At the Sept. 10 council meeting, Bueckner proposed a resolution that would offer aid to those seeking to stop the project.
Bueckner asked the council to authorize a move to forward comments onto the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which makes zoning decisions for the Meadowlands region, so that public sentiment might sway them against giving variances needed for the project to move ahead. Bueckner got no second, but is still urging the council to "listen to the people" and oppose the project.
"People are against the project," Bueckner said. "And we were elected to represent the people."
Baker Industries, a well-established developer of luxury townhouses, has proposed the construction of 212 townhouse units for a 15-acre site in the north end of Secaucus. Although these homes would not have access to residential streets, residents in the area of the proposed projects have listed numerous demands, including fencing in the property to keep townhouse residents from using public streets for parking.
Some residents believe the project is just too large for an area that is predominantly one- and two-family homes. Others fear the development will have an impact on the schools by increasing enrollment - a statistic Baker has refuted with state surveys of other complexes of its kind.
Baker is seeking two variances for the project, neither of which would stop the development if rejected. One would excuse Baker from constructing a marina on the riverfront. The other would provide a height variance for some of the units, which are in a residential zone. Baker already agreed to lower the maximum number of units from an originally proposed 250 townhouses and to close off the development's streets, with traffic exiting and entering at Meadowlands Parkway to the south side of the property - away from any already developed residential streets.
While the exact level of opposition to the project is not known, those who oppose it have been vocal and active. Several appeared before the council on Sept. 10 to urge the council to hire a planner and an attorney to help residents fight the development. The town has complained in the past about the fact that the NJMC, a state agency, makes decisions about 80 percent of Secaucus rather than the town's zoning or planning board. NJMC has zones that permit larger and more dense development than the remaining portions controlled by the zoning board.
Bueckner said last week that he is not certain the town should hire a planner, but he said elected officials should provide legal advice to the residents and should pass along any comments the public should have.
"While I prefer one-family homes for that property, I can't say that it's the only thing that should go on that property," Bueckner said. "But I feel that if people are against the project, then we should do all we can to help them get heard. The citizens of this community have spoken. The problem is, the council isn't listening."
Bueckner said he has heard opposition from people outside the north end who also opposed the density of the project.
"I think this is a big issue for the whole town," he said, noting that other properties adjacent to the Shiptank property could also see development, too.
"There is the Tilcon property, a large parcel right next to the Shiptank property, and there is the concrete factory property," Bueckner said. "If all of them get townhouses then north end will really have a problem."
Gauging by the density of the proposed project for Shiptank, the Tilcon property could see as many as 100 residential townhouses.
"And traffic from them would not be exiting onto Meadowlands Parkway, but onto Paterson Plank Road in the heart of the north end," he said.
Bueckner has also questioned some of the negotiations he believes went on between municipal officials and Baker Industries to reduce the size of the project and provide other changes in the scope of the project. Baker has agreed to build a public marina at a newly created park at the end of Mill Ridge Road, and has agreed to construct a public walkway - not only the length of its own property, but in other areas north of Paterson Plank Road.
"I want to know who met with them and why the council did not know about these meetings," Bueckner said.
Mayor Elwell defends his position
Mayor Dennis Elwell said no town official has been involved in the negotiations, and that Baker Industries made changes in discussions with members of the NJMC. The town did pass along some suggestions, and recently passed more requests to the NJMC.
"We know that there is a landscaping plan for the property," Elwell said. "Baker was going to have two landscaping plans, one for the first year, and then something more comprehensive five years from now which would practically hide the townhouses. What we've asked is that they adopt the plan for five years now. This would protect people living in the area from the dust and noise when the project is constructed."
In response to concerns about townhouse residents parking on local streets, Elwell said the town has also requested the NJMC to include in its developers agreement the installation of a fence later on if local residents' fears prove true.
"No one has an ordinance for force them to put up a fence," Elwell said. "But if people start parking on the streets around the development, the agreement with the NJMC could force them to do it."
Because traffic from the development would be exiting onto Meadowlands Parkway right at the point in which traffic flows off Route 3, critics of the project have asked the town to do a traffic study.
"We don't have to do one," Elwell said. "The state already did. If anyone wants it, all they have to do is go to the NJMC and ask for it."
Elwell also acknowledged that new development is possible for other sites in the north end: the Tilcon property, the Lemon Tree Property as well as the site of the concrete factory. He agreed traffic issues with these properties would require the town to look more closely, since all would affect existing residential areas.
"Of course we would look at what would go there," he said. "We would oppose anything there that it wasn't zoned for, and would never allow overdevelopment on those properties."
Elwell said each project would also be examined in combination with other projects slated for that part of town to make certain that total impact isn't mounting in the area.
"We would also look at those properties and their possible impact on the school system," Elwell said. "Large apartments - say more than three bedrooms each - would mean families are coming, and then we would be concerned. But if the townhouses are mostly two-bedroom as Shiptank townhouses are, then we can be assured that the people aren't going to raise kids there."
In trying to deflect the consistent criticism of his administration, Elwell reminded his opponents that he tried to have the NJMC change its zoning regulations so as to better fit with those that exist in the rest of Secaucus.
"The Meadowlands Commission did not change the zoning, and this is part of the reason why the town is buying up property to preserve open space," Elwell said. "We do not want this kind of development impacting places where the streets are narrow and lack sidewalks." Elwell estimated town property purchases have already averted the development of 300 housing units.
"But we can't buy up every parcel of property in Secaucus," he said. "Unless, of course, Mr. Bueckner would like to propose another bond that would give us enough money to do that."