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West Amwell Township, Master Plan Reexamination Report 2009 – Public Comment

November 17th, 2010 | Posted by miker in Community Affairs

West Amwell Township Master Plan Reexamination Report, 2009 – Public Comment

November 17, 2010

West Amwell Twp Master Plan Reexamination Report 2009 – Public Comment**

Michael Rassweiler

West Amwell, NJ 08530

I have been a resident of West Amwell since 1994, Owner and operator of North Slope Farm, located on the South East border of West Amwell Township, Hunterdon County, NJ, USA.

The following comments are directly focused on the text and ramifications of the West Amwell Township Master Plan Reexamination Report of 2009.

Page 2, ‘Findings” section a:  “It was decided that public sewers were not appropriate in West Amwell ‘because of the negative impact they can have on the municipalities rural character’”

-This statement about sewers is contrary to the planning knowledge and advice published in both the NJ Department of Agriculture Smart Growth Plan, and the Hunterdon County Strategies for Managing Growth.

-More accurately this sentence could read: “It was decided to seek the removal of West Amwells only Sewer Service line from the State Wastewater Management Plan.”

-Also, if the Planning Board truly honors the input of its citizens, there must be some reference to the huge response by the public, to the 2003 “proposed zoning changes.” – including a footnoted reference to the minutes of that historic public reaction.

– I suggest adding the sentence; The 2003 revision of the Master Plan was noticed to all WAT taxpayers and there was voluminous public testimony.  Provide Reference to the minutes from the meeting.

 Page 4, Objectives:  The planning Board would have us believe that a sole reliance on individual, on site wells and individual septic systems will: “protect natural resources, preserve open space for agriculture and maintain community character.”

This philosophy, or agenda, has been discredited regionally, nationally and internationally as insufficient and misdirected.  Please reference both the NJ Agricultural Smart Growth Plan and the Hunterdon County Strategies for Managing Growth.

Individual septic systems rely on positively establishing that household, commercial and industrial wastewater will enter the groundwater.  We should not seek to dilute pollution – waste water should be cleaned, and waste nutrients and energy should be captured.  This will be accomplished through managed wastewater systems.

Nor should we accept that land use planning, dictated by soil suitability to septic systems will protect agriculture or open space – Quite the contrary,

For example, the Planning Board, using soil suitability for septic systems has designated the highest allowable residential densities, RR-4, on our soils best suited for agriculture.

Page 7, Policies #3:  “The Township will consider and evaluate innovative design proposals that would enhance and protect environmental features, minimize energy usage and encourage development densities compatible with existing patterns of development.”

This policy basically describes “Clustering.”  In fact, to quote from the NJ Agricultural Smart Growth Plan, “Clustering is a development design technique that concentrates buildings on a portion of land to allow for the remainder to be preserved for agriculture, recreation and environmental purposes.”

The Hunterdon County Strategies for Managing Growth also highlights the importance of incorporating Clustering as a development policy crucial to curtailing the increasing rate of fragmented open spaces and poor control of development patterns.

What the West Amwell Plan hides or does not sufficiently explain, is that the policies stated are rendered impotent by the overriding criteria that all our land use planning and approvals are dictated by soil suitability to the least environmentally sound method of waste water management – the individual septic system.

Page 8, Residential Districts:  The statement that consideration of Transfer of Development Rights is irrelevant in West Amwell.  By removing the potential for consideration of Transfer of Development Rights, the Planning Board has given landowners, who are interested in pursuing development options, no ability to protect their equity except through taxpayer funded easement purchases (of dubious longevity) or standard large lot subdivisions. 

This action stands in direct contradiction to the NJ Agricultural Smart Growth Plan which states “that the achievement , protection and maintenance of equity be a major objective of public policy decisions, including the purchase or transfer of development rights.”

Furthermore, the Board is sidestepping its real job – identifying areas where planned growth might provide affordable housing options and mixed use economic zones as well as options for public transportation and non-car dependant living.

In Summary;

  • The Planning Board’s proposed changes and recent changes to our Master Plan will,
  • Accelerate the likely subdivisions of the few remaining large agricultural and open space properties, through land use planning based solely on soil suitability to conventional septic systems,
  • Deteriorate the potential purity of our groundwater, by prohibiting wastewater cleaning facilities,
  • Sidestep their job, by refusing to discuss and identify future growth areas, and
  • Hide actions that actually accelerate, even more, the ruination of our last farmland through the “Redundant Septic Regulation” where by engineers are invited to design not just one failing septic system but Two!

 To Come Clean and Step Back Into the Light:

  • Make Clustering a requirement of all future subdivisions.
  • Repeal the Redundant Septic Regulation.
  • Reinstate and incentivize waste water treatment system options, that clean waste water and especially those that feed resources of water, nutrients and energy into agriculture.
  • And Finally, Take Responsibility for the hard job ahead of identifying growth areas and focus time, resources and attention to the details required to ensure that the inevitable future growth of West Amwell meets our Original Master Plan Objectives and Modern Realities.


**(I missed the public hearing by a year! but submit these comments to the public sphere because I feel strongly that the Master Plan has been abused by personal adgendas and a misguided belief in the power of limited options)**  

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