problems coming with it.”

Subrizi said, “The borough also wouldn’t get a much needed athletic field.”

Yet the fields in New Milford are all located in a 100-year flood zone, and will be prone to flooding, like the other fields, according to the borough engineer. One of the council members, Hedy Grant, criticized Subrizi because she was trying to rush through the vote before the year ended. Two of the councilmen, Dominic Colucci and Diego Robalino, voted in favor of the terms, just like Subrizi.

“For all the people that lived across from a vacant lot for years, I’m sorry,” Subrizi said.

Nancy Kearney wrote that the fate of the 14-acre Suez tract has been decided as the Borough Council voted to allow a new ShopRite, a bank, and a field at the site, along with 130 apartments and affordable-housing units at the supermarket’s existing site.

In an interview with Mrs. Lynne Torpie, science teacher and environmental club adviser at New Milford High School, Torpie had a lot of insight on information for the development of this ShopRite. She said, “…the property belongs to Suez, which is the current owner of the water company and they’re looking to sell it off, that in itself has been controversial because of the increased flooding we’ve seen and part of the solution to decrease flooding is to stop building near rivers because we want to maintain a green buffer to help absorb the fallen rain in Earth. [Suez has] said on one side that we need to stop flooding by stop developing by the river corridors and on the other side they’re selling off their property by the river corridors for developers.”

New Milford has to change zoning, but nobody wants the new change. Zoning is described as how we use the land and where things are supposed to be set up.  There are different zones for different uses. There is commercial zoning where businesses can be, different types of residential zoning like zoning for apartments or single family or mixed use zoning. The property across from the high school is currently zoned by the New Milford town council and zoning boards for single family housing.

The town has figured that they can fit about 130 single family housing units in the empty area, but that isn’t what the developer wants. The developer wants to put a ShopRite there, so he needs commercial development. He wants to build a ShopRite and a bank and apartments there. He had to present his plan in front of the town council, the zoning board, and the planning board, getting approval to do that. There were many hearings which is when the group S.O.D to stop development was formed a few years ago by concerned citizens who did not want to see this happen. There were multiple hearings where the developer and his attorney presented many testimonies from people saying how it would benefit the town and what would happen and what they would have to do, which means leveling the sight and having to widen River Road, which means cutting down all the trees and putting stop signals.

There have been traffic study engineers who are saying that there won’t be significant traffic on River Road. S.O.D got their own traffic engineers who are saying there will be a lot more traffic if you have an entrance and an exit to a ShopRite. It is a legal argument, but in the end there were testimonies from lawyers, developers, and safety experts, traffic experts, environmental experts, too, that have taken all the toxic fill out of the site and now say it is safe.

However, the message is clear: the majority of the people of New Milford do not want this development, but do not have the money to stop the developer.  In the developer’s law suit, he has joined with the Fair Housing Act and they are concerned about affordable housing in New Milford.

The Town Council was inclined to settle with the developer to stop the lawsuit from going forward and the options on the table in front of the Mayor and Council boiled down to three choices. One was to do nothing, not to settle with the developer while the courts want to settle, let the lawsuit proceed and let the judge make the decision and mandate the number of apartments that the developer could build. The second option was to settle with the developer, let him build a ShopRite, a bank and apartments in the area that he wants to. The third option was settling with the developer and let him build a Shop Rite, a bank and give the town a field, having the old ShopRite that was just rebuilt being replaced by the apartments.

The Council chose the third option. This means the town is going to lose the open space, have a very busy north end of town, apartments built where the ShopRite currently is, and disruption at the high school. Did the town make the right choice?

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Shop Rite Development