Date: 031116

By Matthew Ralph, Bridgeton News Staff Writer, November 14, 2003

Millville - General Development Plan (GDP) approval received in
August for the Preserve at Holly Ridge, an active adult community and
golf course, has only fueled the growing movement among
environmentalists unwilling to compromise on the development of land
they say should remain in tact and untouched.

The $191 million 903-unit community planned for a 1,446-acre tract
off Route 49 commonly known as the Conectiv property or the Holly
Farm, has been touted by the city as a project both economically and
environmentally feasible.

Supporters have repeatedly praised the developer Millville 1350's
plan, which proposes building on 206 acres, putting a golf course on
184 acres and preserving the remaining 916 acres.

Environmentalists, however, say that any development would disrupt
critical habitat in one of the largest preserved areas in the state
that includes nearly 5,000 acres of wild and scenic land off limits to
development in the Manumuskin and Manantico Creek preserves

Last month, a lawsuit was filed with Cumberland County Superior Court
by the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic against the city planning
board representing Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and
its Tributaries, the Association of New Jersey Environmental
Commissions, the NJ Conservation Foundation, and the NJ Audobon

The suit claims the planning board failed to take important
procedural steps and make necessary findings on the impact the
development would have on the community.

"They didn't make the necessary findings," said Attorney Carter
Strickland. "The evidence wasn't before them. No one spoke about
pesticide use or other matters in relation to the proposed golf
course; water withdraw isn't spelled out in any detail. Additionally,
the proposed safeguards are too general and vague and not enforceable
to really allow for a finding of no impact."

Strickland said the city has until the end of the month to file a

Dr. Kim Warker, city director of planning and community development,
said the suit comes as no surprise.

"They have always had an all or nothing position with that property,"
Warker said. "Our position is that somewhere between all or nothing is
a reasonable compromise and this development seemed to be a model for
that. To me, the important part is the board based the decision and
that opinion on expert testimony that was provided, which told them
that there would not be negative impact to the species in the
environment, that the project could be built in a way that was very
compatible with the environment."

Jay Laubengeyer, director of the Delaware Bayshores program for the
Nature Conservancy of New Jersey, said the all or nothing approach is
for good reason.

The Conservancy has been interested in purchasing the property from
Conectiv for the past eight years, submitting an offer with Green
Acres two years ago that was subsequently turned down by Conectiv.

"There's no development around it at all," Laubengeyer said. "It's
all been preserved. Our preference is to see the entire tract
preserved and it would make a lot of sense for the state to own and
manage it.

Eric Stiles, vice president for conservation at the NJ Audobon
Society, said the uniqueness of the property is too great of an asset
to ever compromise.

"It's the donut in a hole of a very large greenbelt," Stiles said.
"Acre for acre it has one of the highest densities for threatened and
endangered species in the state."

Stiles also contends that the response of environmental groups, which
reaches beyond those named on the suit to include the Sierra Club, NJ
Public Interest and Research Group, NJ Environmental Federation,
Delaware River Keepers Network, and several other groups, is not a
reaction to development, but a continuation of the effort to preserve
the land for generations to come.

"Throughout the state there are a number of areas that you can
compromise on in terms of development, but this is clearly not one of
those areas," he said.

East Main Street resident Peter Cooper, who spoke at length against
the development at a public hearing held by the planning board in
August, shares Stiles' concern for the future legacy of the entire
area of preserved land that stretches from Millville to Maurice River

"I grew up out here," the 35-year resident said in an interview
earlier this week. "The place is filled with all kinds of wildlife.
It's a pure place and it would be a shame because no matter what they
do it's going to disturb the environment that is here.

"Once this place is gone, it's gone. You're not going to be able to
bring it back. It doesn't seem like it's worth the trade-off."

Environmentalists hope that trade-off never becomes a reality, but
that's exactly what the city with a "best of both worlds" approach, is
hoping for.

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Matthew Ralph can be emailed at
Copyright 2003 Bridgeton News.