As you drive down Stonehouse Road in Basking Ridge, a quaint and affluent town in Somerset County, you’ll notice front yard signs at almost every house. The signs, from a group called Stop the Quarry Plan, read “Stop the Quarry Plan—No Overdevelopment in Bernards Township.” These residents are protesting the proposed redevelopment of the Millington Quarry site.
Millington Quarry operated for over a hundred years in Basking Ridge and since its final owner ceased all mining operations in May 2010, the site has been a source of conflict within the community. The redevelopment proposal from Community Investment Partners includes over 200 new residential units, retail/office space, hotel, grocery store, public lake/trails, and farm space. This 180-acre site is the largest undeveloped tract of land in Basking Ridge. Because the Township Committee elected to pursue the redevelopment process under New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), “the township thought it better to be proactive in determining the future of this large and important site rather than leave it to the whim of a developer,” it is strongly supported by the Basking Ridge Township Committee.
Millington Quarry, Inc. was granted an annual license to mine year after year under Basking Ridge’s quarry ordinance, which includes the stipulation that the company would be responsible for rehabilitating the property after operations ceased. And so, under the supervision of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the site is undergoing a remediation process.
The ordinance specifies its definition of remediation as the action of reversing or stopping environmental damage. In addition to finding that pH levels in the site’s soil fail to support vegetation, there is confirmed contamination on 45 acres of the site.
The contaminated area is planned to be covered by part of the proposed 50-acre lake, which leads to the legitimate concern regarding spreading of the contaminants. Residents ask that the levels of the lake be monitored as it is filled. If the township and developer invest in the Millington Quarry, Inc. site without properly following environmental protocols, it leaves the residents’ health and the town’s economy at serious risk, so it is unsettling to residents as to why there isn’t more push from the Township Committee into these issues.
On November 28th, Bernards Township held a town council meeting in the Performing Arts Center of Ridge High School, which was attended by hundreds of residents. During this meeting, the Licensed State Remediation Professional (LSRP) spoke about the NJDEP mandated requirements to remediate a former quarry site.
The developers, represented by Anthony Sblendorio and David Placek, gave a detailed presentation of the plan, highlighting their effort to address stormwater management, biodiversity, open space, and sustainability. They referred to themselves as “anti-development developers” because of how much thought they’ve put into both the buildings and the site they occupy, which is thought as an uncommon practice for developers.
Their research indicates that the “mansion on a golf course” dream isn’t what young people are aspiring to anymore. While the officials who spoke insisted they were trying to be as transparent as possible with the proposal, the residents of Basking Ridge remain unconvinced. Many who claimed they came into the meeting with an open mind then went on to bash the plan for a multitude of reasons.
The original plan, that many residents still support, was for a gated community with two-acre zoning that would hold about 40 “McMansion” style homes, large and typically mass-produced homes that indicate wealth but lack architectural integrity. A private lake would be accessible only to the residents of these homes. But the town, realizing the potential of the quarry site, decided that perhaps including other types of amenities for the entire public would provide a greater community benefit.
The target audience for the potential quarry development is millennials and empty nesters, as they don’t have many feasible housing options in Basking Ridge currently. But there is a concern among some residents that young families will flock to Basking Ridge once they see an affordable housing alternative. (Basking Ridge public schools are consistently ranked among the highest in the state.)
What the residents of Basking Ridge remain divided about is what they believe the quarry site should realistically become. Most residents seem to think it is not the town’s problem at all, and they were concerned with why town officials were attempting to railroad the project through so quickly. Many believe it’s the responsibility of Millington Quarry, Inc. to handle what becomes of the site.
Since the site itself is so far down from the road, hidden by a berm lined with vegetation, there’s an out of sight, out of mind mentality about this redevelopment. But it’s a 180-acre site—the township’s largest undeveloped site—and the best way to show the Township Committee how they feel isn’t to resist but to propose other alternatives.
In the coming weeks, several community meetings will take place—some with the Town Council and others with Community Investment Partners. There is no doubt that residents will continue attending meetings and be vocal critics of the developments.
If the two-acre zoning, and the current proposal, both end up being unfeasible options, there are advocates for just leaving it as open space or perhaps installing a solar farm. Other towns that have housed quarries over the years are experiencing the same issue, like San Marco, California, whose plan proposes commercial/office space, residential townhouses, and open space for public use.
This plan allows for environmental and sustainable practices to be put in place and for the town to generate revenue. Basking Ridge is a town that needs to adapt if it wants to continue to be a desirable place to live. The Millington Quarry site, which features a combination of environmental sustainability and smaller, affordable residential units, could be that project for the town.
The only way to achieve a desirable solution is for people to listen to each other; nothing will be achieved if the township ignores valid concerns and if the residents oppose growth for their community. Bernards Township has an opportunity to create something positive for the community out of the former quarry site.