The Hudson County Planning Board once again listened to testimony concerning the proposed Appleview development during a continuation of the hearing on Wednesday. The controversy over the development – to be built near the North Bergen/Guttenberg border – has continued for more than a year at both the municipal and county level.
Appleview, LLC, proposes to construct a 59-unit condominium complex at 7009 and 7101 River Road. The proposed building is adjacent to the Galaxy Towers in Guttenberg and 20 feet from a high-pressure natural gas line. Galaxy residents fear the construction could disturb the 36-inch pipe and cause a potentially fatal explosion. Another concern is that the development could remove too much soil and rock from the Palisade Cliffs.
“If you have to speak it to each other you can take it outside.” – Chairman Daniel Choffo
On March 30, the North Bergen Planning Board approved the project with several conditions, but now the county’s Planning Board must also approve the application.
The town of North Bergen’s conditions included making sure Appleview developer Carmelo Spoleti complies with all requirements and regulations of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Transco, and New Jersey Homeland Security, as well as federal pipeline regulations. The developer must also make a $25,000 contribution for off-site improvements to the town of North Bergen.
Residents packed the meeting room Wednesday night, anticipating that they would once again be given a chance to speak. Their demeanor became considerably more tense as the hearing continued.
The public portion began with residents insisting that Appleview would disturb too much of the Palisades Cliffs. They questioned Susan Gruel, an expert planner representing Appleview.
“[The project] relates to a 200 million year old historical site,” said Peggy Wong, a North Bergen resident, who demanded to know why it should be approved.
“The proposed development is significantly less intense that what could have been developed,” said Gruel. “The height of what development occurs on River Road is less than what could be under what the North Bergen ordinance had.”
Resident Jeremy Raben argued that to allow the construction the board would have to invalidate the steep slope ordinance, which holds that proposed development should not occur in areas with a 20 percent or greater slope.
“It has no protection,” said Raben. “Developers can now work on that property without the protection of the steep slope ordinance.”
Gruel contested that Appleview will only disturb 10,000 square feet of slope out of a potential 13,000 square feet. She also said the slope had already been disturbed by previous construction.
As the public portion continued, residents began to shift their concerns toward the risks surrounding a possible rupture of the gas pipeline.
“I don’t have a question,” said Heather Cariou, a Guttenberg resident. “I just wanted to come and look in the faces of the people who make this decision. This development is going to put my life at stake. All it takes for evil to exist in the world is for good men and women to do nothing.”
She added, “I’m here fighting for my life,” at which the majority of the audience applauded.
Although in the minority, another resident publicly supported the project, praising its economic potential.
“This would create jobs, revenue to the town, and would beautify the town,” said the resident as the crowd grumbled.
“Speak for yourself!” an audience member shouted in retort, igniting a heated exchange between the two.
“I’d like to remind the crowd to please keep it to a minimum,” said Chairman Daniel Choffo. “If you have to speak to each other you can take it outside.”
After the public comment portion of the meeting, Galaxy Board of Trustees attorney John Lamb called Peter Steck, an expert planner, to provide testimony. Lamb’s questioning revolved around a potential conflict with the steep slope ordinance.
“The applicant [Appleview] is seeking [to remove] a substantially greater density than what is permitted,” said Steck.
Gruel had previously testified that the county tries to balance economic development with preservation. Because the development would theoretically only remove a portion of the Palisades that had previously been disturbed, she believes that the steep slope ordinance should not bar the developer from obtaining approval.
“Economic hardship is not a basis for granting a variance, except in the extreme,” said Steck. “There has to be some peculiar characteristic of the site that’s different from other sites. This site is not unique.”
Lamb also questioned Steck about the potential dangers of the pipeline.
“This development will require excavation of a lot of rock,” said Steck. “There is vibration. The answer is that there is clearly some type of risk associated with the construction of a new dwelling on this property.”
Appleview attorney Carmine Alampi countered that as a planner, Steck is not qualified to ascertain whether or not the pipe is in danger.
“There’s no evidence that there would be damage to any pipeline,” said Alampi. He questioned Steck’s qualifications on that issue.
“At this point it’s a minute to 8 o’clock,” said Choffo, adding that there were other items on the agenda waiting to be taken care of.
The board voted to continue the Appleview hearing at a special meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.